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Monday, 12 September 2011

Blockbuster Review: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - 2011

The more I grow as a film buff, the further I move away from Hollywood blockbusters, which nonetheless sum up the medium for the majority of people.
I have discovered some wonderful works of cinema over the past couple of years, and yet I am still unable to completely ignore Hollywood blockbusters, I am time and time again disappointed and yet I still persist in seeing most of the major ones each year. And for once, I'm glad I did, for I have finally come across a film that sits squarely within the category of blockbuster and yet is a very good film, proving that while enormous amounts of money doesn't guarantee quality, it does not make it impossible to obtain either.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is everything one could want from a blockbuster, and nothing more, it is not a great film by any means, but it is all a blockbuster should be, something that seems increasingly hard for blockbusters to deliver these days.
This thing missing from so many similar films these days is the ability to tell a gripping, and thrilling story. The use of incredible CGI effects has become so widespread these days that a film must prove that it has something more than just flashy and awe inspiring visuals. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has incredible CGI, with at it's centre a ground breaking motion capture performance by Andy Serkis as the main character, Caesar.
And yet the film does not fully lean on this aspect, it puts to great use the rich and imaginative world developed over the many films that have been made over the years, starting with The Planet Of The Apes in 1968, which combined with a fresh outlook on the story, terrific pacing and a story that walks the fine line between being somewhat socially relevant and unbearably preachy.

The film tells the tale of a young and brilliant scientists who is conducting groundbreaking research into a cure for Alzheimers, he is mainly fuelled by his desire to cure his own father who is afflicted by the disease.
He develops a cure but his testing on a chimp has disastrous effects which results in teh project being scrapped, despite his instance that it was all a misunderstanding. However the disaster is not without a thin sliver of hope, as a newborn chimp is discovered and taken in by this scientist who proceed to remark stunning developments in this chimp, named Caesar.
But Caesar soon becomes separated from this environment and enters the real world in a harsh fashion, upon which he becomes disillusioned with human kind and their treatment on his fellows, the Apes, who he proceeds to lead in an uprising to overthrow humanity.

The film knows exactly where it's going and proceeds to move forwards rapidly, never to fast fortunately, but avoiding any drawn out exposition scenes. Of course this causes the audience to be able to only form a rather vague idea of the complexities of the scientific side of the plot, but I personally prefer it this way. After all, I didn't go into the film wanting to see scientists discussing their work but to see the effects of their work. If you are willing to look past the inaccuracies and plot holes that this brings about, you will find that the real charm of the film is in the character of Caesar, and his evolution as a character.

Much has been made of Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar the chimp and leader of the Ape uprising against humanity, and rightfully so in my opinion. It is yet another extraordinary motion capture performance that serves only as even more proof to what we already new, that Andy Serkis is by far the best motion capture performer around, I'm sure all of you reading this have seen the LOTR Trilogy at least once, and for me any way, Serkis's performance as the dastardly Gollum was one of the highpoints. But when talking of motion capture, one film will invariably be mentioned, Avatar.
The film that many claimed revolutionised motion capture performance, but whilst it is true that it achieved technological advancements unlike that on any other film, I think Serkis's performance in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has done considerably more for the medium, in terms of establishing it as a reputable and respected art form, just as "normal" acting. His performance as Caesar creates a far more memorable, nuanced and engaging character than any character in Avatar.

I have mentioned the film pacing, which I found to be particularly good, but my reaction to the director's talents does not stop there, in fact I think he did a very good job here.
The film does suffer from many shortcomings however, but nothing more than you'd expect from a film of this kind and in my opinion these are clearly outweighed by the more positive aspects of the film. Most of the human characters were extremely familiar and little more than stereotypes. However at times the inherent talents of the actors make up for this, as is the case with the always excellent Brian Cox, but the opposite is also true, as is the case with Tom Felton who plays a very minor variation on the character he developed over the past years as part of the Harry Potter series.
However Freida Pinto's character is a particularly useless one, and I suspect she was only added so as to have at least one female character taking part in the proceedings, and while this isn't a bad thing, there is still an unshakeable feel of her being a "token character" with no real purpose.

The director, Rupert Wyatt is an Englishman whose only previous directing credits are a couple of shorts and a film called The Escapist that I have heard absolutely nothing of. Yet he makes the step from directing small British films to a large Hollywood blockbuster with apparent ease. He deserves praise for his work on Rise of The Planet Of The Apes, perhaps not because he is a particularly original or daring director, even though he does create some rather stunning sequences, but rather because he tells the story in such a refreshingly fast paced, straightforward, familiar and yet not exactly cliched way.

But he does succeed in subtly touching on some rather interesting themes, perhaps these aren't developed enough to the liking of many viewers (me included) but they do nonetheless provide some food for thought.
Most significant would be the way the film gets the audience to sympathise with Caesar and to support him in his overthrowing of the Human species, in other words, us.
So it succeeds in turning the viewers sympathies in a way that is more ingenious than manipulative, but it never causes the audience to hate the humans, they aren't depicted as villainous on the whole, just particular individuals. The same can be said for the Apes, they are not exactly depicted as heroes, but individuals forced into rebellion by their circumstances.
But ultimately, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes remains an origins film. It mainly serves to set the groundwork for a series of films, and it does so admirably. I hope the following films manage to stay on the same level as this film or even maybe improve upon this film, although if there are any major changes in cast or crew the chances of this would definitely be lessened.

The average performances from the cast (not including Serkis of course), the basic script, which while adequate for it's purposes could have used some more work due to the abundance of small inconsistencies, plot holes and other such annoyances, these aspects prevent the film from being a really great work, but do not detract in a major way from the fact that Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is one of the most entertaining blockbusters I have seen for quite some time. It's avoidance of unbearable levels of sentimentality, it's surprisingly short run time (105 mins), fantastic pacing, ground breaking special effects and genuinely thrilling action sequences quite unlike any I've seen before, makes this  a very good film I would not hesitate to recommend.
I am usually sceptical when it comes to such Hollywood blockbusters, especially those as ridiculously named as this one, and judging by the latest blockbuster I saw, Conan The Barbarian, I am right to be. But this just makes it even more surprising and enjoyable when I come across such a film as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

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