“Take your stinking paw off me, you damn dirty ape!” Far from the truth. The primate in question is neither damned nor dirty and is a chimpanzee. Named after the tragic Shakespearian character, Caesar is a genius chimp able to understand problems and formulate solutions like humans. Like Caesar, the people behind the summer surprise Rise of the Planet of the Apes understood the dilemma of creating prequels to classic movies and formulated the proper solutions to it. Solid script and spectacular sequences aside, this film triumphed because it has a beating heart. Equal portions are provided for the required science-fiction blabber and the relationships of the central characters. I am not a fan of the late Charlton Heston because 1) he is a Republican 2) he abhors gun control and 3) he is the pop culture Moses but this prequel had me thinking if his previous apes movie is on-line. The strong $54-M opening box-office gross and a high 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating should encourage the filmmakers to continue narrating the rise and rise of the planet of the apes.
Dr. Charles Rodman (James Franco) is on the threshold of designing a drug to cure Alzheimer’s, after his test subject Chimpanzee No. 9 deciphered the Lucas Tower in just 20 moves. Since the perfect score is 15 moves, her performance demonstrates increase brain functioning. In the middle of his reporting to potential financiers, Chimpanzee No. 9 escaped and thrashed the laboratories. She and the other lab subjects had to be killed. From death sprang life as Chimpanzee No. 9 birthed a male offspring. Dr. Rodman then realized the unnoticed pregnancy resulted to her uncharacteristic agitation and not an undesirable side-effect of the drug. Against professional ethics, he applied ALZ112 to his father (John Lithgow), a retired music teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s. Surprisingly, the brain functioning of his father not only normalized but also increased in terms of capacities. ALZ112 makes people more intelligent; a fact Caesar further bolstered as his mental skills are nearing human abilities. But a chimp is still a chimp and a finger-biting episode had him placed in an animal containment building. Dr. Rodman promised Caesar to return him back home once the case is decided. Maltreated and left with other primates of lesser brain functioning, Caesar gradually lost his trust for humans and created a daring escape plan out of the cruel establishment.
I need to stop.
You need to see the movie because the next scenes are some of the most thrilling sequences this summer. Aerial shots of apes running amok in the streets of San Francisco are some of the most gripping and creepiest scenes filmed. That and a bunch ALZ112-induced primates standing upright for the first time in freaking unison. These simple touches add more satisfaction in this surprise of a film. (Simple touches such as Caesar amusing himself with a small plastic Statue of Liberty will put a smile on inveterate film fans.) Confession: I cannot help the multiple use of “surprise” for this blog post because of the expectations I set for this prequel. George Lucas himself tanked in the prequel department so the proverbial bar has been set near to the ground.
The real reason I intended to check this movie is due to the fact it is the first post-Potter project of Tom Felton. Remember him? That despicable squirt of a wizard making life hard for the Chosen One has taken on the role of despicable squirt of a guard making life hard for the Chosen Chimp. (Lucius and the rest of the Death Eaters should be proud of this fledgling scoundrel.) Felton is treading the anti-hero path one foul step at a time and it helps a certain Brian Cox is on-board as his screen father. Hannibal Lecter sounds familiar? Cox is the iconic cannibal before Mr. Hopkins. James Franco is authentic both as the suffering son of Alzheimer-stricken father and as the compassionate surrogate father to a special chimpanzee. He made me go through and appreciate him stuck in a boulder so he can do anything except host the Oscars. There is an almost permanent pleasant demeanor in the appearance of John Lithgow. It is like his face spells F-U-N all the time so to see him endure a debilitating disease is just terrible. Then there is the terrific Andy Serkis as Caesar. Yes. Gollum does it again. Serkis is making income and gaining fans acting behind computer-generated characters. He must be one empathic person to be able to inhabit such fascinating roles.
This tale of an ape-besieged planet is similar to the historical narration of past civilizations from its humble beginnings to its rise to as a full-pledged empire. No doubt social scientists shall discuss the film in these terms: 1) the debate of creation and biological evolution (Primates turning into humans does infuriates the supposed sensibilities of Sarah Palin and her ilk.) 2) the endless argument of nature and nurture (Is Caesar a decent and dependable leader because of the drug or because his surrogate father demonstrated him the same traits?) and 3) the manifest need for social classes (The superior chimpanzee is the leader. Bigger and also smarter orangutans are second in command. Gorillas are enforcers and apes are in the bottom of social triangle. The classification makes sense because chimps are the closest relations of humans in the animal realm. Next to chimpanzees are gorillas and our largest cousins record an astounding 95-99% similar genetic make-up to humans. Orangutans come from a smaller tribe and are exclusive inhabitants of Asian forests. Its name means man of the forest and has been recorded to use sophisticated tools. Apes come from another group called hominoids and not hominids. The latter includes the aforementioned chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and humans. Smaller bodies and brains characterize hominoids despite the same tailless appearance like the burlier and more intelligent hominids.)
The movie is indeed more than just a planet gone to the apes but an astute social annotation to humans.
One stunning incident is disclosed in the latter stages of the film and concerns the first quoted sentence of this blog post. You could hear a pin drop inside the cinemas as the scene progressed. Go. Make an intelligent guess.