Sunday, August 07, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Well, I'm absolutely thrilled that I get to end my blog's Ape-o-thon on a positive note. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is not only a great movie, it's a terrific Planet of the Apes movie too.  The film's special effects are downright astonishing, but more importantly the "human" story -- concerning an evolved ape seeking his destiny -- proves wholly affecting. 

In terms of the franchise, Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes features perhaps a dozen hints or links to future (or past?) events in the series and most of all, doesn't spoon-feed the audience all the answers regarding them.  Therefore, as much as the film sets up a new Apes franchise (in the mold of Star Trek [2009] or Batman Begins [2005]), it also showcases more than enough mystery to stimulate the mind. 

A new "future history" has been initiated here, and that hard work is done with real intelligence, detail and depth.  Just please be certain you don't leave the auditorium until after the end credits, or you'll miss the film's final (terrifying...), information-age coda.  I have the distinct feeling some major critics may have missed this coda, based on their reviews.  They seem to think that the apes only get so far as Golden Gate Bridge, when in fact another entire subplot reveals why Earth could very soon become a planet dominated by apes.

In assessing the quality of a Planet of the Apes film, one has to gaze at several criteria.  Does the film permit the audience to see human beings in a new light; from the outside (ape perspective) as it were?  Does the film then comment meaningfully on human nature, and compare it to ape nature?  Does the movie boast a convincing narrative with closure and distinct purpose while -- all the while -- laying the groundwork (or tying the knot...) for other entries in a film series that is a giant loop?  And, of course, is the film thrilling and action-packed in a way that supports that narrative?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes succeeds admirably in every single one those arenas.  Actually, I'll go further: it's the best movie I've seen theatrically in some time, and perhaps the best genre film I've seen this year.  In large part, the re-boot's grandest achievement is that it focuses so powerfully on one character, Caesar, and takes the audience through almost his whole life, from birth to young adulthood (ten years, perhaps).  Given that Caesar is created via digital special effects (and through the incomparable talents of Andy Serkis), the film's success is all the more surprising and admirable. 

"You'll learn who is boss soon enough..."

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a young scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) at Gen-Sys develops the cure of Alzheimer's, called ALZ-112.  The chemical causes damaged brain cells to repair and re-build themselves, a brand of "Neuro genesis." 

The test of ALZ-112 on Chimp # 9, "Bright Eyes," has proven that it works admirably, but when the affected chimpanzee suddenly goes crazy and breaks out of confinement, the Board at Gen-Sys opts not to pursue human tests.  Later, Will and the chimpanzee handler, Franklin (Tyler Labine) discover that "Bright Eyes" may merely have been protecting her newborn infant.

With his work shut down, or at least set back, Will brings the orphaned baby chimp home, where his father, Charles (John Lithgow) names the ape "Caesar."  Charles suffers from Alzheimer's and Will, acting in secret, gives him the ALZ-112.  The cure works its wonders, at least for a time, and Will learns that Bright Eyes passed on the ALZ-112 to her son...meaning that Caesar possesses incredible intelligence.  By the age of three, Caesar is already smarter than his human counterparts...

As the years go by, Caesar becomes like a son to Will.  Along with a lovely zoo veterinarian, Caroline (Freida Pinto), Charles, Caesar and Will often visit Muir Woods, where the ape can climb the tall redwoods and roam free.  Unfortunately, Caesar acts violently against a cruel, callous neighbor when Charles' Alzheimer's returns, and for his defensive action is remanded to the San Bruno Primate Shelter run by the cruel Landon family (Brian Cox and Tom Felton).

While Will attempts to bring Caesar home, he also develops ALZ-113, a new strain of his cure that may have side-effects the scientist has not foreseen.  This fact does not stop Will's profit-hungry boss, Jacobs (David Oyelowo), however, from pursuing development of "the cure..."

"What is Caesar?"

Early in this film, animal handler Franklin reminds Will (and the movie-going audience) that apes boast "personalities" and that they "form attachments." 

In many ways, this line of dialogue is  the key to the film.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes concerns an orphaned chimp of extreme intelligence who becomes part of a family, Will's human family. 

Thus Caesar wears clothes like a human child, plays games like a human child, and forms attachments to those he loves.  He views Will as his father, and Charles as his grandfather.  Caesar even gazes out the attic window of his house and -- we can see it on his expressive face -- wants to play outside, like human children.  His happiest moments are those in Muir Woods, where he can fully exercise his ape heritage.  But importantly, even those wonderful moments are spent with his human family...the other part of Caesar's equation or make-up.

As Caesar grows, he begins to wonder explicitly about his nature.  "What is Caesar?" He asks Will, rather pointedly (in sign language).  The answer is that he's not quite a human and no longer a mere, unevolved ape either. He's something singular; something different.  And in that difference Caesar is lonely and confused.  Caroline warns Will at one point that as Caesar grows, he will no longer be the obedient, supplicating son, but rather a rival, a competitor.  In this dynamic, quite clearly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes develops a metaphor for both human adolescence and the perils of fatherhood.  

When Caesar's home is taken away from him and he's remanded to a facility where the apes are treated cruelly, we see what happens when an emotional, vulnerable being is abandoned by family.  To quote the film, evolution becomes revolution.  After a time, Caesar gives up the hope and belief that he will return home to Will, and turns his attention to the apes incarcerated with him. They are treated -- again to quote the film's most important dialogue -- as if they don't have personalities and as if they don't form attachments.  They're just stupid prisoners to be controlled, and Caesar's evolved mind becomes awakened to the idea that such captivity is wrong.  He finally sees a place for himself where he does belong...as a leader of his kind.

Again, this process very much mirrors the journey into adulthood we humans face.  There's the inevitable rejection of the "father" or the previous generation, and the search for one's own purpose, outside of "family of origin" definitions.  There's the leaving of home, and the discovery and building of a new home.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes feels very personal in its depiction of this theme.  Will's character proves very interesting in that he is both  a son and a father, and in some sense, he fails in both roles. 

The film largely adopts Caesar's perspective, and we sympathize with the character as he loses his mother, his home, and then even his already-limited freedom.  When he leads the apes on an escape from captivity (again, to Muir Woods), it's not so much a rebellion against humanity as it is a flight to a better life.  Again, this idea is very easy to sympathize with.  Growing-up and finding one's place can be a tempestuous process.  We all ask ourselves the questions: Who am I?  Who do I want to be?

The social commentary in this film arrives in  few key points.  Other than Will's family and Franklin, humans in the film are seen in light of the old proverb that money is the root of all evil.   Landon and Jacobs put profit ahead of humanity, ultimately to the detriment of humanity itself.  They would rather be rich than be good, and though this leitmotif doesn't equal the powerful anti-war sentiment of the original franchise, this idea is certainly timely in our culture right now, following the Great Recession.  Wealth -- the accumulation of money -- has become more important than safety concerns to many businessmen, as we saw in the BP Oil Spill of 2010.   Helping people seems secondary to lining pockets, or protecting interests.

Like Jurassic Park (1993), Mimic (1997) and Deep Blue Sea (1999), Rise of the Planet of the Apes is also about the common horror movie idea of science run amok; of science unchecked.  The film glides past the idea that "some things shouldn't be changed" in relation to Will's experimentation, right to the idea that business can't regulate itself when it comes to new (and potentially profitable...) science.  In other words, Will may have been wrong for testing ALZ-112 and ALZ-113 illicitly, but his actions weren't a threat to the world until his creations fell into the avaricious hands of Big Business. 

In some way, the film is very much about human arrogance too.  From Rise of the Planet of the Apes' first frames -- a brutal chimpanzee hunt in the jungle -- it obsesses on the almost casual way that humanity assumes that other creatures (such as apes) are his to do with as he pleases: to abduct, to experiment upon, and to imprison. 

In our arrogance, we believe that other creatures don't possess souls, or don't feel emotions  as we do.  In 2011, we have heard an awful lot in the media about government taking away our "freedoms" or "liberties," but how stingy mankind appears in regards to the freedom and liberties of other mammals or non-humans.  In that way, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very much about animal rights, and this brings us full-circle to the original Planet of the Apes.  There, we saw Zaius's religious hypocrisy and the ape belief that only simians possessed the "spark" of the divine.  Today, many people similarly believe that Man is made in God's image and other creatures are just...dinner.  These folks believe what Ann Coulter espouses "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.Rise of the Planet of the Apes asks us to question that kind of cruel, selfish thinking.

Before I saw the film, I was very anxious about the CGI aspects of the movie.  If they failed...the movie would fail too.  Fortunately, I had no cause for concern.  The apes in this film are completely convincing and "real," and -- mirroring the through-line about personality and attachment -- register as real, recognizable individuals.  Caesar is the film's crowning achievement, but a gorilla named Buck is pretty amazing too, as is a slightly-mad chimpanzee named Coba. 

I haven't read many reviews to mention this fact, but in terms of physicality, Caesar actually seems to echo the contours of Roddy McDowall's face, at least after a fashion.  And his responses also strongly echo details of McDowall's performances, particularly in Conquest.  There's an instant in the film where Caesar hisses at a threat and then, after a moment of reflection, seems to reconsider and actually disapprove of his own "animal" behavior.  If you're a fan of the series, it's an emotional response you'll recognize instantly as McDowall's.  Seriously.  The effects-work isn't only gorgeous and realistic, then, it is actually faithful to the franchise and succeeds in making us sympathize with Caesar to an incredibe degree.  James Franco does a fine, restrained job as Will -- by selling the reality of the special effects, essentially -- but Caesar feels like a flesh and blood person, or ape.

In terms of thrilling action, Rise of the Planet of the Apes features several incredible scenes of Caesar's apes on the loose in San Francisco.  On first blush, it might not seem plausible that high-tech human law enforcement officials would have a problem containing this escape of the apes, but the film makes the case surprisingly well that the apes don't think like humans, and therefore keep surprising the humans. 

For instance, there's a great exterior visual of the apes leaping out of a building -- through glass windows -- by the dozen.  In another impressively-staged shot, we see that the apes apparently believe the quickest way to their destination is to go through an office building, not around it.   Again and again, the movie reveals how the apes operate on different principles of behavior, and how that behavior prevents law enforcement from responding effectively to the crisis.  That the apes are "evolved" plays into the matter too, of course.  The police don't expect the apes to pick up spears, use city buses as barricades, or deploy advanced battle tactics. 

The film's final battle on the Golden Gate Bridge is really fantastic work, in large part because we come to understand Caesar's tactics and movements, and the film doesn't cheat on spatial relationships or placement of the two "armies."  So many action films made these days rely on quick cutting and shaky cameras, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes builds its climax in relatively traditional film grammar terms, so that we understand where the characters are, who they are fighting, and what's at stake.  It's accomplished work, especially considering the complexity of the effects.

For the dedicated ape fan, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an absolute delight. There are so many clever series touches here that it's difficult to remember and enumerate them all.  One involves Caesar's birth.  Nobody knew that "Bright Eyes" was even pregnant, and when Caesar is found, he's wrapped in a brown blanket....a blanket very much like the one that Zira wraps up baby Milo in during the conclusion of Escape from the Planet of the Apes.   To me, this raises a mystery.  Is Caesar really Bright Eyes' child, or the child of another ape, perhaps even Zira herself?  It's true that Caesare possesses the "green flecks" in his eyes that are a telltale sign of ALZ-112, but since this is passed on genetically, all evolved apes (even future apes of the year 3955...) would also possess them. 

Another mystery regarding Caesar's origin: What does the birth mark on his chest mean?  Is it present simply so the audience can recognize and differentiate Caesar more quickly and easily in the battle sequences?  Or does it carry another, deeper meaning?  Is it some kind of future-ape culture "brand" (in a caste system?) that was put on him by his real mother and father (whomever that may be)?  I don't know, and I like that the movie doesn't tell us too much.

Many reviews have also made note of the TV newscast that reports the disappearance of the spaceship "Icarus" on a mission to Mars.  At least unofficially, Icarus is the name of Taylor's spaceship from the original film, and it's disappearance suggests the time-dilation or Hasslein Curve that we're expecting.  A sequel to this film could have that spaceship arriving on Earth in a thousand years and finding Caesar's progeny. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes also finds ways to work in Charlton Heston and famous lines of dialogue such as "take your stinking paws off me..." and "It's a madhouse,  madhouse!," but frankly, such touches aren't even really necessary.  The film works so impressively as a re-imagination of the franchise that the more overt pop culture shout-outs only seem to take away from the film's strong sense of dedication and fidelity to the source material.  My only wish is that in the primate shelter we had seen some ape name-plates that read Aldo, Lisa, and Mandemus.

I've read some critical complaints about the Tom Felton and Freida Pinto characters in the film, but these arguments largely miss the point.  These characters are not extraordinarily well-developed, to be certain, but they're as well developed, at least, as Julius in the original film, or Stephanie Branton in Escape.  Focusing on their superficiality misses the point: this is Caesar's story.  It's his story of determining "what he is," what he's supposed to be, and what purpose he is supposed to fulfill in his life.  The other characters are developed enough, but they aren't the focus.  In other words, you see about as much of them as you want to see, and no more.  It looks a lot to me like many critics were just trying to find things to quibble about in a movie that they largely liked, but didn't want to admit that they really liked.

Thrilling, intelligent, and emotionally resonant, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is everything I hoped it would be going in -- even with expectations high -- and perhaps more too.   When the film ended, I wanted to pay for another ticket and watch it again, to catch all the details I had missed.  I eagerly await the film's release on Blu Ray, that's for certain.

Finally, a re-imagination that doesn't make a monkey out of the audience.

23 comments:

  1. Jane Considine10:11 AM

    My husband is crazy about the Planet of the Apes films, as is one of my best friends. They have never really grabbed me, but I think I'm going to have to see this. The Alzheimer's aspect in particular is interesting, and will probably hit home. Excellent review.

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  2. Good to hear a favorable review from a fellow "ape-o-naut". Just curious, was the theater crowded? What was the atmosphere like? Thanks for the review.

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  3. That's great to hear, John. I've only skimmed your review because I plan on seeing this next week for my birthday. Thanks.

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  4. BTW, so... so glad to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes trounce The Change-up. Yea for smart sci-fi over stupid, scat humor any day of the week ;-).

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  5. Very insightful review John. Going into this film, I dont know if I was more hoping for greatness, or praying that it wasn't an abomination, a la Tim Burton's "re-imagination".

    I'm very pleased that we now have a modern installment that is worthy of the classic series.

    I think modernity itself plays a key role in the film as well. The bureaucratic rationalisation of big business exists outside the sphere of moral reasoning. Jacob's was only doing his job, protecting the interests (read: $) of Gen-Sys. Modernity was born blood, and if we are to believe the Apes series cannon, it shall end in blood. The question is, will an advanced apes society be more enlightened than humans?

    A question the film raised for me regarding our real present day apes was the teaching of sign language. I'm certainly aware of real cases of chimps communicating with humans via sign language, but what of chimps communicating with chimps in this manner? I guess an extension of that question is, do the chimps truelly understand what it is they are signing? Perhaps the orangutan Maurice's ability to communicate with Ceasar via sign language reveals something about Maurice? He certainly seemed closer in intelligence to Ceasar than to the other apes. Maybe I'm reading too much into that?

    Thanks for the re-visit to the Apes series. Looking forward to re-watching this one, and hopefully the next installment is not too far off.

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  6. This is movie has one of the most formulaic plotlines in recent memory...

    We’ve got the young, ideologically driven scientist who’s trying to pass for human trials a chimp-tested, breakthrough serum to cure Alzheimer’s (paging Deep Blue Sea...) only to be denied by a humiliated boss and a shaken board of investors after a rampant ape crashes the party. We all know where this is headed. We know what choices James Franco’s character will make. In fact, just about everything the human characters do in this film is entirely predictable from setup to payoff. Some of it is so contrived that it borders on the ridiculous. Of all the sci-fi fanciful elements involving super-smart apes and downtown city disasters, what stretched my suspension of disbelief down to its thinnest membrane was the sneering, two-dimensional asshole zookeeper who torments caged apes for sadistic pleasure. Who in the hell would ever act like that in real life?! There’s also the next door neighbor who likewise seems to exist for no other reason than to overreact with hostility every time he’s onscreen. Brian Cox and David Oyelowo, too, play one-note devices – all of these characters so devoid of any other purpose than to antagonize to one degree or another, thus driving the plot forward. Fortunately, none of this ever really bothered me.

    Yes, this is movie has one of the most formulaic plotlines in recent memory... but with a genuinely engaging story that rises above it all.

    I’ve long since argued that the reason why they call it formula is because it works. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prime example a generic plot used merely as a skeletal structure to support a larger, emotionally satisfying, character-driven storyline with interesting themes to boot. Franco might get top-billing but this really is Caesar’s story, and Andy Serkis painted with Weta artistry is the true star and star attraction of the film. No doubt about it. These days we often hear complaints about movies that are made around visual effects; I actually think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of them. I mean, let’s be honest here... the only reason this movie got its foot in the door is because the ever advancing motion capture technology was enticing enough for both the studio execs and the filmmakers to give it a go. But that’s fine. It’s more than fine, actually. Visual effects technology is just as valid a source of inspiration for cinematic pursuits as any other aspect of the medium. Hell, cinema is inherently technological, anyways.

    The problem with, say, the Transformers movies isn’t that they’re all about visual effects; it’s that they’re not about anything period, other than loud noises and advertising. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes the motion capturing was a liberating instrument played from the heart to express a meaningful story in a way that couldn’t be done (as effectively) with guys in rubber suites. That’s not to say that film’s FX are perfect. They’re not. A lot of the apes’ movements through CG juiced environments didn’t flow as naturally as they perhaps could have. Yet I simply don’t care. Photorealistic perfection is nowhere near as important as full-on conceptual realization and, furthermore, the nuanced articulation (of an otherwise impossible performance) that comes with the ever increasing subtleties of the digitally animated. Seamless with the live action? Not always. Seamless with the story and human characters? In every scene, yes. On a certain level, Caesar is just as exciting to me precisely because he doesn’t look altogether real, but that’s been my personal response to visual effects since way back when I was a little kid.

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  7. Franco did a decent job with his part but like all the other human characters he was mostly just there to provide a service to Caesar’s story, as was John Lithgow. Emotionally, both actors made it count when they needed to. Freida Pinto’s character could have been omitted entirely from the script and it wouldn’t have made any noticeable difference. I honestly can’t figure what purpose she served other than to be a tender shoulder for Franco during his sadder moments. But her being there didn’t hurt the film either – her character never got in the way of things, so to speak. Anyways, Pinto is extremely beautiful and I’d just assume look at her as opposed to not looking at her.

    This movie wasn’t non-stop action. There are some brief, intense bursts of violence throughout but it’s all tied into the story and by the time we do get to the big rampaging mayhem it feels like a properly arced end-point to the preceding events. I agree that the action is nicely done. Director Rupert Wyatt scaled big and appears to have staged everything with a healthy respect for the storyboard process, but I reckon a lot of credit is due to the film’s two veteran editors, Conrad Buff and Mark Goldblatt. Still, Wyatt achieves some very cool imagery, like a grade school Caesar staring up into the forest for the first time, the predawn aerial shot of the ape army cascading down the hillside, raining green leaves from a deadly canopy above or a horse charging out of the bay fog with a surprise rider. It also helps that Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is refreshingly colorful and clear and dynamic in contrast. I’m a native of Northern California myself and am well familiar with the streets of San Fran, also having walked the Golden Gate numerous times. So it’s pretty neat to see such places utilized well for thrilling cinematic set-pieces. Most of all, however, are the Redwoods which used to by my workplace for a number of years. Seeing them up on the big screen littered with super-smart apes (amongst Ewoks and dinosaurs) is a lot of fun, though I could definitely spot some artifice in the Muir National Park scenes.

    I overall really enjoyed this movie. I hope it does well at the box office because I’d very much like to see some follow-ups that continue to reboot the franchise mythology.

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  8. Great review, as always. I thoroughly enjoyed it too and went into the film with low expectations, anticipating yet another remake or revisioning failure. To my great surprise we have a film where the special effects compliment and work with a great story that is not only aware of, but respects and becomes a part of the body of Apes mythology. This is a worthy addition to the Apes canon of films, and as a fan since the 1970s, I am pleased once again to follow the admonition of 20th Century Fox years ago and "Go Ape!".

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  9. I am really, really glad you were so impressed by the film. I was hesitant to look here or elsewhere online, in case the film turned out problematic (like Tim Burton's film).

    I noticed the references you posted: Bright Eyes (Zira's nickname for Taylor), Caesar (the child of Zira and Cornelius), the Alzheimer's research (echoing Zira's brain research), Franklin (echoing astronaut Judy Franklin from the animated series), Landon (astronaut from the original film), Will's boss Jacobs (connecting to the original producer of POTA, Arthur P. Jacobs), and of course the Icarus. The science factor echoes not only Zira's brain surgery, but the experiments on the chimpanzees and other apes on board the Oberon in Tim Burton's film. Yet this film clearly charts its own course, as JJ Abrams' Star Trek did. The touchpoints for the hardcore fans, and great stuff for the casual filmgoer. Wonderful to hear we have a great science fiction film again, and a great Apes film.

    Casting James Franco, whom I know from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, is a deft touch, because those films also deal with scientific experimentation, ethics, and the morality of big business.

    Casting John Lithgow is another excellent touch. He's got the science fiction pedigree--Third Rock From the Sun as an intelligent alien, lost in Man's world, and as the passenger who saw something on the wing in the Twilight Zone Movie.

    Caroline is supposed to be an echo of the Natalie Trundy character in Escape, I think. And Muir Woods---wasn't that where the Endor scenes of Return of the Jedi were filmed?

    I can't wait to see this!!!!!!!!!!

    I've also finished up my Planet of the Apes Weekend with a couple of more blog entries.

    Thanks for the great review!

    Gordon Long

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  10. Hi everybody,

    Great comments here on Rise of the Planet of the Apes!

    Jane: I really do think this movie will grab you, perhaps in a way that some of the other films did not. Rise of the Planet of the Apes feels very...personal; very intimate. Some of it I found very emotional. The Alzheimer's angle -- though developed from a similar-seeming concept in Deep Blue Sea (with smart sharks) --- contributes a real sense of gravity to the picture, and to many of the scenes. I do recommend the movie, and think it probably will probably hit home for you.

    jdigriz: The theater was almost totally full when I saw the film Saturday afternoon, and the sense I got was that the audience really got into the film.

    During certain dramatic scenes you could hear a pin drop, and when Caesar did something dramatic and somehow unexpected in the last act (in the primate shelter, facing off against Felton), the audience let out a collective gasp, and then a kind of giggle at the effectiveness of the surprise.

    Overall, I'd say the audience was really "with" the movie, and firmly on Caesar's side as his odyssey took shape.

    More to come...

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  11. Hi Le0pard13:

    You have a nice birthday treat in store, my friend! I hope you enjoy your day, and also Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And I couldn't agree with you more: it's nice to see a science fiction film top the summer box office over a dopey, foul-mouthed comedy. Good to see Apes Rise, and definitely let us know how you enjoy the film next weekend!

    Henry: I agree with you that Rise of the Planet of the Apes' sort of anti-business message resonates strongly today, and perhaps even in a fashion that the more racial overtones of Conquest would not have. The "bureaucratic rationalization" of business, as you find it, is universal. "I'm running a business," are words spoken in the film by Jacob, as if that is an explanation/excuse/rationalization for his bad behavior. But it's one we hear in real life all the time. Like running a business makes you exempt from being a human being, or treating others like human beings.

    I also found the character of Maurice very interesting (named after Maurice Evans, who played Zaius the orangutn, no doubt...). He clearly did possess considerable intelligence before receiving "the cure," and was closest to Caeasr in terms of smarts. If the next film picks up the timeline right after Rise, I'd be curious to see how Maurice is used by the screenplay. As comic relief, or as commentarian on ape mores and behaviors (as he was here). Very interesting!

    More to come...

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  12. Cannon:

    I love your detailed comment, particularly this line: "I’ve long since argued that the reason why they call it formula is because it works."

    That's absolutely right, and I plan to appropriate your wording of this axiom as soon as I possibly can. :)

    Just kidding. But seriously, I think everything you say is truthful and accurate. In terms of plot-line, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is -- at the start -- very much a development of Deep Blue Sea. Almost alarmingly so.

    But then, as you indicate, the emotional content of the story develops strongly...and far beyond that Jurassic Park with Sharks 1999 film (which I still enjoy as a horror/thrill ride...).

    Some of the supporting characters here are indeed two dimensional: they are squares to fit pegs in the drama, and yet, like you, I don't really find that this matters much in the final analysis of the picture. As you and I both suggest, Caesar is the center of the story, and his development is the most important. He's a great character, even though he is a construct of special effects. I don't know that he is always 100 percent photo real, either, but he is 100 percent emotionally real, and that where it counts. I was impressed by the film's use of location and effects as well, and can't wait to see Rise again.

    On a related note, you wrote an excellent comment on my True Lies review, and I'm still catching up to those! But I'm getting there! Thank you for both excellent comments.

    more to come...

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  13. Hi John:

    We're in total agreement on Rise, and it's value to the franchise. It is rather amazing that this film was made so many years later than the original five pictures and yet -- in substantial manner -- "becomes part of the body" of the franchise, just as you indicate. This suggests to me that someone (or many someones...) behind the scenes really approached the picture and its heritage with great seriousness and respect. I think that's rare in Hollywood today, and I laud Rise for being thoroughly entertaining as a standalone picture and also absolutely intriguing as part of the well-established franchise. I'm going ape over it, myself. It's been a while since I've enjoyed a movie in the theater this damn much.

    PDX Wiz: I will definitely check out your blog for those Ape-centric entries. I enjoy your posts very much!

    You know, you really dug into the names of Rise very ably there. I had forgotten where the name Frankling came from, even though I just posted a review of the cartoon series! :)

    From small nods (like the naming of the character...) to large ones, Rise of the Planet of the Apes really exhibits a love for the POTA franchise, all in an unobtrusive way; one that doesn't get in the way of an excellent, emotional tale, well-told.

    Thank you all for these great comments on the film. It's nice to see that so many other folks share my enthusiasm for the film!

    All my best,
    John

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  14. Hi JKM;

    Looking forward to seeing this (finding time to go to the theater is tough). It's great (and probably controversial) that you bring up the issue of "soul" as relates to animals; this is a not-too-subtle but rarely discussed thread in the original series. It seems to have been a question Apes screenwriter Rod Serling was interested in, as there are a few variations on it during the Twilight Zone (most notably "The Hunt").

    If there is such thing as a "soul", by what reasoning do we presume that animals don't have it? I've seen cats reason ("Hmm. The human always turns the doorknob before the door opens. 'Turning the knob' must be the function that allows the door to open. Now, if I can just turn it so... takes both paws... success!") and dogs exhibit socially-based morality ("Human no likes me chase cats in house. Me no chase cats outside either, though me wants to.") And here's a case (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdyc3rUOaLk) of an elk that shows what can only be described as "intrinsic morality" - it saves the marmot's life because it recognizes that it is a fellow creature in trouble. (The nudge it gives the rescued creature shows pretty conclusively that the "skeptic's view" that the elk moved the marmot because it was blocking the water [?] is an obvious Dr. Zaius "it can't be morality, because elks are not defined as having morality" faulty syllogism). It makes a moral decision, and exerts effort, to rescue a creature that has no social meaning to it - it's not a relation, or even a strange elk.

    And animals are "morally inferior" to man how, exactly?

    BTW, I noticed and loved the echoes of Roddy's Caesar in the CGI of the new Caesar. That is right, it is exactly right.

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  15. An awesome movie and worthy successor to my favorite science fiction film series. Bring on part 2.

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  16. Hi DLR:

    I am very much with you on the topic of animals and souls, my friend. If we have souls, surely animals have them too. I definitely see it in my own cats. It's more than just mere intelligence. One reason I can't buy into organized religion so much (without naming names...) is because of this very issue. I just don't believe that animals are "empty" and God blessed man and only man with souls. it just doesn't ring true to me, at all.

    Roddy McDowall is there, inside the new Caesar, I swear. You can really see him!

    davidfullam: I totally agree with you. I can't wait for the sequel. Hope it comes soon.

    best,
    John

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  17. dave starry2:30 PM

    John, your review convinced me to go see this movie in the theater. Even though I'm an "Ape fanatic", I was entirely content to wait for the release to video especially considering my extreme disappointment with Tim Burton's previous effort to re-boot the series. I dug up an old $50 theater gift card I'd had in my drawer for the better part of a year, convinced my wife and son, and headed out to a screening last night (as a side note, three tickets, two small popcorns and a couple of cokes ran us $46 -- going out to the movies is definitely not cheap these days).

    Despite your glowing review, I still went in with lowered expectations, but found myself pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the film immensely; both as a homage to the original series and as a successful new franchise all on its own. I can't wait to find out what happened to the missing Icarus Mars flight. My 16-year-old was even more enthusiastic and promptly dug out my Apes box set to settle in for an all-night Ape movie marathon (ah, the wonderful summer vacations of youth when such extravagances were still possible!). I told him I envied his perspective of discovering the original movies for the first time.

    One thing I wanted to mention was your questioning of the birth mark on Caesar's chest. Besides the points you raised, I thought this might also be an allusion to the burn scar that Taylor receives in the first movie after scuffling with the mute human in the outdoor cage which leads to the gorilla guards poking him with a flaming torch. This creats a burn mark on Taylor's shoulder/chest that somewhat resembles where Caesar's mark is. A bit far fetched possibly, but just a thought...

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  18. Hi Dave:

    That's so cool that you made Rise of the Planet of the Apes a family event. I wish my son were old enough to see this one. As it was, I had to see it alone while my wife and Joel went into another auditorium to see Cars 2. In my life, I've only seen two movies by myself, and this was one of them (the other one was Drag Me To Hell...).

    And that's mega-awesome that the film led your son into a discovery of the Apes films. Please check back in and let me know what he thought of the original series; and which movies he liked best.

    I love your idea about the brand, as being a reflection of Taylor's from the original film. I'm definitely of the opinion that it's there for some reason beyond easy recognition of Caesar. I really think it means something...we just don't know for sure what yet!

    All my best,
    JKM

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  19. John -- I'm a great admirer of your reviews. Not since the old days of Siskel and Ebert have I enjoyed, wholeheartedly, listening (reading) film reviews. Whether I agree or not, I appreciate the efforts you put behind your thoughts.

    This is one of those times where I seem to disagree with you. I'm a huge fan of the POTA series, and I was really let down by this new reimagining. I was behind the whole "what is Caesar?" message, but felt, ultimately, that they didn't dig any deeper than -- people are bad, they do and things to the animals and each other. It was like an overblown PETA commercial.

    The action was top notch, and the visuals were spectacular, which keeps in pace with the originals. But I felt that the story really fell flat. Shallow characters (besides Caesar, that is) and easy-to-read conflicts were the order of the day. I remember being so much more engaged in the subplots of the original, even at the age age 7 -- when I first saw it. The commentary only became more engaging the older I got.

    Honestly, I don't see myself holding much more attention to Rise of the Planet of the Apes than I already have.

    However, I am looking forward to improvements in the new franchise.

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  20. Hi Bad Ronald!

    Thank you for the wonderful comment on my reviews, and the very laudatory comparison to Siskel and Ebert. Your words mean a lot to me. Thank you.

    Don't worry that you disagree with me on Rise of the POTA: We won't always like the same movies, but in our differences we can come to new truths, new perceptions.

    I don't entirely disagree with you that many of the human characters fell flat, or seemed less-than-real (perhaps two-dimensional, especially in their hostility to the apes...).

    And yet, Caesar seemed to be such a well-developed character that, for me, he carried the day, both in terms of his character and the visualization of the character and his odyssey.

    I totally understand why you feel the way you do, in other words. The Pinto character doesn't have much of value to contribute, for instance. There is a definite formula at work here, as another reader, Cannon, noted. However, for me this was an occasion where the formula worked, and the film's sense of intelligence about the franchise and about Caesar outweighed some of the obvious and flat characterization.

    All my best,
    John

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  21. Hey John--

    Some of the best discussions/reviews came out of Siskel not agreeing with Ebert. Loved that show!

    I did read that comment from Cannon, and i agree, wholeheartedly. My only demand is that the filmmakers make those formulaic characters interesting. John Lithgow's Charles wasn't really the most fascinating, but his performance worked just right. And Will's boss was just the right amount, as well. They made sense.

    However, the Landon kid at the shelter, and the nasty neighbor -- they were just nonsense. There was nothing interesting about them at all. They were like the characters who were on the list for the formula, who never got developed. Unfortunately, it was this that made the difference in my enjoyment of Rise. I think they could've done so much with these side characters, to make a deeper commentary than simply "What is Caesar?"

    I'm interested to see how they continue on, though. Will future Apes be played by humans w/ make up, or all CG? I hope they go the make-up route.

    Best, Barry

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  22. I LOVE this, John! It was great to see, and audience I sat with cheered when the Caesar and the other primates got past the bridge. It was interesting to see them connect with the apes as characters in such a way that it's thought-provoking. Thanks, John.

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  23. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Just something about the birth mark: It has the shape of the Fascio, the symbol of Caesar's power in Rome (Later used as the symbol, and name, of the Fascist Party)

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