Monday, 30 April 2012

2 Weeks of Movies - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - 7/10

(some medium-sized spoilers)

This was another video-store-guy recommendation. I remember seeing the trailers for this one and thinking that it looked, frankly, rubbish. Apes become intelligent, rampage, take over the world, lots of CGI and not much else. Right? Wrong.

Although I enjoyed the Cloverfield recommendation more, I was glad I watched this one, if just to prove that you can’t always judge a film by its trailer. Often trailers show all the best bits, heightening anticipation for a movie that in reality flops like a dying fish. This was the opposite; the trailers I saw showed only the rampaging apes scenes, giving the impression of a standard-fare disaster movie propping itself up with the Planet of the Apes name. In reality, the rampaging apes were one tiny bit at the end of a more thoughtful and complex film that was actually ridiculously emotional (I blame James Franco’s puppy face).

The film was surprisingly slow-paced, building the main plot up slowly and taking time to actually make the audience like the little ape and his carer. This was done well. Really well, actually. I’m not an ape person; for example, I’m constantly astonished by people who manage to find monkeys cute (yes yes I know a monkey isn’t technically an ape). That means that this film really had to convince me to feel something for the main ape character, Caesar, which I would have felt automatically for, say, a kitten. But it did manage to. We saw Caesar grow up, we saw his wonderful child-like innocence and curiosity, we saw his love for his human carers, and we saw him begin to interact with the outside world. Then we saw his confusion, his slowly dawning realisation that he is not like others, trapped between the human and animal worlds, too intelligent to fit in. When he poignantly asks Will, his carer, if he is a pet, I actually felt myself go cold and my eyes begin to prick.

Then we saw Caesar’s dismay and his depression, and his agony as he was taken away from the only family he has ever known and put with a bunch of apes that he had no idea how to relate to. We also saw Will’s desperation to get him back. For him, Caesar was like an adopted child, wrenched cruelly away from him. This was all scripted, filmed, and acted so well that it was completely believable and extremely heartbreaking. The CGI used to craft Caesar’s face and his expression-filled eyes was perfect, and Andy Serkis’ acting was spot on. The other apes were also CGI-ed and acted to perfection, adding more pathos as well as a welcome touch of humour to the film. We also get to find out what Draco Malfoy does in his summers away from Hogwarts. Torture apes, apparently.

Although the general story and its twists and turns are nothing surprising – in fact, they are even slightly cliché for science fiction fans – everything plays out so well that this is easily forgiven. The film’s title is slightly misleading, as it does not actually show how the apes managed to take over the planet. This is only the very beginning, the event that slowly began to tip the scales, the summit of the slippery slope. What happens afterwards is only inferred by the existence of the original movie, and the audience must fill in the missing years for themselves. A nice little touch early on in this film references the main character in the original. A suggestion at the end perhaps explains how the intelligence-virus spread over the world, and how the apes managed to take advantage of depleted populations in order to gain control. Still, the details are left a mystery.

This is how to do a prequel. It doesn’t need to be set right before the original film; it doesn’t need to cram in as many character and cameo appearances from the original as it can; it doesn’t need to fill in every hole and explain every little thing, even the things no-one was asking about (midichlorians?); and it certainly doesn’t need to bleach all the mystery out of the original (Star Wars prequels I’m looking at you). A prequel should always add something to the original rather than attempt to take over from it. Well done Rise of the Planet of the Apes. You need to hire a better title-writer though.

No matter how much you think you won’t care about what, when it comes down to it, is actually a fairly overused and obvious story in sci-fi terms, you will probably find that you can’t help it. Caesar is just too sympathetic, the characters too charismatic, and James Franco’s eyes too puppy dog. I didn’t find it groundbreaking, and I wasn’t falling off my seat with excitement, but it was unexpectedly thoughtful and enjoyable. I was impressed.

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