Monday, August 15, 2011

Playing catchup...belated review of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

With medium expectations I went into RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and afterwards came out with the gut feeling that I just saw one of the best genre films of the year. What could have been a pedestrian sci-fi blockbuster is instead a riveting and quite horrific horror story of what happens when the persecuted race get their revenge after years of exploitation. Apes are the lab rats for a new drug that an ambitious scientist (James Franco) believes will cure Alzheimer's, which has crippled his once genius father (John Lithgow). But when one ape escapes from lab and wreaks havoc all the way to the board room, the operation is shut down, and Franco is left to care for a young test subject, whom he names Caesar. Caesar is domesticated and becomes an affectionate pet who is a fast learner of sign language. Franco tests his wonder drug on his father and when the results prove fast and miraculous, he convinces his superiors to reopen his experiments, but with every movie wonder drug, the side effects will soon prove toxic.

Meanwhile, Caesar quickly goes from cute pet to volatile protector of the vulnerable Lithgow. A hot tempered neighbour (David Hewlett) doesn't take kindly to the animal and he also has no patience for the senile old man who accidentally damages his car thinking it is his own. Caesar in turn doesn't take kindly nor gently to the prickly neighbour. This sets up the second act in which the apes have taken their years as keen observers of human behaviour into action and then into gradual revolt against their captors.

APES has a rapid sense of pacing and foreboding tension which is palpable. There is potent terror in this film that compliments and elevates the expected sci-fi action and CGI. Andy Serkis' motion captured performance as Caesar is Oscar worthy and even reminiscent of Howard Sherman's memorable performance as the learned zombie Bub in George Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD.

If the film has any weaknesses it might be in the characterization department. Supporting players Freida Pinto (as Franco's love interest, a skeptical primatologist) and the excellent Brian Cox as a cold hearted animal shelter keeper, aren't given much to do by the script but they do their best with what they're given.

Several steps above Tim Burton's stale remake of the original film, this prequel is a surprisingly powerful startup to a possible new franchise that will hopefully maintain it's masterful and exciting execution of frightening science fiction and horror.

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