Friday, August 5, 2011
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In the spirit of evolution, I figure it makes sense to start my review with some history on this series and how it has evolved. In fact, it's been 43 years since this franchise began. But if you don't want a history lesson, feel free to skip to the last two paragraphs.
The first 'Planet of the Apes' film was released in 1968. Charlton Heston plays an astronaut who's been in space for the Earth time equivalent of hundreds of years, intending to return despite the fact that everyone he'd ever known has long past. But on his return voyage something goes wrong and he ends up crash landing on a mysterious planet 2000 years in the future. On this planet apes rule and primitive humans are hunted, analyzed, and experimented on. Essentially apes treat humans how humans treat apes on Earth. I've seen the film a few times and it's hard to get past how dated it is, but some of the major ideas hold up well. And there are classic, often quoted lines like 'take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!' And the ending is one of the more talked about in film history, so it's worth a watch if only for that. (Keep your expectations reasonable though.)
Four sequels followed between 1970 and 1973. It's pretty clear they weren't intended right from the start, but all things considered they all work fairly well, each one adding to the mythology and each one being significantly different enough. Heston returns in the second, and Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter return for most of the five as two of the apes. The arc of the entire series is an interesting one taking place at various points in time, future and past. The most shocking discovery to me is that a key time travel paradox in the series strongly resembles that of 'The Terminator'. I had previously admired 'The Terminator' for its originality but now having seen these I see it's basically a borrowed idea from this series. Very interesting indeed.
After the initial five films, there were a few short lived television series continuing the storyline. But the franchise pretty much died until it was revived in 2001 by Tim Burton, starring Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, and Paul Giamatti. This remake was met with a lot of criticism and I don't really get it. It's a fresh take, Burton-style, and adds a bunch of new twists. Sure, the middle tends to drag on a bit, but it's really much better than it was received and it still holds up ten years later.
And after laying dormant for a decade Hollywood has now dug up the corpse one more time. This time for a prequel of sorts, showing how the evolved apes came to be. But it really doesn't tie in to the storyline of the original series or the Burton remake. In fact, they've taken many liberties to embrace modern science and lean less on science fiction and more on science. And I'm ok with that. I think the film works satisfactorily for both the fanboys and the uninitiated. To be sure, there's nothing revolutionary about it, but it kept me entertained throughout. My biggest criticism is of James Franco actually. No one was a bigger fan of his last year than I was after '127 Hours'. I still believe he deserved the Oscar for that performance. But here, quite the contrary. He displays so little emotion in scenes that really called for it, it just seemed like he was phoning it in. And frankly, after this and 'Your Highness', I'd really like to see him do better next time. But fortunately Andy Serkis brings it as the main character, an ape named Caesar. Serkis is the go-to guy when it comes to bringing creatures on film to life, as he proved as Gollum in 'The Lord of the Rings' and as King Kong, and he does what he does best here.
It's a pretty safe bet this is just the beginning. I fully expect many more 'Apes' films to come over the next decade. So get caught up now before their evolution passes you by.