Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The iconic closing scene of the original Planet of the Apes movie helped to establish it as one the classic sci-fi movies, spawning several sequels, a popular TV series and a less successful animated series. The idea that human evolution was superseded by what had previously been considered the lower primates may have seemed a little farfetched to cinema audiences of the late ‘60s, but maybe not to anyone watching the television news over the last few days as marauding gangs of youths went around smashing and looting their own neighbourhoods. There are clearly large pockets of English society that have completely escaped evolution. However, in this new prequel, it wasn’t the humans that were devolving, but the other primates that were evolving, all thanks to the wonders of science. A new, experimental drug, devised as a cure for Alzheimer’s, is tested on chimpanzees, causing their intelligence and cognitive skills to dramatically improve.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
When one of the experiments goes wrong, the research is shut down but the head of the team, brilliant young scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), smuggles out a baby chimp and takes it home to raise it, where he discovers that it is way smarter than the average monkey. It’s not long before the human and chimpanzee aspects of Caesar, as he was named, come into conflict, along with his relationship with his adopted family, which leads to Caesar being caged with a lot of other primates. And so it begins. It is also interesting to note that the previous (and debut) film by British director Rupert Wyatt was also a prison escape film ( The Escapist from SFL friends Vertigo Films).

As far as prequel/origin stories go, this is a solid one that smartly sets up the scenario for the original film. Not only is it intelligently written, it is superbly acted by a strong cast made of up a surprising number of British actors including Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo and David Hewlett, with Freida Pinto as the love interest. Of course, the real star of the show is Andy Serkis as Caesar. Serkis seems to spend a large of his career hunched over in spandex so he can be digitally replaced. Between Serkis’s movement and WETA’s digital magic there is a totally believable chimpanzee that has taken on human attributes. He is also ably assisted by Terry Notary, who played the aliens in Attack the Block. A lot of Serkis’s work and how the apes were created is covered in the special features on the DVD/Blu-ray release. The film also has a couple of yack-tracks and a few other standard behind-the-scenes features that don’t really take full advantage of what Blu-ray promised, although it does reveal most of the homages to the original film that even the most sharp-eyed geeks may have missed.

This is already a great sci-fi action movie in its own right, addressing the relationship between man and his closest primate cousins, that shines a not too flattering light on our development as social creatures. However, if you want to add a chilling sense of reality to the movie you should check out the Oscar-nominated documentary Project Nim by Oscar-winning filmmaker James Marsh, which is out on DVD in January. This doc follows the life of a young chimp, taken from its mother at a young age and placed in a family situation where it is raised as if it is human and taught to communicate with sign language. It is soon passed from one “owner” or carer to another until its human and chimpanzee aspects come into conflict, along with his relationship with his adopted family, which lead to him being caged with a lot of other primates.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes DVD
Essentially it is the same story, set in a similar era, except one is true and the other is a “what-if” extrapolation of the scenario. I highly recommend seeing both films, the order in which you see them is not that important because the similarities will still be powerfully striking.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is out on DVD/Blu-ray now and is available from Play and all good retailers.

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