Monday, September 05, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

My lack of movie and book reviews is not from a lack of viewing, or reading, but rather from laziness. It's time to play catch-up. I'll start with the most recent and will try to work my way backwards, one a day.

I just saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes late last night. It's nothing special but holds that elevated position of being science fiction, and as such, has to try harder to disappoint me. Because, as I've said ad nauseum, even the worst science fiction still has something to say. Where they fail in execution, they make up for in effort.

In effectively establishing how the "Planet of the Apes" came to be, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is useful. The movie's premise: development of a potential Alzheimer's cure has led to primate testing. Unintended, and unexpected, the cure (in the form of a controlled virus) actually enhances cognitive ability of the test subjects.

The virus establishes both how the primates get their intelligence and how the humans are decimated and subjugated (it appears to kill humans). The launch of a Mars mission and its subsequent loss establishes how human astronauts may, in the future, return to a vastly changed world. In their care for setting these things up, it is obvious that the filmmakers intend on making more movies (as if there was any question). It's all about the benjamins, baby.

The special effects of the primates are very good, from a technical standpoint, but are most obviously aided by the unique motion capture talents of Andy Serkis. Serkis, whose genius has been witnessed in Lord of the Rings (as Gollum) and King Kong, gives a humanity to Caesar without anthropomorphizing him. Serkis is truly a unique actor whose actual role is both hard to describe and quantify, but whose skill is obvious on screen. He is a normal actor as well, with roles in 13 Going on 30 and other films, but it was through Lord of the Rings and a position that was given larger significance because of his talent in motion capture. He'd actually do every scene both in studio for motion capture and on location for the benefit of the actors acting opposite Gollum.

The acting is nothing special, despite having some great actors in it, including Franco (as scientist Will Rodman), John Lithgow, and Brian Cox. Lithgow is really the only one that gets to show his chops. He plays Rodman's father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, and who is Rodman's motivation for developing a cure. Freida Pinto, despite being gorgeous, does nothing to show her acting ability. I thought she was very good in Slumdog Millionaire, but she either does not get the opportunity to show her ability here, or fails to take advantage of the chances she does get. The script doesn't really give her a purpose.

Where I believe that Rise of the Planet of the Apes does itself credit is in its treatment of the role of science and ethics. It's like that quote by the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park:

"Don't you see the danger ... inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun ... I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done, and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you, you've patented it, and packaged it, you've slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it ... your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

While it is admirable to be thinking of a cure for Alzheimer's, we have to be aware of the unintended consequences.

If I have a criticism of the movie, it is in its moral stance of the James Franco character. He seems happy, or at least content, that his pet/friend Caesar gains his freedom, which is fine. But he seems unconcerned that what has ultimately led to the intelligence leap of the primates is also the virus that will virtually wipe out the human race. No time is spent to examine whether he has any concerns of this. He is complicit in wiping out humanity. But, I guess, at the end of the movie, he doesn't yet realize the pandemic that has started. Hopefully, it's something that will be addressed in a future movie.

Anyway, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Grade: B-


wunelle said...

I've been curious about this and meaning to see it. Just no time! I suppose I'll end up with the DVD, by which time my review will be irrelevant! I don't even remember the originals, except my wonder at seeing the remnants of Western civilization as archeological ruins.

CyberKitten said...

It was certainly a good way to spend a few hours. Like you said it was a creditable way to explain how the Planet of the Apes came about.

The CGI was very good - though that's pretty much expected these days - and the plot held together very well. I'd be interested to see if they do make the next part though part of me really doesn't see the point as it's all been done before - not that its ever stopped Hollywood before now.