September 12, 2011

MOVIES: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a better movie than you'd expect it to be. The action sequences at the end of the movie are well planned out, with surprisingly few cheap thrills from blowing stuff up, and the human actors are smart enough not to get in the way of the effects.

James Franco stars as a research scientist whose attempt to develop a cure for Alzheimer's leads to the birth of a super-intelligent chimpanzee named Caesar, who will ultimately lead the rebellion of the apes. Frieda Pinto is on hand in the underwritten role of the girlfriend; she's not asked to be anything more than pretty, and she is adequate to the challenge. John Lithgow gets to ham it up as Franco's father, and Brian Cox and Tom Felton are cheerfully evil as the abusive father and son who run the local primate shelter.

Caesar is played in motion capture by Andy Serkis, and it's the best motion capture performance I've seen. As often happens after one of Serkis's performances, some in Hollywood are murmuring that he ought to be an Oscar nominee for the role. I think that's nonsense; as with all motion capture performances, there's no way of knowing how much of it is Serkis and how much is created by the CGI team. The collaborative effort, though, is every effective.

(I did find myself frequently distracted by the fairly obvious attempt to cheat our sympathies toward Caesar by altering the shape of his head a few notches away from standard chimp towards standard human -- the brow is a bit less recessive, the mouth and jaw a bit less protruding.)

The movie is almost never surprising, but it moves through the expected story beats with great efficiency and the occasional sparkle of wit. Worth going to the theater for if you like this sort of thing; worth catching on cable if you're not a particular fan.

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