The Apes will Rise

Whenever you go into the theater to see a new movie in an old franchise you run the risk of being disappointed. Series like Superman, Batman, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica even Fletch have all been given the “reimagining” treatment with varying degrees of success. I went into Rise of the Planet of the Apes with apprehension. I had reason to worry. The studio did not see to know what to do with this movie. The release date was changed to November and back to August. Even the title of the movie was changed. In that change the producers showed that they planned to treat this series with respect. The change of title to include “…the Planet of the Apes” was an homage to the original series where each movie had that in its title whether it be Beneath…, Escape from…, Conquest of…, and finally Battle for…. To those four movies over the last 43 years we add the original movie, a TV show, a cartoon series and the Tim Burton movie with the same name. The 2001 Burton film may share the same name and contain a cast of simians but it isn’t really an Apes file. Rise is. And to all of those we must add the original 1963 novelette La Planète des Singes by french author Pierre Boulle. That book has about as much in common with series as does the Tim Burton film.

This new Apes film reminds me of the way I looked at the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. In that case it was the the 70s TV show was just that a TV show while the Ron Moore version was like someone was filming the actual events. For the Apes series we already know how it all started. Rodney McDowell tells us the story in the first movie and we see it actually happen by the fourth movie. In the original legend there’s some sort plague that kills off all the dogs and cats in the world. Apes start as a replacement pet but soon turn into slaves. Finally Caesar has had enough and says “no”. We actually see this happen in the fourth movie. The original series of movies is a nice tight time loop where events in the future cause events in the past.

In many ways this new movie replaces the third and fourth movies in the series with James Franco in the role originally played by Ricardo Montalbán, Instead of time-traveling Apes going into the circus we have James Franco as geneticist. Aside from a few plot changes the story tracks very well with the original series.

The movie was full of references to the original series. There’s a TV clip of Charlton Heston as Moses playing on a TV for stimulation. Someone tell someone else to get their “stinking paws off”. There are references to Bright-Eyes, a nick name for Charlton Heston in the first movie. We see another ape named Zira and of course Caesar, the start of this movie. I especially liked the references to the launching of the Icarus, the first manned mission to Mars. Although never named in the first film the spaceship is known by fans as the Icarus. Later we learned that the space mission was lost. Can you say sequel? I think I would actually like to see how the crew of the Icarus react to a world run by Caesar’s dependents. Stick around after the credits for even more clues to a sequel.

The movie also stands alone. It has a good plot, good action. The characters have real emotion. Andy Serkis embodies Caesar with real expression. There are a few Hollywood clichés that really bugged me. For one we learned that an ape can run through a plate-glass window at full speed and not get hurt (or even slowed down) by the experience. We learned that the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge can roll in and out in the middle of the day with almost no notice. Actually there were a lot of problems with the bridge scene. Some of the ape animation is a bit rough.

Overall, I really liked this movie. I hope it does well enough at the box office to give us a sequel. Our little local theater was quite full but not sold out. We shall see.

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