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Review: ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

Sequels, TV Shows, Remake… Now a Prequel

Above: What happens when apes get smart. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes' gives us the backstory to the classic 1968 film "Planet of the Apes."

I have to confess, I'm a sucker for ape movies from "King Kong" to "Planet of the Apes," I love those primates. And now there's a prequel to "Planet of the Apes" with the unwieldy title of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (opened August 5 throughout San Diego).

Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell in "Planet of the Apes," recently released on Blu-ray in a 40th Anniversary box set.

Twentieth Century Fox

Above: Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell in "Planet of the Apes," recently released on Blu-ray in a 40th Anniversary box set.

Pierre Boulle's 1963 French novel "La planète des singes" was adapted by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson for the 1968 American film "Planet of the Apes." The film, directed by Franklin J. Schnafner, became an instant sci-fi film hit. The story about a futuristic planet (that turned out to be earth) ruled by talking, intelligent apes was smartly written and had ideas that excited the imagination. The film also displayed some stellar make-up effects that allowed Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell to give two magnificent ape performances. It was followed by a succession of mostly lame sequels ("Escape From the Planet of the Apes" being the exception), a dull TV series, and an atrociously misguided remake in 2001 by Tim Burton. A stunning 40th Anniversary box set collection of Blu-ray releases of the original 5 films recently hit stores and provides the perfect lead in to the latest "Apes" outing: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a prequel to the whole "Apes" franchise. (Although the film is also listed as a remake of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" because of the character of Caesar and his rebellion against humanity.)

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" gives us the backstory to how apes eventually learned how to speak and dominate the planet, turning humankind into a slave race. It all starts in a lab but it's not rage-infected monkeys that set the plot in motion but rather a well-intentioned scientist looking for a cure to Alzheimer's. Will Rodman (James Franco) has been testing a drug on a chimpanzee he names Bright Eyes (the same name Dr. Zira uses for her test subject of Charleton Heston in the first film) with promising results. But things go awry, the ape dies, and Rodman ends up rearing the chimp's son at his home. Caesar (Andy Serkis with Weta-enhanced CGI), as the chimp is come to be known, grows up and grows smarter. He eventually rises up against humans, many of whom treat him horribly, and leads a rebellion against them... thus paving the way for what we find in "Planet of the Apes." And don't complain about spoilers, all that is pretty much laid out in the trailer.

When this project was first announced it sounded more like an opportunity for Peter Jackson's New Zealand-based Weta Digital to strut its stuff than an attempt to genuinely add a story to the cycle of films. Weta had already proven that it could create realistic ape effects with their work on Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong." But that was essentially one giant ape and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" would allow them to show more of what they were capable of now with multiple ape characters needing to be rendered. So while the early ape footage looked to have some convincing effects, I was worried there might not be a story to support the effects. I am happy to report that I was wrong.

Rick Jaffa and Peter Chernin [CORRECTION: co-writer is Amanda SIlver; Chernin is one of the producers] have crafted a satisfying script. It's not as smart as the one Serling and Wilson wrote for the first film but it gets the job done and is substantial enough to make the film about more than just the make up effects. The relationship between the humans and apes isn't as cleverly written as in the first film but Caesar develops as a solid and interesting character. In all honesty, though, it is the success of the effects that make the film so readily enjoyable. If you did not come to care for Caesar, the film would probably flop. But Serkis and the Weta effects team do a wonderful job of making Caesar real. Yes it is all a bit silly if you think about the story and the premise takes a suspension of disbelief but the dazzling effects make you willing to suspend your disbelief quite willingly.

Andy Serkis creates another motion capture performance in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox

Above: Andy Serkis creates another motion capture performance in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Serkis I have discovered is much better when he is CGI-ed as in "Lord of the Rings" (as Gollum) or as King Kong or here as Caesar. When he's human he tends to overact and appears hammy, almost like some silent film star suddenly thrust into the more realistic world of today's filmmaking. But as an actor using motion capture to create a character that will eventually be completed through CGI, he's quite gifted. The exaggeration you sometimes find in his "human" performances seems to work well when the performance will be completed on a computer. We see Caesar's transformation and his emotions and are won over by his performance.

Frieda Pinto and James Franco are the humans in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox

Above: Frieda Pinto and James Franco are the humans in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

The humans pale in comparison. Franco and Frieda Pinto (as the love interest) make an attractive pair while Brian Cox, David Oyelowo, and Tom Felton are fittingly and one-dimensionally evil. Felton (Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" films), though, does get to say the variation on Charleton Heston's classic line, " Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" In fact the film has a number of nice references to the original film. It foreshadows just enough of what is to come in "Planet of the Apes" to satisfy fans of the original film but not so much as to alienate a younger audience that might never have see the 1968 film.

Rupert Wyatt, of the indie film company Picture Farm, directs the film with craftsman-like efficiency. Not much artistry on display or inspired vision but he gets the job done and keeps us engaged. He seems more at home with the animals than the humans but that works to the benefit of the film. The interaction among the animals is well done and even chilling at times.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language) ranks as the third best in the "Apes" franchise, coming after "Planet of the Apes" and "Escape from Planet of the Apes." It's fun to see this on the big screen and then break out the Blu-ray of the original to see how the two flow together. But the bottom line is: the apes rule. Or as someone at work just said: "Two opposable thumbs up."

Companion viewing: "Planet of the Apes," "Escape from the Planet of the Apes," "Splice," "King Kong"

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Avatar for user 'jv333'

jv333 | August 8, 2011 at 11:01 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Some interesting comments...however, I really thought this one became comical at some point. The sappy eyed, fake apes just didn't do it for me. But then I thought Avatar was over-hyped and not all that gat, either. But I see that other critics like it as well as what do I know? Just seemed to get silly at some point...and James Franco seemed like he was just going thru the motions.

I guess I'm tiring of all the CG and fake beings in movies. I prefer great writing and acting with real people...or even people dressed up like in the original.


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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 9, 2011 at 10:02 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Avatar was crap. Rise I quite enjoyed and thought the CGI was well done and well integrated. The humans were lame but they always are in these films. I mean Charlton Heston was as expressive as a piece of granite. The original and the Escape sequel are still better but this was far superior to the other sequels and recent remake.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Maybe try Another Earth instead.

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Avatar for user 'alain_j_perez'

alain_j_perez | August 9, 2011 at 12:12 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

I watched this movie last Friday and today I read your review. I couldn't agreed with you more. I was really surprised to find out that this movie was actually really good. Originally, I went to watch this movie just because I had nothing better to do, plus is summer. I was like, "a big summer movie, sure why not". However, I thought they really engaged the audience with the story. Sure, to some might be too much of a stretch, not real enough etc...but what can you expect from an ape movie. You think apes will really rule earth some day? C'mon, of course is a fake story that will never come to pass.

I loved the little t-bits about NASA traveling out in space and the horse riding over the bridge, these scenes really connected this movie to the original. Once you watch it you'll know what I'm talking about.

Great review Beth.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 9, 2011 at 12:24 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Thanks. And having just watched the first one again I appreciated even more the nice references Rise made to the original.

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Avatar for user 'claireaccomando'

claireaccomando | August 9, 2011 at 8:29 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Just saw the movie and was happily surprised. I thought it was well done and had a decent story that led to the Planet of the Apes movie. The apes were wonderful. Agreed with your review. Made me want to see the old movies.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 9, 2011 at 11:01 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

1) BENEATH and CONQUEST were hardly "lame." I know BENEATH received a lot of unfair criticism, partly because of the telekenisis of the mutants, but both were riveting and rather dark films. BENEATH boasts one of the darkest endings ever, which would probably not be emulated today. i consider ESCAPE a weaker entry than either, but still very good with a horrifying climax. And all three--VERY political in nature. In ESCAPE, the politics are more subtle. When the reporters ask villain Dr. Hasslein for his comment on the first ape hearing, he answers, "Fear." Now, where has that been fomented before?

2) AVATAR was not crap (can I say that here?), but an exciting allegory on the Iraq war. Although, I do admit the "avatar" stuff especially near the beginning was unintelligible mumbo jumbo.

3) Yes agree about the Burton film, but I appreciate his fondness for the material and the ending was even closer to the novel than the original Schaffner film--let alone RISE.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 10, 2011 at 10:12 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

This is a facinating film. It can be interpreted as either an alternate history of the Apre timeline or a remake of CONQUEST I'ts not without its flaws but as you mention, it DOES deliver what it sets out to do thanks to Andy Serkis's performance, the special visual effects, and Rupert Wyatt's full-throttle pacing, which sometimes sacrifices storyline.

I must admit I was originally apprehensive, but ingrigued nonetheless. Purists have no reason for contempt. I don't believe the filmmakers set out to challenge or undo the original.

Two corrections above is that the co-scrpting credit goes to Amanda Silver-not the producer. The other is that it does not contain any "brief sexulity." I fail to see where you saw that.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 10, 2011 at 1:11 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

The rating info comes from the MPAA, I do not come up with the rating description so if you have a beef, talk to them. And yes, my bad, co-writer is Amanda SIlver.

As for the other comments, we will have to agree that they are opinions and we differ. I found all but Escape to be lame in the Apes franchise. Sure there might be some clever ideas at work but they were all poorly executed and often laughable. As for Avatar, I have already fought that battle with the Cameron fan boys (so there are many who agree with you) and no matter what you may want to read into it, it was a trite, familiar story badly told but with lots of pretty bells and whistles. It bored me to tears.

Thanks for the comments.

(And yes that's my mother. Thanks Mom.)

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | August 18, 2011 at 9:06 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

The movie was alright. The better acting came from the apes and monkey in addition to a few other supporting cast members like the guy the runs the horrible facility (forgot his name, he's in RED). The story was a little slow for me but otherwise acceptable. I like the original Planet of the Apes, not the sequels that follow, and ever since Burton's remake had been hoping for another but much more well made. I think I found it in this movie and will be enjoying it for a long time :)

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 18, 2011 at 10:29 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree, the apes were the better "actors." The guy from RED is Brian Cox. Glad you enjoyed the film.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 19, 2011 at 9:36 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Is there a way to delete the spammer above?

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 20, 2011 at 4:16 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

I cannot. I am trying to get it removed by one of the web techies.


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Avatar for user 'BettyVega'

BettyVega | August 25, 2011 at 10:04 p.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

I was moved by the Franco/Lithgow relationship and you’re definitely right about Caesar’s character; it really made me sit on the edge of my chair or close to tears throughout the whole movie. As a young employee of DISH Network I feel it’s my duty to inform people like me who are too young to know that original movies of this were created decades ago and they’re on I appreciate this movie much more because of how will they integrated references to these classics. May be I’ve been living under a rock but Planet of the Apes rule!

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