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Movie Review: 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'

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“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton
Rated: PG-13

As a child of the 1950s and '60s, certain cultural things - not always the most laudable things - are a part of my psyche.

I remember nearly every episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and other (less valuable and admittedly less accomplished) iconic TV series from that time.

The first film I saw at a movie theater was “Auntie Mame” in 1958 when I was 5 years old.

I ran out of Springfield's Fox Theatre in 1960 when “Thirteen Ghosts” scared me to that point.

In high school, many of my weekend nights were spent at the drive-in watching era-defining classics such as “Harold and Maude,” “The Magic Christian” and “Steelyard Blues.”

Many of us who grew up during that time were steeped in the (newly developed) space race and the political and social changes that were rife at the time.

The '50s and '60s saw a new breed of science fiction that was influenced by the aforementioned space race, the Cold War (with the atomic threats implicit there) and the advent of the electronic age. “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek” captured the collective imagination of TV viewers. Even the Western film form was reinvented for the modern age. Remember “The Wild Wild West”?

In 1968, Franklin J. Schaffner directed the first of the now six “Planet of the Apes” films. It was perfect for the times and had the added credibility of having a screenplay that was co-written by Rod Serling.

Serling already had an indisputable reputation, having written several great science fiction/fantasy books and short stories. He won acclaim for scripting “Requiem For a Heavyweight” which first aired in 1956 on “Playhouse 90” and later became a feature film.

In 1959, Serling created “The Twilight Zone.” Episodes are still running on TV, and they hold up after more than 50 years.

The original “Planet Of The Apes” also holds up well as far as the subject matter and writing. In today's high tech world, it is (admittedly) visually cheesy, but it got the job done, and several sequels followed.

Going against the opinion of critics and the public at large, I'll admit that I even enjoyed  
Tim Burton's 2001 remake of the first film.

Whoever had the idea to make a “prequel” to the series should be applauded. In the first “Planet Of The Apes,” the simians had already taken over. We got the chills at the end when we discovered what “planet” was that of the apes, and the sequels provided more information. Now, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” tells the compelling story of how the fall of mankind came about.

Basing its premise on a tried-and-true science fiction cliché (and that's not meant to be pejorative), “Rise” shows us how mankind was basically responsible for its own downfall. To borrow a phrase from an old TV commercial, “It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Will Rodman (played by James Franco) is a scientist researching and developing drugs that may counteract the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. It's not just that he's altruistic. He has a vested interest in such research. His father is suffering from the onset of the disease.

Will's company is doing research on apes, and things aren't going well. One of the apes, Caesar, is scheduled to be euthanized, but Will takes him home. He also commandeers a good amount of the serum his company has been experimenting with. He uses a lot of the medicine on Caesar. Since it was developed as an Alzheimer's cure, he also begins testing the effects of it on his dad.

As you might guess (it's one of those kind of movies), things go wrong on all fronts.

There's no reason to discuss the plot any further. If you know anything about this film series, you already know (and probably could have written) the scenario.

It's a silly but fun bit of film diversion.

Credit has to be given to actor Andy Serkis, who stars as Caesar. You wouldn't recognize Serkis if you saw him in “People” magazine but you probably know his work. He played Gollum in  Peter Jackson's “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy and the title role in Jackson's update of “King Kong.”

While there is computer generated technology involved, Serkis does his work during filming. He wears a body suit outfitted with sensing devices. In post-production, the filmmakers outfit him (digitally) in a monkey suit. The result of this technology is an amazing sense of reality. Serkis has perfected his body movements and eye contact to a degree that could never have been achieved by the usual computer-generated character.

Fans of the well-established “Planet Of The Apes” franchise will no doubt be pleased with this big-budget, well-done prequel.[[In-content Ad]]

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