ON THE SILVER SCREEN: GOING APE

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By Brian Lafferty

 

August 5, 2011 (San Diego) – The original Planet of the Apes was a thoughtful, intelligent commentary on the human race. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious but mostly mindless prequel that is yet another entry in the “changing things that aren’t meant to be changed” genre.

 

James Franco, the most in-demand actor in Hollywood right now, plays a scientist at work on a cure for mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. Caesar is Franco’s chimpanzee who inherits the genes from his late mother that causes an exponential increase in his intelligence.

 

Thrown into the primate equivalent of prison after attacking a neighbor in defense of Franco’s ill father (John Lithgow), he is mistreated by the contemptuous Dodge (Harry Potter alum Tom Felton), who the whole world can partially thank for the beginning of the end of mankind.

 

The filmmakers don’t have a grasp of cinematographic continuity. There are shots that have pristine, realistic sets that at least look nothing like one created with a green screen. Then there are shots that look like they belong in an animated film. On a number of occasions, these two types of shots either overlap or alternate. In any given sequence of shots, the environment turns from “real world” to computer animated in a disconcerting manner.

 

In 1968 Franklin J. Schaffner had only makeup to work with. 43 years later, director Rupert Wyatt has motion capture at his disposal. He should have disposed of it in preproduction and found an alternative method of creating apes. The apes in this film look fake and computerized. They do not mesh with the humans and the environment, which becomes a constant distraction. There’s no adjusting to it, either; up to the very last shot, I felt I was seeing computerized apes instead of those even close to resembling real ones.

 

I wouldn’t be complaining if the effects were well done. I fondly recall films such as Dragonslayer, the villain of which – a fire-breathing dragon – was constructed using animatronics and puppetry. The result was a much more scary and terrifying dragon than if it was computer generated. As I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I kept getting the feeling that the filmmakers were taking the special effects for granted.

 

I understand what Rise of the Planet of the Apes is going for. I can understand the studios wanting to stay away heavy philosophizing and extensive intelligent discussion of the movie’s themes. I know what audience the film is intended for. I can also understand that they wanted an action movie and a popcorn film, since that seems to be the trend ever since Jaws and Indiana Jones.

 

Does the film succeed in the action department? It depends on how many action movies you’ve seen. It takes up until the last fifteen minutes to get to the action but once the novelty of seeing apes attack people wears off, you’re left with a semi-vacuous sequence. After about five minutes, the reality is that apes are limited in their fighting and attacking capabilities. They just jump, pounce, and roar in people’s faces.

 

The film cannot help acknowledging the original Planet of the Apes and Charlton Heston. We hear the original’s two iconic lines (both uttered by Felton) and someone watching The Agony and the Ecstasy on TV. A little unsolicited advice to future filmmakers: if you’re going to pay tribute to the great classics you’re remaking, make sure your films at least try to match their quality and respectability.

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is now playing in local theaters.

 


A Twentieth Century Fox Release. Director: Rupert Wyatt. Screenplay: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, suggested by novel “La planete des singes” by Pierre Boulle. Score: Patrick Doyle. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, and Andy Serkis. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

 


Brian Lafferty can be reached at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.