As the Next APES Prequel Dawns, We Look Back at the Previous Entry

In anticipation of this week’s coming release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, here’s my original opening day review of its prequel, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Enjoy…


rise_pota_posterThe worst thing I can say about the surprisingly excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that its admittedly uber-effective trailer gives far too much away. For example, if you’ve seen it, you then know that this is an earthbound modern day prequel to the classic Planet of the Apes series (the gawd-awful Tim Burton re-imagined version is mercifully ignored). In it, a genetically enhanced chimpanzee named Caesar is adopted by his altruistic geneticist (James Franco) with whom he then lives an ideal existence, until he is then subsequently abandoned, then subsequently becomes ticked off, then gets his dirty paws on the chemical enhancer, releases it upon scores of other apes, who then join him to, well, rise up.

You also know that the ape facial expressions and CG rendering are absolutely breathtaking; almost frightening in the high quality of the subtle nuances exhibited. (And certainly enough to allow us to, for the moment, let go of the proud legacy of practical make-up heretofore in the Apes series.) If you’ve seen the trailer, then you already know all of this. If you somehow haven’t seen the trailer… then I guess you know it now. In any case, it’s all fine. Knowing all of that does nothing to spoil this absolutely engrossing film. (And I’m typically averse to any trailer with a beginning, middle, and end.) Precisely cast and acted (including John Lithgow as Franco’s ailing father, and Brian Cox as a duplicitous simian sanctuary manager), the film boasts nary a false move throughout. Director Rupert Wyatt, a virtual newcomer to my knowledge, has one heck of a calling card on his hands.

Precisely cast and acted, the film boasts nary a false move throughout. Director Rupert Wyatt, a virtual newcomer to my knowledge, has one heck of a calling card on his hands.

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a treat for average filmgoers, then it’s a veritable candy store for fans of the Apes series. Although I myself don’t qualify as such, I’m still nonetheless geeky enough to spot much of the liberal dose of references and callbacks peppered throughout. I won’t spoil them here; although I will warn that only once does it go too far, its sheer obviousness jolting you momentarily out of the film. (You’ll know it when it plays.) But that’s merely a nit to pick in an otherwise remarkable film. This is, by any measure, a template for a prequel done exactly right.


Although the human cast is completely worth touting, they are merely supporting players to Caesar, played by Andy “Gollum” Serkis, presumably in a motion-capture suit. It’s a testament to both Serkis’s performance and the character’s animation that in a movie full of other apes, I never lost track of which one was Caesar. Although the film’s plot may seem immediately formulaic, it’s actually highly unconventional in the details and execution: This is a movie with a chimpanzee protagonist who goes from pet to family member to tyrant, maintaining and unchallenging grasp upon our sympathy and attention throughout.


Wyatt’s visuals are sure-handed in a sense that is almost De Palma or Fincher-esque. Early on, the camera follows Caesar through Franco’s multi-storied home in one long, unbroken tracking shot. The shot puts David Fincher’s through-the-teapot-handle gimmickry of Panic Room to shame. Wyatt’s camerawork and editing are lively and astute without being gimmicky or pretentious. I for one can’t wait to see what’s next for him.

Although I consider myself a fan of the 1968 original (boasting one of the greatest and most spoiled twist endings of all time… which is spoiled all the more by the very nature of this film. But don’t let that keep you away…), Burton’s 2001 version left me soured enough that the idea of another Apesfilm, even now, ten years on, was something I could take or leave. In handling the film the way they have, Fox, the filmmakers, and all parties involved have shown that they are sincere in restoring this franchise in the hearts and minds of filmgoers. Rise of the Planet of the Apes rises to the occasion as one of the year’s best films.