It was a nice, clear day in the late 90's and I was spending time with my dear friend Dennis. We were hanging out at his bachelor pad at the Bon Villa apartments. It wasn't much of an apartment, small and all, but it had charm to spare and a 14 inch color TV. On that day, they were running a 'Planet of the Apes' marathon. At this point, I had never seen a 'Planet of the Apes' film. Dennis and I sat there and began to absorb the film and soon I was engrossed.... so much so, that we had to make a run to the local White Hen Pantry for snacks and beverages so that we could spend the entire rest of the day watching all of the films.... in a row. That was how my love affair started. Since then, I have purchsed the films on both VHS and DVD and will probably get them on Blu-ray someday. I even own the remake and saw it in the theater. I have a t-shirt made for me, by a friend of Dennis, that has the apes on it from the original film. I love all things 'Apes' and 'Apes' related. Needless to say, I was not super impressed with Tim Burton's take on the franchise and kind of hoped it wouldn't spawn a sequel. Luckily, it never did. What did happen, was a fresh take on the whole storyline with a whole new cast and making something new out of something old. I had my reservations, after getting burned with Burton's epic. I had even more reservations after seeing who the leading man was. Because of those reservations, I stayed away from this film for a long time. On top of that, the film makers decided not to go with the "monkey suits" and to instead go with CGI, this really made me put the brakes on and made me really nervous. Despite all of that, I knew that someday I'd have to watch it. I can't call myself an 'Apes' fan and not see it, right? Even after more reviews than I can count, that proclaimed it an amazing flim, I still hesitated. Even after all of my friends told me I had to see it and how kick ass it was, I hesitated. As of yesterday, I stopped hesitating and watched it.... this review is the result of that viewing and yes, I'm willing to admit I may have been wrong to wait so long.
The amazing thing about the original films, is the context in which they were written and filmed and the amazing cast and crew that was involved. They were explosive times and things were changing everywhere. Society was in constant flux. The films reflected those times. The films were great because of that, but it also didn't hurt to have some top notch effects artists working on the films and creating a near believable ape. This film didn't seem to have that 'wow' factor to me. It just felt like it was going to be another special effects extravaganza and another reason to hate big budget films. That was all based on the trailers and still photos, not on the actual end product. Now, my first concern was the actor in the lead: James Franco. I've never been a fan of his and am still a bit perplexed about why he's so popular. I have stayed away from Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' because of him, even though I love the subject matter and story. I guess that's my hang up and not the rest of the world's. The film also stars: Freida Pinto, John Litgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine and Andy Serkis as 'Caesar' (the main 'ape'). Although I was not familiar with Ms. Pinto's other work, she impressed me and was very enjoyable. The rest of the cast are actor's that are always dependable and always worth watching. I especially enjoyed John Lithgow's performance and after his recent stint on 'Dexter', I was hungry for more of him on screen. He's an incredible actor who has had an awesome career. He was perfectly cast in this film and stole the scenes he was in. Andy Serkis also proved once again why he's the 'go-to' guy in the business for CGI creature actors. He seems to be able to do no wrong. The director of this film, Rupert Wyatt, only has a couple of film credits to his name. He seems to have just come out of nowhere. However, his directing in this film was spot on. He knew how to get the most out of the cast and crew and how to use the CGI effectively. He also created some beautiful scenes that accented the film's pivitol moments. (See the scene where the apes are going tree to tree in the suburban neighborhood.) I look forward to seeing what Mr. Wyatt has coming up in the future. Although the storyline was not a direct adaptation of Pierre Boulle's original novel, "La planète des singes", it still paid homage to it. The writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver took the best elements of the book and added some of the most classic dialouge and elements of the original film. It was like watching a mirror image of something you loved, but with an HD filter on it. In case you've never heard of the writer's, they were the ones who wrote 'The Relic' and 'Eye For An Eye'. They wrote those two movies together. Amanda also wrote 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle', which I'm sure many of you have already seen. The film has a very diverse pedigre and, for some reason, it really seems to work.
So, for those of you who've seen all of the prior incarnations of the 'Apes', here is the basic plot of this version: (taken from IMDB.com) "At the story's heart is Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee who gains human-like intelligence and emotions from an experimental drug. Raised like a child by the drug's creator, Will Rodman (James Franco) and a primatologist Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), Caesar ultimately finds himself taken from the humans he loves and imprisoned in an ape sanctuary in San Bruno. Seeking justice for his fellow inmates, Caesar gives the fellow apes the same drug that he inherited. He then assembles a simian army and escapes the sanctuary - putting man and ape on a collision course that could change the planet forever." Basically, this film starts where the fourth film in the original series takes place. It negates the mythos that was created in 'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' (the 3rd film), but I suppose that's not the worst thing. It creates a universe where everything isn't necessarily cyclical, but we have yet to see where they take us in the timeline later. The orignal series taught us to believe that the apes took over because two apes came from a spaceship and began breeding on earth. But where did it all really begin? That part is never quite explained. It just seems that one thing led to another and they all led back to the beginning. There is no clear cut logic or reasoning, in this version of the 'Apes' there is a specific chain of events that sets the whole thing in motion. Basically, the beginning of the end of the human civilization and it's all James Franco's fault. (and the company he works for.) I don't know that I 100% agree with the explanation used in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes', as to how it all began, but the film is so well done that I can't deny it either. It also makes more sense than the original films version of the story did. When this film was over, I wanted to see more, as soon as the credits began to roll. That, to me, is the biggest compliment I can give this film. That and the fact that I wanted to see it again, as soon as I turned it off. This will be a part of my library of films, eventually.
Why am I so fond of the 'Apes' films, you might ask? Let me take a quick moment to explain. Any of you who are avid readers of this blog or listen to my weekly podcast, 'The Sunshine Happy Kpants Hour', know that I love zombies. What does that have to do with apes? Let's take a brief break from the review for a moment to think about this. Zombie films are used, in a lot of cases, as a statement on the problems in society. The 'Apes' films are the same way. Zombie films are about humans being overcome by massive hordes of the living dead. In 'Apes' flims, the apes overcome the humans as well. In both types of films, we have fights between both sides of the cause. We have good guys and bad guys, both with different agendas, showing how different people would deal with a massive change in society. We see how everything would break down in the face of a possible extinction level event. Basically, both in zombie films and in 'Apes' films, we find out the true nature of ourselves through the eyes of both humans and non-humans alike. To me, it's the near perfect scenario to really get perspective on my own life. I don't want anything like this to ever really happen, but it can be kind of fun to be taken away to another place and to put myself in the situation shown. It is a never ending source of enjoyment for me to role play out in my head, how I would survive. It's both frightening and exciting at the same time. It's kind of like riding a roller coaster. You have the nerves building up, as you climb the giant hill and then everything drops and you free fall.... unsure of your own safety, but loving every minute just the same. I get that rush everytime I see a great zombie film and everytime I see a great 'Apes' film. Sadly or maybe not so sadly, there aren't as many 'Apes' films as there are zombie ones. I think the novelty might wear off a bit faster with 'Apes' than with zombies, but I've been proven wrong before. Sorry to sidetrack you.... back to the review.
Here we are, the film has been watched and the comparisons made. In the end, I hate to admit it.... but I loved this film. It was everything I wanted Tim Burton's version to be, but wasn't. I still am not a James Franco fan, but he didn't ruin this and that is good enough for me. I am not sorry I hesitated, because this way I was able to come to this film on my own terms and not having any real bias towards it. Perhaps, the fact that my expectations were lower, increased my enjoyment of this? Perhaps. I hear that a sequel that is already in the works and I hope that they stick with the same formula that they used here. It worked and worked well. I can easily give this 5 out of 5 stars. I kind of want to knock it down a bit for the extreme use of CGI, but the story and everything else was so great that I won't let it spoil the whole experience. This film fits nicely into the 'Apes' timeline and creates new legends for the next generation of 'Apes' fans. My biggest concern is that it may go the way the original 5 films went. What I mean by that is that they seemed to go down in quality with each passing year. Even though 'Conquest of the Planet of the Apes' is my favorite in the series, it didn't have all the money behind it that the original had. J. Lee Thompson, the director, made it work though.... and work damn well. However, by the last film, 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes', we basically had a made for TV movie. It starred Paul Williams and that should be enough to scare you off. Even with that being said, it's still a great installment in a solid franchise. I will always love those films, flaws and all. With all of that being said, no matter what happens now with the new generation of 'Apes' films, there will always be 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' to stand alone as a film making hallmark in the 'Apes' francise.... James Franco, CGI apes and all.
If you like this, please check out the original films: 'Planet of the Apes' (1968), 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes', 'Escape From the Planet of the Apes', 'Conquest of the Planet of the Apes' and 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes'. There are also several TV shows for the 'Apes' sprinkled throughout the 70's and 80's and some interesting documentaries. Finally, although I don't 100% recommend seeing it, you should also check out Tim Burton's take on the subject with 'Planet of the Apes' (2001).... it's the only way you can claim you're a true 'Apes' fanatic like me!