There’s no question that Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film, “Planet of the Apes,” is a seminal work of science-fiction. The film, about astronauts who crash on a planet where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, redefined the entire genre.
Schaffner’s movie, based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle, spawned multiple sequels, television series and comic books. Unfortunately, it also spawned a 2001 remake by director Tim Burton, which all but killed off any good will the franchise had left.
Fast-forward 10 years. It’s a brand new day in America, and director Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) has just delivered his own definitive work of science-fiction in the form of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a reboot of the series and an origin story for how apes came to rule the world.
“But as for Caesar, Kneel down, kneel down, and wonder.” — Act 3, Scene 2 of Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare.
Andy Serkis, who so brilliantly brought to life Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, as well as King Kong in Jackson’s 2005 remake, delivers an inspired performance as Caesar, leader of the apes.
Weta Workshop, the Oscar-winning visual effects team that brought to life the worlds of “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” has broken new ground, creating computer-generated apes that deliver dramatic performances of unprecedented emotion and intelligence — truly jaw-dropping stuff.
This technology, combined with Serkis’ performance, results in one of the most realistic, truly stunning computer-generated characters ever seen in a motion picture. The real star of this film, however, is the script by Jaffa and Silver. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” might be the best reboot of a franchise ever, its only notable competition being Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.”
The film is everything good science fiction should be. It is philosophical, exploring issues of ethics and what it means to be human, what happens when we play God — the societal impact of technology and the way we as a species choose to wield it. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is as exciting as it is riveting, an awe-inspiring film that challenges the viewer and simultaneously entertains them.
It serves as a great companion to Schaffner’s original, like rhyming stanzas in poem. While the film hits familiar beats, it offers enough new twists to captivate the viewer. Director Rupert Wyatt has punched his ticket as the next big director in Hollywood and, much like Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code”), will have his pick of any project his heart desires once the world discovers how good this movie is.
My only complaint is the lack of depth in the human characters, who are overshadowed by their primate counterparts. I would have liked more scenes of James Franco and Freida Pinto engaged in arguments of ethics and morality — I’m smart enough to weigh the themes in my head, but it would be nice to see the characters themselves more fleshed out.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” might the best film of summer, second only to Abrams’ “Super 8” – and even that’s up for debate. The film will win Academy Awards for its visual effects, which may have raised the bar higher than even Cameron’s “Avatar.”
My Favorite Bits of Homage: There’s an orangutan named Maurice who joins Caesar in his fight. Maurice Evans is the name of the actor who portrayed Dr. Zaius in the original “Planet of the Apes.”
There’s mention of a spacecraft named Icarus on a mission to Mars. Icarus is of course the ship which carried Charlton Heston and his crew through time in the original film.
Caesar’s mother was an ape named Bright Eyes. In the original film, Charlton Heston’s character is named “Bright Eyes” by Zira.
I’ll leave it at that – there’s no shortage of homage and references made to the original series, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for everyone. In short, go see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – I can’t wait to watch it again, and I’m extremely excited by the prospect of a new trilogy of ape flicks.