Rise of the Planet of the Apes
This movie proves that a bunch of CGI monkeys jumping around trees CAN work in a film. Take THAT Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie where you have to look over a fair amount of small-to-medium logical errors, but it still never came across as a dumb film to me. It's actually one of the more engaging, thought-provoking films of the year. It works in one way as an extremely entertaining scientific picture about raising a super-chimp and finding the cure for Alzheimer's, another way as an observation on animal rights, and yet another way as a fun and thrilling special effects driven action film. And I liked how it never really attempted (at least too hard) to try and send the message that humans are really the savage animals on the planet, but more that the savage animals were capable of feeling emotion.
The motion capture on the apes were definitely good, but let's be honest, never once did it really feel like I was ever looking at real apes. But it was good enough that I didn't have to constantly think they looked fake. You just have to kind of say to yourself "These are CGI apes, but they are the best CGI apes we are gonna get!". There was a lot of emotion in the eyes, which I know CGI animation has struggled on, but eyes were a big focus in the film and I thought that helped sell the apes better in my opinion.
A lot of the human characters were kind of one-note. With the generic corporate villain ("We're moving forward with the research without you, regardless of how dangerous you say it is!"), the obscenely evil monkey handler who hates monkeys (get a new job?), and the girlfriend who, despite spending 8 years of montage time in the film, still seems rather clueless about most things. But at least James Franco had an engaging relationship with his father (played by John Lithgow), which was actually heartwarming and believable. I like how the entire movie seemed to be driven on the fact that Franco was just trying to do good in the world. It wasn't as if anyone was trying to breed a race of super apes, it was just a side effect.
Despite a few human shortcomings, all the time with the apes on screen is phenomenal. It's a great character study on a really smart animal. Caesar (the ape) had a very believable progression from a budding young ape prodigy, to a slightly jaded ape of near-human emotion. But what kept it real is the fact that despite his intelligence, he still retained a few beast-like impulses. I guess I'm saying they progressed the Caesar character perfectly. If they did anything right, they did that.
Looking back, one thing I would change about he whole thing, though, is that I would strip it of all connection to the actual Planet of the Apes franchise. There are too many connections that result in continuity and logic flaws because of it. And that's not even mentioning how they forced in the "Get your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" line in one of the most dramatic and intense scenes in the film, borderline ruining the moment. I was thinking in my head right when that happened "No, movie! You were doing so good... why?!?!". And if the movie was exactly the same, but didn't have the implication that it would lead to the ape domination, I think the ending would have been poetic and beautiful, instead of slightly underwhelming. They could have made 95% the same movie, called it Caesar or something, and I think it would have benefited the final product. It was interesting enough a story to not need the Planet of the Apes tie-in.
At the very least, my fears were eased from the commercials that the apes would actually PHYSICALLY overtake the entire planet somehow. They explain how the planet of the apes will occur, and it's not through ape violence, which was nice. Because I mean, one day of planning and a few combat helicopters could have easily wiped out the apes of they wanted to.
Still, one of the better movies in theaters right now, check it out!
Yesterday NPR interviewed the writer as well as a primatologist and a social anthropologist about this movie and the success of the Apes movies in general (oddly forgetting the Tim Burton fiasco).
The writer described things this way:
"I did not set out to write a Planet of the Apes (POTA) prequel. No, I had been collecting news clippings about chimpanzees being kept as pets, and how they are still animals and eventually they stop being cute and become what they were meant to be - animals. Then I said to myself, wait, this is a Planet of the Apes origin story."
Having not yet seen this (I am running a deficit on movies at the moment) I think it could have been an ok movie without the POTA name on it. The POTA name perhaps makes it marketable, but it also adds a lot of baggage.
I am a bit sad that they have made it about genetic engineering gone awry (28 days later, etc) because in the original story, it was simply Primates learning to say no to their human masters, and evolving naturally, although this evolution was helped by a time paradox, so perhaps that is harder to explain to present day audiences.
Looks good from the previews.
I also saw an interview with the director on the FOX Movie Channel. Well, it was an interview but also a promotion obviously. This is another oddity - a major action movie was given to a relatively unknown director. If he pulled it off, then he'll be unknown no longer.
[Mike Cohen] "(oddly forgetting the Tim Burton fiasco)."
More like "thankfully ignoring." :-) I love the original Apes movies (yes, all of them), enjoyed the book, and seeing how much Burton raised the Batman game, I had really high hopes for his Apes. One of the great disappointments EVER in my book.
I haven't seen this one yet and, after first dreading it, I'm looking forward to it.
[Mike Cohen] " This is another oddity - a major action movie was given to a relatively unknown director."
True, but Rupert Wyatt had two more features under his belt than Michael Bay when MB did Bad Boys...which is to say that Wyatt had done two well-regarded features, to Bay's zero.
Wyatt's previous feature, The Escapist, which he also wrote, was a prison-break feature with considerable action. It was nominated for several awards, including Best Picture in the Irish Television and Film Awards. It won the British Independent Film Award for Best Production.
Wyatt himself was nominated for Breakthrough British Filmmaker, Most Promising Newcomer, and the Douglas Hickox Award for Directing, all of them awards from Outlets Which Matter.
I'll also mention that Escapist features some of my very favorite actors, Brian Cox (who won the Scotland BAFTA award for acting in this picture) and Damian Lewis in particular. Highly recommended.
Throw in a couple of nifty cinematic shorts, and it's not like Wyatt came out of nowhere. It's just that Hollywood THINKS of the UK and Ireland as nowhere. :-) But he'd shown he had the goods.
Bay *kind of* did a feature if you count a profile of a Playboy centerfold. Otherwise, it's three music videos, and not like the EPIC vids of David Fincher, whose dozens of videos included some genuinely cinematic tours de force. (Madonna's Express Yourself is one example. I'm not sure anybody made a better movie that year than this video.)
In Bay's case, try one each for Meat Loaf, Wilson Phillips (long form, but still), and Great White. THAT'S IT before Bad Boys, his feature debut.
I'm not saying that Rupert's path to the big leagues wasn't unusually short. It was. But whenever this topic comes up, the first name I think of is our boy Bay.
[Mike Cohen] ""I did not set out to write a Planet of the Apes (POTA) prequel. No, I had been collecting news clippings about chimpanzees being kept as pets, and how they are still animals and eventually they stop being cute and become what they were meant to be - animals. Then I said to myself, wait, this is a Planet of the Apes origin story.""
I didn't know about this. It's like he had a good idea, then decided to clutter it up for a pile of money. Though, there is already talk of another sequel, in which the director wants to make "Full Metal Jacket with apes." I can't argue with that!
[Tim Wilson] "I'll also mention that Escapist features some of my very favorite actors, Brian Cox"
Brian Cox is in Rise o' the Planet o' the Apes in a supporting role, which I didn't realize until I was in the theater. He's not in any of the marketing I've seen. Also, agreed that Mr. Cox is awesome.
Just saw this. It was entertaining. As Scott mentioned, the attempts to pay homage to the 1968 original were assuming a bunch of 40-somethings were watching and had done enough LSD in the late 60's that they would be entertained by such broad attempts at humor.
Again, parts were entertaining, but this movie has serious problems.
Here goes (spoilers ahead):
Excellent motion capture. Obviously it would have been impossible to train real primates to act out "The Great Escape" so that sequence was somewhat believeable.
The jumping from tree to tree and from one level to another seemed a bit far fetched - the animals did not appear to be actually exerting energy. This is a problem with all CGI animals - they look like CGI animals.
I especially liked how Ceasar and the Bonobo communicated "humans no like smart apes." That was clever.
John Lithgow had a great performance, albeit brief. I will say that they sort of glossed over how he went from cured back to near-death. Perhaps they should have had a few stops along the way. Although Ceasar helping him hold his fork was the most human moment of the film.
The Golden Gate Bridge sequence was nicely done, however I expected more ape on human carnage. It seems Ceasar somehow told the army of apes to only hurt people, not kill them, except for some of the cops and of course the evil drug company guy.
The whole escape was just about the apes getting to Muir Woods to be free. That is not Planet of the Apes. That is Free Willy. Even after the epilogue, I can't see how the Apes would naturally take over, or if they do it would be by default, not by revolution. The way the 1970's movies depicted the uprising, low production quality or not, was more believable.
Anyway, we have transitioned to:
James Franco basically played himself in this movie - a smart know-it-all who only thinks about himself ("I won't lose both of them", "I gave the CCIR601 to my dad", "I'm paying you a wad of cash to take my ape home" (the ape has learned that living with James Franco is suffocating)...etc).
The girlfriend was living with him for 5 years and was not aware of the full scope of the vaccine's influence on Caesar? Not much of a relationship.
The animal lab depicted was completely silly. Real animal labs probably look more like the holding pens in the primate sanctuary where Draco Malfoy works. Drug companies spend their money on research and marketing, not on Frank Ghery designed animal labs.
The evil drug company boss was so one-dimensional that even if Apes was filmed in 3D he would be 2D at best. "I'm shutting you down...what's that, you illegally gave the drug to your dad and he improved?...You can have all the funding you need...hahaha...$$$$!!!!" Seriously, it was like something out of an A-Team episode.
James Franco's sidekick played by Zach Galafikanakalakas's cousin was a red shirt, and I suppose needed to get the virus out of the lab, but another throwaway character.
Stealing vials of vaccine out of the lab would never be so easy. This movie made it look like Jurassic Park in which Newman used that fake can of shaving cream to smuggle the dinosaur embryos off of Isla Nublar. In a real research lab the vials would be bar coded and would likely not be able to move 5 feet without someone noticing.
In the lab there was an MRI machine in the middle of the lab enclosed in glass. A real MRI machine is isolated away from things like METAL. They always get these things wrong.
So the escaped apes know how to get to the Zoo? I realize Ceasar was taken there as a toddler, but how did he know how to get there from the sanctuary? Smell? So they get to the zoo and free the non-vaccinated apes. At what point did Ceasar vaccinate the new recruits? Did he have an extra vial or two in his pocket? I think we are supposed to believe that the recruits from the zoo naturally followed the leaders.
The apes grabbed the iron bars from the zoo fence and used them as spears. With great accuracy, having never thrown a spear before. One can understand Ceasar perhaps figuring this out, having watched a lot of tv and being pretty smart. But the apes who just became smart 2 days ago were instantly transformed into champion javelin throwers? And then the gorilla picks up the manhole cover and throws it at a police car. I observed while driving home from the theater that the average gorilla index finger would be too fat to fit in the little hole along the edge of a manhole cover to lift it up.
The police were all trained by the Dukes of Hazzard and A-Team stunt teams. First sign of trouble, spin out and hit a pole or hydrant.
Once we hit the San Francisco (Vancouver) streets, there were newspapers everywhere. Was a scene cut out in which the apes were shown reading reviews of this movie and knocking down news stands in protest? I'm sure that is a trick from the backlot - have lots of blowing papers in the street to make it look like carnage without having to actually crash more cars or blow anything up.
Ceasar learning to speak. You could see it coming, although speech is an evolutionary development. Suggesting that the vaccine allowed his brain to become so advanced that he could speak really made this movie jump the shark in my opinion. Just saying "NO" might have been ok, but the line at the end just made me angry.
And speaking of the end, the final shot BEFORE the credits shows apes not in control of anything, just happily hanging out in the redwood trees on the lookout for Ewoks presumably. Are we to assume they have their sights on San Francisco? They just came from there. They were out to kill the evil boss man, then get away to the woods to live out their days catching fireflies and making ape babies.
Finally back to the CGI apes. Yes they were cool looking, but the motions were too fluid, the apes did not seem to be exerting themselves. Lot of closeups of faces and eyes, but not a whisker out of place. Too perfect. Also, real apes you see at the zoo are always scratching themselves and each other and pooping everywhere. Ceasar was always seen wearing pants. This assumes he used the toilet too? Those pants must have really been ripe by the end of the movie.
Ok maybe I'm nitpicking too much. But you have $100 million and a team of hundreds of artists yet you make some pretty obvious miscalculations about the intelligence of the audience.
Ok, then the epilogue. 90% of the 10 people in my theater missed it. I'm not a big fan of the epilogue during or after the credits. 90% of people leave at the first sign of end credits. Perhaps the epilogue is only designed for people who respect the work of the artists? Anyway, suggesting that a worldwide virus will wipe out humanity in a matter of days leaving the Earth for the Apes to take over is very shallow. The Apes seemed pretty happy hanging out in the woods. Likely, the human race would die off and nature would take back the cities and towns of the world, and the wild animals would rule for a while but probably go extinct also. The Discovery Channel has some cools shows about this idea, but the Planet of the Apes arc is about apes rising up against their human masters and taking over the world.
Anyway, that's enough from me.
I did enjoy the movie, but could not help making a mental list of problem areas. Rupert Wyatt is to be commended for directed something on this scale, giving humanity to animals, albeit CGI animals, and taking humanity away from humans. A director is only as good as his script (X), his actors(X) and his crew($). Unfortunately 1 out of 3 is not enough to get Carl Cassel's voice on your home answering machine.
Better luck with the forthcoming USA Network sequel starring Brian Bonsall and Lisa Kudrow, "Return of the Planet of the Apes".
[Mike Cohen] "Better luck with the forthcoming USA Network sequel starring Brian Bonsall...."
Believe it or not, Brian comes up regularly in our household, whenever we see that a TV family is going to add a child character. The young master Keaton made Cousin Oliver look like Olivier.
Brian's major sci-fi role was of course Worf's son Alexander, so he's used to make-up. Draw your own conclusion about its suitability as training for a Planet of the Apes movie.
[Mike Cohen] "Just saying "NO" might have been ok, but the line at the end just made me angry."
[Mike Cohen] "Finally back to the CGI apes. Yes they were cool looking, but the motions were too fluid, the apes did not seem to be exerting themselves. Lot of closeups of faces and eyes, but not a whisker out of place. Too perfect."
Good observation, I wasn't really thinking about that. I tend to only notice if women in Michael Bay movies still have perfect make-up and clean clothes after surviving an explosion.
[Mike Cohen] "Better luck with the forthcoming USA Network sequel starring Brian Bonsall and Lisa Kudrow, "Return of the Planet of the Apes"."
The director has aspirations of a trilogy out of this reboot/prequel Apes film. Probably just talk, who knows if it will amount to anything. My take; he made (in my opinion) a pretty decent movie here, please don't run it into the ground. Unless he really does actually make "Full Metal Jacket with apes". THAT I would very much like to see.
It would take several ape generations at least before they have the full ability to walk upright, fire weapons and have full human speech. So the next movie should take place 30 years into the future - there are pockets of humans left and pockets of ape masters - then the final movie is 30 years after that. It would be easy to set movies 30 and 60 years into the future, because without humans the technology of the world would be frozen in 2011. It would be something like "I am Legend".
Just saw this movie last night, and I thought the first half was not bad at all. Lithgow is so talented, he was able to convey a LOT with very few lines and scenes. Serkis did his usual great job of puppeteering the digital make-up that is Ceasar, making hom seem realistic. Ceasar and the Orangutan reminded me strongly of Andy and Red in "The Shawshank Redemption", as did some of the scenes in the primate center.
I agree the corporate suit guy was badly written, with conflicting motivations and actions. That was really sloppily done.
The easter egg references to the earlier Apes movies were unnecessary, and they take you out of the story.
Franco's scientist character also acted illogically for great swaths of the film.
The breakout and revolt was too strained and number of apes got ridiculous. The battle scenes were really a joke.
I thought it was clever how the outbreak arrives at film's end, but that was telegraphed much earlier in the movie, two separate times, and kind of slopily.