Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Official Black Owl Review of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

So, recently I have seen some pretty good movies (Thor, True Grit) and some pretty poor ones (Green Lantern), but right now I want to discuss a movie I loved, loved, loved. Lots of spoilers will follow, but I will start with a little background, and give a spoiler free review.

I was probably eight or nine the first time I saw the original Planet of the Apes. Saw it on TV with commercials, they way we watched movies pre-VHS, and must freely admit I shrieked a little in horror and despair when the (spoiler for the original here... but I don't feel too bad about spoiling a 43 year old movie) Statue of Liberty makes her appearance, and the director masterfully fades to credits with no sound but the ocean waves. Then, our local CBS affiliate started showing the TV series Saturday nights after the 10 o'clock news, and I would beg my Dad to stay up with me, and usually fall asleep before Galen, Burke, and Virdon escaped Spock's dad in a Gorilla suit. Bless my dad though; he put up with that most of the summer that year.

When we started getting TBS, various Ape movies would show up, and I was there. To this day, regardless of the fact I own them all on DVD (and the aforementioned TV series, AND the animated series, AND the Tim Burton remake), if I am flipping through the channels and an Ape movie comes on, everything else goes on standby. Even if it's Battle.

About the Marky Mark/Tim Burton version; I don't hate it. I think the Apes are extremely well presented, and the effects are good. The story's a little slowly paced, and the twist ending is nailed on so poorly and inorganically the DVD actually has an interactive feature to try to explain how that crazy crap happened... and it still really doesn't work. Trick endings are like jokes. If you have to explain them, they weren't told right the first time.

Regardless, I love the Apes movies, and with the Lincoln Memorial Ape still burned in my mind I heard they were making a new one. I was skeptical, but willing to give it a shot. Certainly concerned that all the Apes would be CGI, and that this new one would basically rehash what we saw in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. To be objective though, the Ape origin there pushes more than a little credibility: a space virus kills all our dogs and cats, so we enslave apes who in 20 years are now wearing clothes and human sized, ready for the secret child of two future apes to lead them to an Ape-Power victory over their homo sapient masters. There's a few non-sequiturs there, and even a few inconsistencies with the other movies. Saw the first teaser, and I was mighty intrigued. Then I saw the four minute promo clip and my interested was piqued. It looked pretty damn good. And now that I have seen it?

As stated above, I loved, loved, loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The action is good, but this is a film with a heart and mind as well, and that what sets it above other summer movies. It is smart, providing very reasonable scientific advancements as the catalyst for Caesar's rise. Caesar as a character though provides a heart to the film, and the motion capture emotions on Andy Serkis' Caesar needs to be honored somehow, be it a Best Actor Oscar for Serkis, or one for everyone who brought Caesar to life. Yeah, I said best actor; this is Caesar's movie, and really even top billed James Franco is there only to allow us to get to Caesar. This is a choice that must have looked like a big risk to the production, but pays off in spades. The set of Ape characters with their personalities and quirks... I could watch them for hours. Caesar though, with his brilliant mind still driven by chimpanzee emotion is compelling, and compassionate. The only other performance that comes close is John Lithgow as James Franco's father suffering Alzheimer's; if I have any complaint it's that I didn't get to see these two performances interact more, but when they do it is heartbreaking gold.

I also want to point out the incredible love the makers of this film have for the original property. The film is littered with deep and arcane references to the other films, yet only once does it seem to be wedged in (and I am sure it is no spoiler to you to know that a certain line about “damn dirty apes” would be repeated), but the moment following it makes it oh so worth it. I would love to meet the writer and director, because I have no doubt we could sit down with beer and pizza watching all the Apes movies and have a great time... because they have obviously done that themselves. Little moments and images all part of the texture of the film that a new viewer can see and not be distracted by, while Ape-Heads like me can smile. Those moments serve to tie this movie to the others, and make it a very coherent prequel. I would love to go into some of the subtler ones here, but I don't want to spoil anything. Keep an eye on the news the characters watch though.

I have heard complaints that the human characters are a bit two-dimensional in this film, and in some cases this is true. Didn't bother me though; this is the Apes' movie, and they rise well. It is so nice to see a good, hard Sci-Fi movie that tells its story well. I hope it succeeds, because it is a movie which deserves to be seen. My fear is someone will then decide there MUST be a sequel, and I don't know we need that. Then again, I wasn't sure we needed this one, and I left the theater giddy. Ape fan or not, if you are looking for a good blend of action, intellect, and emotion, this is worth checking out. Hail Caesar.


Prosey said...

My daughter REALLY wants to see this...yet when I saw the trailer, I cringed.

You're the second person to encourage us to watch the movie. I haven't seen the 68 version in many, many years...and doubt I would remember any of the references. Thank you for this review - as it's caused me to rethink waiting for the DVD and has me wondering if I'll take my daughter to see it before school commences this week.

That said, the one comment from another friend has me the most intrigued: "John Lithgow's understated performance makes the movie worth the price of admission." :-)

Dan said...

Absolutely a plus; Lithgow is wonderful. Again if I could change any one thing it would be to see more of the Caesar/Father relationship.