By MARK TURNER
Growing up in the '60s, I was always a fan of the PLANET OF THE APES movies. Not so much the later TV or cartoon series, but the films. Not only did it feature some of the best science fiction stories around but also some of the most amazing special effects makeup ever seen.
The semi-human apes were made plausible by the make up and that gave the movies something to hold on to. So when I heard they were remaking the series I was skeptical to say the least. I shouldn't have been.
Rather than begin this film with the landing of a spacecraft, we begin in the near future. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist working for a major drug company searching for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Testing on animals and in particular chimpanzees, he thinks he's found a cure, a drug that has helped the brain recreate cells. This has led to increased mental activity in the apes and shown them to think more. When he goes to demonstrate before the board of directors, his star subject goes mad and attacks everyone from her handlers to the staff at the research center. They are forced to kill her and the project is put on hold.
Unknown to Will and her handlers at the time, the ape was merely protecting the baby she gave birth to beforehand. Ordered to destroy all of the test subjects, will secrets this one away and names him Caesar, raising him at home. Caesar is smarter than most apes having had the formula Will developed in his bloodstream via his mother since birth. Will also illegally uses this formula on his father (John Lithgow) who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, with remarkable success.
Will and Caesar continue to grow together. Will carries on his experiments and research hoping that the drug he's found will be the answer. Caesar continues to expand his mental abilities and ability to converse via sign language with will and later with Will's girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto), a veterinarian. Will takes Caesar on occasional outings to a local national forest but never lets him run free on his own without his being there.
The drug Will developed doesn't have long term success though. As Will's father begins to lose his mental abilities several years down the road (and as Caesar has grown), he accidentally wrecks a neighbor's car and while being shoved by him, Caesar escapes the house and attacks the man to defend Lithgow. Animal control is called in and Caesar is locked up that appears fine. But unknown to Will the center is run by men who just want a paycheck and who taunt and torture the monkeys being held.
While Will tries to go the legal route and get Caesar back at the same time the drug company is expanding his research and hoping to go public, Caesar becomes resentful of being caged and treated as an animal by his jailers. Using his intelligence and escaping, Caesar goes home and steals several canisters of the now aerosol drug, releasing it among his fellow captive apes. Soon they escape and set out to rectify the treatment they have received at the hands of man.
This new take on how the apes evolved replaces the time travel questions raised in the original films but still has several loopholes in logic. But not enough that you can't enjoy the film or marvel at the story being told.
Best of all the film features some of the most amazing special effects ever seen. Using motion capture technology you will actually believe you are seeing an ape perform rather than a man in a suit. But there actually IS no man in a suit at all, just computer generated motion captured images on screen. Caesar shows emotions on his face and body language that make you feel for him, care for him. It's an amazing piece of technology that brings not just the film but the character to life. By the end of the film you find yourself rooting for the apes!
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES doesn't just tell a science fiction story. It tells a human story as well, of mistreatment of animals and how humans are tossed aside as well. It takes on the question of animal testing without being preachy or slamming one side or the other as well. But most of all it tells a solid story from beginning to end and entertains in the process. This is not just a movie that you will want to see but you will want to see more than once. It should definitely be added to any film fans collection.
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