Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

"Well, there is no way it's better than The Planet of the Apes. I mean, those apes were really good actors." - Michael Kelso

WETA... what can't you do? I guess that question would lead to some technical answers on the limitations of this prolific special effects company. But, that is the point. It's not easy to be incompetent with WETA. Well, I guess they can't make James Franco's acting better. I'm just kidding! Thought I'd jump on that band wagon for some quick laughs. Seriously though, James Franco did a good job in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He's a very capable actor. sarcasm... With that said, it was tough for me to believe James Franco as a scientist though. He plays Will Rodman in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a scientist who developed a cure for Alzheimer's disease and inadvertently increased the intelligence of the Chimpanzees that he experimented on. What made James Franco's character acceptable to me was the emphasis on the "person," the characterization of Will Rodman, instead of just having James Franco acting as a scientist. Throughout the movie, I didn't really care that he's a scientist and saw him as a son wanting to cure his father (John Lithgow) of the unforgiving disease. You might call this "smoke and mirrors" and you might be right but, it worked. In any case, this also worked with the apes in the movie. Each featured ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes were treated as characters with motivation, emotion, and idiosyncrasies which, made me forget that they were CGi. This is a reminiscence of Ray Harryhausen's fantastic work. WETA did a phenomenal job translating facial expressions from live actors to the onscreen CGi'ed apes. Who better to motion capture the hero ape Caesar than Andy Serkis (Gollum of The Lord of the Rings). This was crucial because Caesar carried the entire movie. He had to be believable.

When I heard a reboot for The Planet of Apes was going to happen, I worried. Then I heard that 20th Century Fox wanted to do a prequel, I thought it was a terrible idea. Later, I learned Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, I started to wonder, "are they going to touch upon the time traveling? When in the timeline is this movie going to take place?" There were more worrying when I learned that the movie took place in our era and it follows the original films loosely. I thought I wouldn't want to watch this movie after all. It was WETA's test footage of a CGi Caesar that convinced me Rise of the Planet of the Apes might be worth watching. And I am so glad that I took that risk. It was a risk of $10 and 105min of my time, not much of a risk but, I could have been doing something else.

The team responsible for Rise of the Planet of the Apes was more than competent. Rupert Wyatt was the director and the screenplay was written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Did I already mention that WETA did the special effects? The movie was emotionally charged, relying heavily on their actors. John Lithgow playing Charles Rodman (Will Rodman's Father) did a heartbreakingly amazing job. I don't think I'd ever seen a movie with such great chemistry between a non talking computer generated character and a live actor. The screenplay had a few easter eggs for the fans of the original Planet of the Apes series but it didn't blatantly hit us on the head with a reference heavy sledge hammer. It was done well. Maybe the one over the top reference was when Draco Malfoy's character Tom Felton... or rather Tom Felton's character Dodge Landon shouted, "it's a madhouse!" Which wasn't that bad at all, it was entertaining and generated a few laughs in the theater. Overall the movie was entertaining with some great pay offs which was the result of well timed and well placed set ups. The imagery of the movie was surprisingly amazing.  I did not expect this from a summer popcorn movie or a remake churned out by the Hollywood machine. The scene shown in the trailer of leaves raining down in a suburban neighborhood as the apes swing from the tree tops was eerily beautiful on the big screen. This is due to Andrew Lesnie's cinematography. There were a few other awesome moments in the movie, like the battle on the Golden Gate Bridge... or when we first see the messed up ape Koba... or when the silver back gorilla Buck... I don't want to give anything away... I recommend checking out Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The movie is proof that there is nothing wrong with remakes or reboots or re-whatever when the property is treated with respect. This will be another blu-ray buy for me. I'm going poor buying these movies but, I can't help it. If I didn't like movies I wouldn't be writing about them.


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