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Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

22 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 621

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Rupert Wyatt


Buy this film on DVD from Amazon UK or Amazon USA

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes', directed by Rupert Wyatt

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is this summer's big blockbuster and is directed by Rupert Wyatt. The film is a prequel to the other Planet of the Apes films and charts how the apes came to revolt.

The basic storyline is thus; Dr Will Rodman (James Franco) is testing a gene therapy called ALZ-112 on chimps to find a cure for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, which his father Charles Rodman (John Lithgow) suffers from. The gene therapy trial is going well and Bright Eyes the chimp has shown intellectual growth and repair to damaged brain cells.

But, unbeknown to Will and chimp handler Tyler Labine (Robert Franklin), Bright Eyes has given birth. She causes havoc trying to protect her son. The project is terminated and all the chimps are killed except Bright Eyes' son, who is smuggled out by Will and Tyler.

Her son Caesar (Andy Serkis) is taken home where it appears he has inherited the ALZ-112 virus. Without any damaged brain cells to repair, Caesar develops faster than any chimp or human. He can communicate and perform complex tasks.

Will decides to carry on research into ALZ-112 despite opposition from his boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo). He injects the virus into his ailing father who is cured overnight. Caesar continues to develop and Will acquires a new love interest in the form of vet/chimp expert Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto).

When the ALZ-112 virus stops working on Charles because his body begins creating antibodies, Will starts working tirelessly to create a more aggressive virus and faster delivery system. He now has the backing of Steven Jacobs who see the financial profit to be made following Charles' cure.

The new virus is a gas called ALZ-113, which is deadly to humans but not apes. The virus kills Tyler and it seems he infected others. In the meantime, Caesar has been taken by court order to an ape house under the control of the villainous John Landon (Brian Cox) and son Dodge Landon (Tom Felton).

Caesar gets organised and becomes alpha ape and then steals the ALZ-113 and infects the other apes. Soon havoc ensues and leads to several fatalities. By this point, Caesar has learnt to talk. The apes - lead by Caesar - run riot in San Francisco before heading to a forest where the film ends.

The film is perfect for people who love the slippery slope arguments about how one rogue scientist under emotional and commercial pressure can misuse breakthrough science. For me, the film tackled many controversial ethical issues. These include gene therapy, animal testing, especially on apes, and the effect of adding human stem cells to apes.

The film explores the ideas of personhood and when does an ape get the rights of a person. Is it linked to intelligence or speech or culture - all which Caesar has? The film gives nods to the other Planet of the Apes films with a manned space mission to Mars, which goes missing. This was an element of the plot of the original 1968 film. But the film stands alone as its own movie.

While the acting was good overall, I doubt there will be any Oscar nominations. Tom Felton's (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise) American accent was dreadful. The human cast were out shadowed by the apes, especially Caesar. The films' state-of-the-art CGI was created by the Oscar-winning creator of the digital effects in Avatar and Lord of the Rings.

The special effects were breathtaking. The film enables you to believe that the apes are real. You can see the humanity in their eyes. The performance of Andy Serkis - who brought Caesar to life – was fantastic. The film has managed to beat the odds, especially after the Planet of Apes remake in 2001 flopped.

There are rumours of sequel or two to this prequel, which – I am sure – will have equally stunning CGI. But the film didn't fill the role for me of a summer blockbuster. While I enjoyed its intellectual side immensely, the lack of action might not satisfy everyone. The story and majority of the highlights are shown in the trailer, but it's still worth a trip to the cinema.

Buy on DVD from Amazon UK or Amazon USA, and buy the book by Pierre Boulle which inspired the Planet of the Apes franchise from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Official website |  2011
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
IMDb |  2011
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