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The Reel Deal

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

A Reel Deal Film Review

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

August 2011


Reel Rating: 4.5 out of 5

“TAKING CARE OF MONKEY BUSINESS”

It’s hard to take talking monkey movies seriously. My brother and I still make jokes to this day about Amy the talking gorilla in Congo, and especially the Pepsi commercial tie-in she was featured in. The original five Planet of the Apes films are likewise often difficult to take seriously, though they deal with very serious issues. They certainly hold a special place in our society’s collective hearts, but they are undeniably cheesy. Though the cheese is everywhere in those movies, and though a couple of the five are pretty abysmal, as one cohesive whole they acted as a great monkey metaphor. During the 60s, when such a metaphor was needed badly, the original Planet of the Apes forced us to see how racism and bigotry should not and could not be tolerated. It was also, interestingly enough, a parable about the ills of religious belief and the problem with letting religious dogma have an equal or greater voice than rational scientific knowledge in the public sphere. These films acted as talking points of sorts for the left: human rights, animal rights, separation of church and state, international peace, nuclear disarmament, etc. And yet, Charlton Heston played the main character, go figure?

With obvious great affection for those films, and with political and philosophical agreement with much of their message, I still must reiterate that one can’t deny the ridiculousness of much of those five films. Some had extremely weak effects, weaker acting and the weakest of scripts. And yet even if those original five films seem dated and cheesy, they remain important to us as a society–so much so that when Tim Burton remade the original, and it wasn’t up to par, he was savaged by critics and audiences alike. And rightly so: no one likes a bad remake of a classic, even when the classic contains inherent flaws that needed improving upon. Tim Burton’s failure is what made me somewhat skeptical when I first saw the preview of this new reboot of the franchise. I remember thinking: Do we really need to try again? Can’t we just be satisfied with the cheesy originals? I’m happy to say, after watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, that there’s no reason to be skeptical of the reboot. This new film is flawless.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes could have gone two ways. It could have either recapitulated the same problems of Burton’s remake or of the now-dated originals, or it could have gone in a new direction. I’m happy to report that the filmmakers went the way of the later. This new film, a prequel to the original, and a remake of sorts of the story told in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is not merely a reboot of the franchise, but an attempt at what I term “Dark Knight-ing a franchise.” Ever since Batman Begins (and its even more successful sequel The Dark Knight), there has been a commendable (and sometimes successful) attempt in Hollywood to go back to old franchises and remake them in an often dark, less cheesy and more realistic fashion. Think of the Daniel Craig Bond films, think of J. J. Abrams’ remake of Star Trek, think of the newest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.

This is a Dark Knight-ed Planet of the Apes franchise. Obviously, they still have to deal with the unreality of talking apes, which is slightly harder to keep in the realm of the real than a superpowerless guy in a caped-suit kicking ass, but it is done with integrity, and a rewriting of the backstory to be as realistic and possible as a story about talking apes can be. In other words, it doesn’t use time travel like the original Apes movies did, and the meticulous way we are brought along as Caesar learns to be more and more “human” makes his final move into “talking ape” as believable as such a moment ever could be. And let me go off on an important aside: Caesar is what makes the movie. He is more real, more believable, more interesting as a character than any of the human characters in the film. This, I think, was intentional, because to some extent your sympathies are supposed to lie with him. What really makes him so believable is the way he is portrayed, through motion capture technology, by Andy Serkis (who also was motion captured as Golum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy). If motion capture is ever to prove itself as worthy of an acting award, I would argue it is this performance that should get it. I would be satisfied if Andy was up for best supporting actor (even though he himself never actually appears in the film). He may not be physically in the film, but his performance steals it. While Caesar can’t talk for the majority of the movie, it is only through his movements and expressions that we come to know and love the character, and in the end root for his freedom.

Here we have a near-perfect Summer popcorn flick, a simian spectacular which manages to maintain the political/philosophical thematic underpinning that was so crucial to the original series as well as the entertaining aspect that made the original such a hit with audiences worldwide. And it does so without ever veering into cheesy territory. I am excited for where this franchise will go. I hope when they get around to remaking the original, it maintains the integrity of this film, and manages to keep the spirit of the originals. It will be tricky to both remain faithful and remain commercially viable, especially since the Planet of the Apes movies all have one thing in common, they never end on a particularly hopeful note. They are apocalyptic in more ways than one. And they hold a mirror up to American society–maybe a fun house mirror, but a mirror nonetheless–and say “look at how terribly wrong-headed you are.” In the 60s, there was a large group of Americans who wanted and needed to hear that. While there are just as many who need to hear it now, I’m not sure there will be as many willing to hear it. I’m not sure America will have its ears open this time. I’m not sure America wants to look critically at its flaws at this particular moment in history. But we shall see…

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film directed by Rupert Wyatt, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and based on characters from the novel The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. It stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis. During experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee uses its greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom.

Reel Deal Review Written by Tyler Malone

Thumbnail Picture Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Thumbnail Design by Jillian Mercado

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