Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Of all the summer blockbusters, to me it feels like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (RPA) has been the most hyped and discussed. Certainly there have been more blogposts, reviews and opinions that I have had to avoid for RPA than either Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens, or HP and DH part 2. Maybe not for Dark of the Moon though. So, what to make of this eagerly anticipated prequel? Well I really enjoyed it actually.

Presumably the majority of people watching this film know where the plot is headed (though I wouldn’t have 5 months ago), so there are no real surprises. What is interesting is how we get to that stage. It seems as though it is all our fault, or at least the fault of the scientists (typical; my profession being hard done by again). By trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, top scientist Will (James Franco) has developed a gene therapy treatment that not only seems to cure the disease but actually improves cognitive ability.

Sound familiar? Yup, it’s just like Deep Blue Sea, that paragon of spacker science (that’s the technical term)! Protein to cure Alzheimer’s from Sharks’ brains, need bigger sharks, but sharks become intelligent! I guess in Planet of the Sharks they’d at least be confined to the oceans!

Anyway; Caesar is the offspring of one of the apes treated with the gene therapy LAZ-112, and to save him from extermination (because the experiment had gone horribly wrong) Will takes him home and raises him. This is in addition to looking after his father (John Lithgow) who has Alzheimer’s. The CG work done for Caesar, and all the other apes is just astonishing, WETA have once again demonstrated how ahead of the game they are. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t believe that Caesar was real, and of course this is crucial for the film so that the audience empathises with him. This of course is also achieved by the humanisation of Caesar. As a baby, Caesar grabs Will’s finger, and after several years he spends most of his time walking on two feet. This humanisation makes us completely get on board with the character, and so the audience feels awful about the way Caesar is treated later in the film. This raises the moral question: “Do we not care about animal cruelty unless they are intelligent?”

So, Caesar and the other apes are fabulous thanks to Joe Letteri’s team at WETA, cinematography by Andrew Lesnie, and Andy Serkis. Serkis’ contribution this time was less obvious, King Kong actually looked like him! However, generally I thought the human cast were not as good as the CG ones. The main human character is Will, but far from James Franco making this his character, I feel that he could have been played by anyone. Obviously he is personally very close to his work because his Dad has Alzheimer’s; but when he finally dies, Will doesn’t seem to care, and then he quits the research project! It felt kind of “Oh well it didn’t work for me so I’ll just pack it all in!” In the words of Homer Simpson to Bart: “You tried your hardest, and you failed. The moral of the story is: Never Try!”

I feel that the rest of the cast is similarly meh. Freida Pinto is completely underused, and her only real purpose is to have an interest in chimps; if that’s a purpose. Tom Felton is essentially just Malfoy, and Brian Cox is fairly generic. I think that John Lithgow (Barney’s Dad in HIMYM) was possibly the best human actor. As Will’s Dad with Alzheimer’s, he was very good at being able to switch between the forgetfulness, incomprehension and confusion of the disease with the elation of suddenly being cured.

Now I’ve never seen director Rupert Wyatt’s only other film The Escapist, so I can’t really comment; it just strikes me that all the human characters were not particularly well realised, whereas the the computer generated character was far more believable and well developed.

But all of this sounds rather negative, and the fact is that I really enjoyed RPA. The characters may not be great, but they’re good enough not to detract from the main thrust of the film, which is of course how the apes gain control. I think I’m only picking on the cast because I know they can be so much better. But where some of the human scenes can drag (not helped by more crappy science - why specifically say that apes have a much stronger immune system, therefore they can cope with the more virulent retrovirus? Actually no. The opposite is true. A stronger immune system will reject it far quicker than Will’s Dad ever did), every scene with Caesar and the story of his rise is amazing and utterly engaging.

RPA also includes perhaps the best cinematic moment this year, even better than the train crash in Super 8. **Huge Spoiler** It was almost inevitable that someone would say “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape! At which point there was a perceptible groan from the audience (especially from me having recently seen Tim Burton's butchered version). But when Caesar then screamed “NO!”, you could have heard a pin drop in the cinema! It was fantastic. **Spoiler Finsihed**

I realise that this review gives rather mixed messages, but I did thoroughly enjoy RPA. The cast is OK, they don’t detract from the film, they just under-perform. The story of the Rise is great and Caesar is phenomenal in all respects. Overall, well worth seeing.