I am writing about this movie because I am a huge fan of the original series (which is also why I went to see it on opening day). I also hated the Tim Burton film with a vengeance. I guess writing about it will probably get me more hits on this site too, since I tend to just write about randomly seen films most of the time. The short of it is that I was not disappointed. In fact I might even go as far as to say that its the best possible summer movie I could have hoped for.
The previews showcase the motion-capture developed by WETA over the human acting and I suppose that’s a good thing. The ape actors (blended/disguised with CGI) are actually billed above the human actors in the closing credits. I was afraid James Franco looked too wooden in the trailer. His acting seemed a bit comparatively narcoleptic at times, but it really is not distracting within the context of the film (maybe he was trying for some sort of cohabitation with the visual effect acting, who knows). I would love to see some raw footage of Andy Serkis performing Caesar without the VFX. When Avatar came out I half-joked that I would have preferred watching the raw footage compiled into some sort of avant-garde performance piece. James Cameron‘s film had its moments of believability (aside from the quality of the storytelling), but it was too grandiose, and, well, alien, for the emotional connection to really work for me. This film is a bit more morally complex as well. It deftly moves us away from Franco’s scientist to Caesar as the protagonist of the film, where we end up, in a way, rooting against our own species. The film really pulls you into the mindset of the non-human characters; several of the apes have distinctive personalities and character traits that rise above mere digital animation. The animal rendering, especially in motion, has come a long way since Congo, that’s for sure. At least we can be assured that people will not forget this film come Oscar season in regard to visual effects.
I enjoyed Rupert Wyatt‘s first feature, The Escapist, and was glad to see his ability to balance the emotional element with the spectacle. A lot of this film, especially toward the end, is conveyed purely cinematically without any kind of expositional interference. The human supporting cast all fulfill their purpose rather well, though I think the film would have been stronger if it combined some of the characters. The Brian Cox and Tom Felton characters could have easily been the same person. Freida Pinto‘s could have been given a little more to do other than serve as the unheeded foreshadower who seems to forget her own warning and fall into ‘the girlfriend’ role. John Lithgow is, as usual, as good as he can be with such a small part (adding much needed undisplayed motivation for Franco’s character). David Oyelowo is in the film far less than I expected/hoped and some of the scenes at the Gene-Sys lab do feel badly rushed, even though some are meant to be this way (his character is always moving or at least standing).
Storywise, the film is a version of the verbal story told in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (my personal favorite of the series) about how Caesar came to be and how he started an uprising that led to revolution. Though, it does change/condense this considerably. There are many subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to the original series (my favorite being the Statue of Liberty toy that Caesar briefly plays with in one scene). This film, however, stands alone from the original series. There is a good interview with the screenwriters here that outlines the development of the film. I will refrain from spoilers, but suffice to say, it is not remaking any of the other existing films. I suppose ‘reboot’ is a more appropriate classification, assuming another film will even be made (hopefully so). Speculation already abounds about a one particular piece of television footage shown in the film involving a manned shuttle to Mars….
I do hope this film makes some money, despite the apparent lack of proper Summer Movie Marketing behind it. It delivers enough action to warrant being labeled a “Summer Movie” (probably a wise decision by Fox to bump it up from its original Thanksgiving release date), but it also delivers a bit more story with it. However, the film does shy away from the past series’ allegorical slant (Conquest was clearly intended, as Paul Dehn has attested, to be seen as a possible commentary on the Black Power movement of the time). I suppose there are environmental aspects that the film may be advocating in the background. The California Redwoods play a prominent role, clearly being suggested as a sanctuary of Nature that is portrayed as some sort of place divided from our badly shiny modern civilization. I’m not exactly sure what the film is trying to say, if anything, here. And, again, without spoiling anything, I was left with a confused sense of what we were supposed to expect was going to happen after the film ended. Though, the coda after the credits start does give some obvious indication of what will be happening, it doesn’t indicate what will become of it. And that, of course, is where a second film comes in…and there is nothing tacked on at the very end of the credits to suggest any sort of commitment by Fox to another film. We’ll have to see what the money says, I guess (especially in the coming weeks after it opening relatively well). Until then, I hope to get a chance to check out James Marsh‘s thematically related Project Nim documentary coming out soon….