Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Okay. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The review is simple. The shots in which there were apes--and ONLY apes--were brilliantly directed (by someone named Rupert Wyatt, who hasn't done a film you or I are likely to see were it not for this movie). The shots in which ANY humans appeared were day-old-bread bland. Andy Serkis, playing the lead ape in its adulthood, was superb--so much so that I think he was underused (he doesn't contribute to two-thirds of the film). Nevertheless, you can feel a palpable rise in attention whenever his input is evident. Many filmgoers will at least subliminally recognize the change in the film's quality when his fully-grown Caesar arrives on-screen. I believe there's an entirely great performance here that deserves recognition (particularly given Serkis' insanely superb past experience with this kind of role, as with his Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and with his title character in KING KONG). Though I neither want to posit the addition of a special "motion capture" category at the Oscars, nor do I want to include Serkis in with the regular actors' categories, I do think there should be some consideration given to Serkis as the recipient of a Special Achievement Oscar for his body of motion-capture work, in which he is an absolute pioneer. The New Zealand FX team WETA deserve much credit for what wispy power the film possesses; however, things are still not perfect. Digital characters remain looking as if they're moving about underwater. They have a slight slowness to them that takes me out of the illusion. I know this is an ongoing problem with digital figures in film--it's a glitch in the program that apparently cannot be brooked now. But I mention this because...let's not fool ourselves, okay? These FX do not look TOTALLY real. Many genre fans might want to say that they do, but they don't. Face it. More work needs to be done before we get to where we really wanna be. So let's not go landing on the moon just yet. And, still, Andrew Lesnie's cinematography in RISE is sterling, the film's in-house editing veteran Conrad Buff does well and, above all, Serkis' leavings are absolutely notable.

Back to the movie: the script was resolutely lazy. The film was boring for its first 40 minutes. No one cares about James Franco or his father (John Lithgow), whom scientist Franco is trying to save from a slide into Alzheimer's by developing a serum that, when tested on the apes, makes their IQs go way up. One thing: why do all summer movies have to come down to the love of a son for a father, or the love of a father for a son, or the love of a father for a daughter, or the love of a daughter for a father, or the love of a wife for a husband or...on and on it goes. What the fuck is going on here? Is every screenwriter in Hollywood feeling some sort of crippling guilt for how shittily they've treated their nearest family members? Jesus Christ, this is such a tired plot trope. To boot, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES' pointless dialogue was uber-filled with those "motivational" words "I need"--these words come about in almost all genre movies or TV shows (the TV show LOST was replete with these two words)--"I need" you to do this, "I need" this chance, etc. (This phenomenon in movie writing has a lot to do with gaming culture, which is built on having a "need" that "needs" to be fulfilled. I would recommend film writers find a thesaurus.) On the positive side, the film had a refreshingly restrained use of scoring--many scenes that, in a less well-directed movie, would have been scored wall-to-wall, were actually only augmented by the sounds of the apes. Lest we forget: we came to the movie to see the apes. Let them take it.

The picture's miniscule "villains" (David Oyelowo's pharma-business-prick Steven Jacobs, Tom Jacobs' goony teen cagemaster, and even the usually reliable Brian Cox's lackadaisical ape boss) were unfulfilling. I was so bored by them all, I spent the whole movie trying to determine whether Jacobs was actually Aaron Paul from BREAKING BAD, and wondering if they approached Chiwetel Ejiofor for the Steven Jacobs role--mind you, this is a negative that's not the movie's fault, however I would like to take this opportunity to IMPLORE summer movie filmmakers to add credits to the BEGINNINGS of their movies, if only for us fanboys...uh, er, film geeks.

My 2nd biggest complaint with the film--after the limpness of its human participants (including the dull Frieda Pinto, the googly-eyed Lithgow, and the sleepy, strangely Adam-Sandler-haired Franco) has to do with the numerous, and I assume fanboy-inspired references to the original PLANET OF THE APES. Jacob's "damn dirty ape" line, in particular, was absolutely embarrassing and unnecessary; so was the televised cameo from Charlton Heston as Moses (geez, no TV station is playing THE TEN COMMANDMENTS these days, unless maybe it happens to be Easter), and the "it's a madhouse" reference; also the cops on horses in the climax was an unrealistic element. Cops on horses? I mean, though it can be defended on purely technical terms--how else could they make their way through the stranded cars--still, cops on horses is a now-ancient concept in USA terms; why not use motorcycles? And so the inclusion of cops on horses was obviously a PLANET OF THE APES reference (as was the weaponed use of the water hose, though fans will breathlessly tell you, as if they've solved a theorem, "They're setting up the world of the apes!"). And, though the shots of the apes high above the city impress us, the film disappoints by setting the final entire conflict on the Golden Gate bridge. You get no sense that the entire city of San Francisco has been taken over; hell, there are only four sets in the movie (the house, the ape prison, the lab, and the bridge). One more minute with that helicopter machine gun (which should have been BLACK HAWK DOWN powerful) in the climax would have erased the entire damn dirty ape problem. And, by the way, those spears that the apes had? How did they wrest even one, not to mention so many, of these spears from that one zoo cage? This element was totally goofy. I kept wondering, if the apes were so smart, why didn't they just grab the guns? (The whole "let's not kill humans" thing was bizarrely disingenuous; as such, one of the only humans that dies in the movie is, of course, the sweet fat guy at the beginning who catches the disease and ends up sneezing blood; as usual, the fat guy always dies in movies because, really, who gives a fuck if a fatty bites it?)

Still, in the sea of generally stinky swill that is most of summertime moviegoing, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a not entirely failed effort. It is hobbled, yes--but not failed (I rank it a C+). But may I remind you: with that "summertime" caviat, we're grading on a curve. This is NOT one of the best films of the year, as it is being deemed by so many online nerds (of which I am one, though I am one with unpopular tastes). However, I hope for a better film to follow. When the sequel does go into production, I would recommend it contain only only ONE human in it. After all, the humans have ALWAYS been the downfall of the series. With this recent overpraised effort, I hope the filmmakers have learned this lesson.


Lisa said...

Great review and so perfectly right! The only time "The Ten Commandments" plays is once at Easter, so unless it was Easter in the film, no luck seeing Heston! I'm not convinced I'd like this as I can't stand the look of CGI, but kudos to Serkis, you are right!

Dan O. said...

I wasn't actually expecting to be as moved as I did from this material but Serkis just really channeled the inner ape within him, and nails this perfect motion-capture performance as Caesar. I also sure as hell hope that he doesn't get snubbed as well. He already did for LOTR! Good Review!

Joseph Aisenberg said...

This really was a terrific review. Apes looked horrible in the commercials; I still won't be going to see it but if I come across the thing somewheres I might not switch it off, though personally I thought that casting Franco as a great brain scientist was far less believable than the very CGI looking apes. Also, the apes don't kill people?--that is just cheesy. It's sad movies are so bad that you're having to grade on this kind of curve just to keep from going nuts or sounding like a drudge.

And man you're so right about the love of parents thing in movies, but it goes back at least into the last century. Remember, in both Contact and Twister, I think, the daughters had strong dead fathers who had inspired their career choices (as if a strong mother wouldn't have done the trick). And no matter how unbelievable The Ten Commandants may be on TV, it's so much less surreal than the Oklahoma drive-in supposedly showing a double feature of The Shinning and Psycho in Twister! I wish.

Dean Treadway said...

So true about the ridiculous TWISTER, which was a film I walked out at the height of its action (the audience was sitting there in rapt attention while I was mentally spelling out the word bullshit--i bet they wondered why i chose THIS moment to go up and get some milk duds). As for the parental motivation cliche--whatever happened to doing things because they're the right thing to do, or because the lead character just simply wants to do them? Why do lead characters in dumb movies always have to be motivated by their parents or children? Is this because the people watching these movies are likely either parents or children, and this is all they can understand? If so, this is a supremely insulting notion. Anyway, thanks for the praise. And, yeah--I'd go see a double bill of PSYCHO and THE SHINING at a drive-in any time. Those two movies have nothing but contempt for being either a parent OR a child.