Film #49: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Language: English and some ASL
Length: 105 minutes
Watched on: 21 Jan 2012

I think I was introduced to this film by Mark Kermode on his podcast, who also missed it when it was out in the cinemas. I ended up seeing it on a plane, of all places, whiling away the dark hours probably somewhere over Siberia, on the way to Japan. So I only had a rather small screen to watch it on, unfortunately.

One thing I should mention is that, while I’ve seen both the Charlton Heston movie and the Tim Burton remake, I’m not particularly familiar with any other films in the Planet of the Apes franchise. This film is essentially an origin story, and is officially yet another Reboot to the franchise, whatever that means. Apparently it is pretty much a remake of an earlier film entitled Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Its plot essentially covers the story of a scientist creating a drug to try and cure Alzheimer’s, and when they test it on apes, it makes them smarter. I guess it’s set some time in the near future from now. If you know even the slightest thing about PotA you can probably fill in your own gap now. It’s not a particularly cerebral plot in that regard.

The human characters tend to fall into archetypes, such as the scientist, the businessman, and the evil bully (the zookeeper, essentially), played by Draco Malfoy Tom Felton, in a rather disturbing turn. The main guy, the scientist in charge of the main ape, called Caesar, has a rather tepid romance with some woman, and a sick father who he is desperate to help – this brings about the main plot.

Evidently, the main ape roles were played by mocap actors, and I guess compared to some other mocap work I’ve seen (Tintin….), the fact that they’re not humans at least eliminates the problem of the uncanny valley, as it did with Gollum, so realism becomes less of an issue for them than it does in Tintin, for instance. I think Andy Serkis (of Gollum fame) actually played the main role, too; he seems to be in everything related to mocap now. Realism aside, the graphics are pretty good. I just can’t help but wonder if that’s because we’re looking at non-humans, though. I think one of the main problems with the film was that while the human characters are, for the most part, boring archetypes, the ape characters, especially Caesar, are expressive and show a full gamut of emotions. This is OK, I suppose, since it is his film at the end of the day, but I would have liked to see the same level of emotional involvement with all of the characters.

Anyway, overall it was an enjoyable movie for me, but it felt a bit unremarkable too. After a few months, I can only give a basic plot outline about the thing. Themewise, I guess it has things to say about consumerism, and has a few warnings about the dangers of the unknown in science: it essentially seems to be saying that humans should stop toying with nature, which I don’t necessarily agree with. The apocalyptic element is one that I’ve seen coming up a lot recently, as well, which makes it feel worrying because most of the plot (apart from a bit of magic unexplained science) is perfectly plausible. Because it’s actually set close to the modern day, it feels more relatable than the original PotA, which doesn’t really go into why the planet is full of apes, and leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination. So it’s certainly worth a watch.

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