“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Movie Review

     The filmmakers responsible for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” owe a huge debt to motion capture technologies developed for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and later perfected with “Avatar.”  The ape characters portrayed in “Rise” are so photorealistic and life like that they ensure one thing.  There will never be another “Ape” film that uses human actors in ape makeup.  Consider that technique officially obsolete, if it wasn’t already.  Like “X Men: First Class” earlier this summer, “Rise” successfully fulfills the need for a Planet of the Apes franchise origin story and does so in a way that will likely take every audience member by surprise.

     Yes, the film’s credits indicate a top billed James Franco as scientist Will Rodman, the creator of a new Alzheimer’s drug he is currently testing on apes.  Franco and the rest of the human cast do a fine job filling in the obligatory pieces in the story, but it is a different kind of actor who really has taken his game to the highest of levels.  If you remember the character Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then you have already seen actor Andy Serkis perform.  In Rise, he is the true top billed actor.

     If your not familiar with the process, motion capture techniques have actors actually performing on a sound stage wearing a suit outfitted with computer sensors.  Their performance is actually being filmed by a camera, just like any other live action scene.  Where the difference is seen is when the footage is then sent to a computer where digital artists then apply the characters costume, as well as the environment.  The word costume is really the best way to describe this concept.  Instead of an actor playing an ape in ape makeup, he is playing an ape and an artist is then applying the makeup in a virtual environment.  You’ve seen this done recently to perfection as James Cameron and company created the Na’vi in Avatar.  In that film, as an example, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana performed all of their scenes the same way.  I hope Rise will be the turning point where Hollywood will finally start to give credit to motion capture actors such as Serkis because his portrayal of Caesar makes the character the true star and focal point of the film.

     Will (Franco) inherits Caesar as a baby when one of his experiments with adult apes goes horribly wrong, forcing his operation to be shut down.  At home, he raises Caesar as part of the family as we are amazed by his intelligence and his ability to do human like tasks.  Will’s father Charles (John Lithgow), suffers from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and he decides to try his new drug on his father.  When the drug works, Will’s research company has him continue his work, but then Caesar starts to become curious and is no longer able to remain confined indoors.  This leads to another incident and Caesar is ordered to be imprisoned in a primate facility.

     The story in Rise is actually quite simple.  Caesar, along with the rest of the apes in the facility, rebel against their cruel captors and escape en route to a red wood forrest outside of San Francisco.  In one of the better action set pieces you will see all year, Caesar leads the apes in an epic battle against the police on the Golden Gate Bridge.  The director, Rupert Wyatt, really shows a great eye for choreographing the action on the bridge.  I was reminded of the climactic battle sequence in “Braveheart” in the way the two sides clash.  Kudos especially to the effects artists at Weta Digital in New Zealand, as they are responsible for the fantastic CGI.  Its hard to imagine Rise not claiming the Visual Effects Oscar early next year for this well done ground breaking work.  Even the screen writers have concocted a story and dialogue that within 2 hours shows a very complex and emotional evolution of the apes from their normal state to near human.

     For some, the knowledge of a Planet of the Apes prequel may have seemed like nonsense and I might have been one of them, but I have to say, Rise is very good and is certainly one of the better films I’ve seen during a year that has lacked quality thus far.  If it is determined they are going to continue this story, go ahead and save my place in line.  GRADE: B+