It all started with a very short novel by French author Pierre Boulle. It wasn’t even that much of a hit at first. But a small group of Hollywood moguls led by Arthur P. Jacobs believed in the property and worked hard to get a film made. It wasn’t easy. They had to interest a big star and make a test reel in order to get anyone to bite. Fortunately for us all, Fox did bite. After five films, a television series, and a cartoon run, the franchise ran out of steam by the middle of the 1970’s. Tim Burton almost killed the chance at rebirth with his terrible remake. But in science fiction, nothing really dies forever. The Apes have returned in one of the best remakes, if it could be called that, in the last 20 years.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is not really a remake of the original 1968 film. It’s more closely related to the fourth film in the franchise, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. In that film the infant son of Cornelius and Zira grows into an adult and eventually leads a revolt of the ape population. By that time apes had replaced cats and dogs as pets, which had been killed in a plague. The apes were forced into slavery and Caesar, played by Roddy McDowall, would lead them toward that ape civilization Charlton Heston’s Taylor finds in the original movie. It all came rather nicely full circle, and that was eventually the end of it. This film, while honoring much of the traditions of the franchise, tells a much different origin story, but it’s a good one.
Will Rodman (Franco) works for a drug company and is trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a personal battle. His father (Lithgow) suffers from the disease. Once an accomplished teacher and musician, he has been reduced to a shell of what he once was. His latest attempt is called LTZ-112. It’s being tested on chimps, and one chimp, Bright Eyes, has shown remarkable progress. But the ape goes berserk as he’s making his pitch to the board of directors, and the project is killed. Asked to care for an infant ape, the offspring of Bright Eyes, by the trainer, he discovers the ape has inherited the effects of the drug and shows incredible intelligence. He ends up keeping the ape his father names Caesar (Serkis). Caesar shows remarkable skills but is placed in an ape rescue facility when he attacks a neighbor to protect Will’s father. His feeling of abandonment turns to rage, and he eventually leads a revolt of apes now infected with the same drug.
Certainly, this does not follow the same mythology handed down in the original films. But it fits nicely enough into the mythology that it easily serves as a springboard to a new Planet Of The Apes franchise. The filmmakers here do show a tremendous amount of love and honor for the original films, and this one is absolutely brimming with references to the original films. Everything from character names which carry the names of original actors and Jacobs himself to plenty of quick symbolic gestures. Even Charlton Heston makes a small appearance in the film, as does the launch of the Icarus, which took Taylor and his crew to their rendezvous with ape kind in the first film. I don’t want to list them here. It’s too much fun looking for them. You can test your knowledge of the series while you’re watching along if you pay close enough attention.
One of the stars of the original films is the groundbreaking prosthetics of John Chambers. The apes never looked silly or absurd. The actors were able to pull off convincing performances, and so the characters became real enough to us to allow us to enjoy the drama. It’s likely inevitable that those makeup effects would be replaced by computer images. Just like the early makeup, the potential for disaster was pretty high. Fortunately, the best decision made on the project was to use computer-generated apes supplied by a motion capture performance. The second best decision made was to employ Andy Serkis for that purpose. No one is better at motion capture performances. He literally invented the art on The Lord Of The Rings films and continued his perfection on such films as Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. Whatever you might feel about the film, I dare anyone to argue the impact of the motion capture performance. Serkis has only gotten better, and Caesar is his best effort so far. There are two elements at play here. First is the beautiful photo-realistic look of the apes, and then there is the emotional portrayal by Serkis. Caesar comes alive like no computer character has done before. If you think that Gollum was great, you haven’t seen anything yet. The film is worth seeing just to enjoy that performance. It’s the most perfect blend of technology and human effort ever captured on a screen. Yes, it’s worth it just for that alone. Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for just the performance. There’s more to enjoy here, much more.
For a science fiction film dealing with the rise of intelligent apes, there is a tremendous amount of human interest and drama here. John Lithgow is absolutely marvelous as Will’s father. He elicits strong emotions as the Alzheimer’s sufferer but manages to also provide an equally emotional life when he has his cure and surpasses the abilities he had before the disease ravaged his brain. He doesn’t have a huge part, but there is a strong dynamic between his character along with Will and Caesar. It’s really the core of the story, and you might surprise yourself with just how compelling this aspect of the film can be. As much as I loved the first film, there was rarely this level of emotional drama. Judging by the box office, it appears that these elements have helped to bring a whole new generation into the Apes fold. Stargate: Atlantis fans will get a kick out of a small but pivotal role by David Hewlett, Rodney McKay as Will’s neighbor. He’s not a fan of Caesar’s, and his interaction plays a key role in moving the story forward. While the computer-generated apes get a lot of the attention, it’s all anchored by superb human performances. In this film the apes do not talk until the very end, so these human performances are far more crucial than they might have been in the earlier films.
It’s easy to see where the franchise might go from here. Make sure you watch the credits. A couple of minutes in there is an important scene as well as a series of graphics that combine to set up the story from here. It’s safe to say that when we do revisit the story again, and I’m convinced we will, things will look a lot different. The title of the film says it all, and it shouldn’t be missed.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. When you consider how much computer-generated footage is incorporated into this film, the biggest surprise is how natural it all looks. The live-action blends in seamlessly, and the environments look sharp and quite realistic. Colors and lighting is quite natural. Black levels are superb. There’s a ton of detail that makes the computer Caesar that much more impressive. Yes, there are moments in the action sequence where the CG work is more evident. Most of the time you’ll feel that this high-definition image presentation delivers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is not very aggressive. This is a far more intimate film than you might expect. With so much close-up it’s totally appropriate that the sound is very front and center. There are some nice surround touches, particularly when around large groups of the apes. Dialog comes through quite nicely. The score never overpowers, yet finds the correct moments to bring out a dynamic range that will swell you up in the action.
There are two Audio Commentaries. One is with Director Rupert Wyatt and the other with the writers.
It’s all in HD.
The Genius Of Andy Serkis: (7:48) The motion-capture actor gets a lot of love from cast and crew, and it’s deserved. There’s a ton of footage with Serkis performing in the motion-capture suits.
Deleted Scenes: (12:00) There are 11 with a play-all. Most that involve ape performances are unfinished and show the motion-capture actors doing the roles.
Mythology Of The Apes: (7:11) It starts with cast and crew acknowledging their love for the original. There is some comparison work here. The piece also points out some of those scavenger-hunt items I told you about.
A New Generation Of Apes: (9:41) Here’s a closer look at the design and execution of the apes.
Scene Breakdown: An interactive feature that allows you to use those color buttons on your remote to see three levels of production.
Breaking Motion-Capture Boundaries: (8:43) Behind the scenes of the big Golden Gate Bridge climax.
Composing The Score With Patrick Doyle: (8:07) Go into the recording studio for some of the scoring of the film.
The Great Apes: (22:37) There are three sections, one for each of the three apes in the film. You get some facts and footage about the real animals.
Trailers and Galleries
When I was young I used to love to eat oranges, but it wasn’t only the taste or the benefits of some good old fashioned vitamin C I was necessarily after. I would cut the fruit in half and then carefully peel the rind, attempting to keep the halves in one piece. I’d cut one of those pieces in half again. I would then place them around my mouth and there you’d have it… instant Apes makeup. Then I would twitch my face muscles to imitate Roddy McDowall’s clever facial movements intended to make the foam prosthetic pieces come alive. Talking through those orange rinds, I’d imagine I was one of those intrepid apes from the films or television series and have all sorts of ape adventures. My playtime had the extra unintended benefit of protecting me from colds. Of course, as an adult I have long since abandoned such childish ways and no longer fill my face with orange peels, at least while anyone else is looking. But the Apes films and shows have never lost their — I guess you could call it appeal, for the 10 year old I still carry around inside. When Tim Burton went to work on his remake of the franchise, a little bit of that kid emerged, and I might have picked up an extra orange or two at the grocery, just in case. Unfortunately, while I am a fan of almost everything Burton has done, his version of The Planet Of The Apes was a severe disappointment, and more importantly might have killed the possibility of future visits to that wonderful world. While his makeup f/x might have been more realistic, it was dismissive of the groundbreaking work done by John Chambers on the original films. Now Fox has reignited that childhood love with a wonderful return to The Planet Of The Apes. And I live in Florida now with several orange trees in my back yard… it just might be time to pick a few extra, just in case. I mean, there have to be sequels, right? “Ape alone… weak. Apes together strong.”