Saturday, August 13, 2011

Monkey Business

Not long home from seeing the just opened Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

People go to movies for different reasons and enjoy different types of movies, in some cases avoiding the heavily promoted blockbusters that usually turn out to disappoint. The visual effects Hollywood is capable of now have reached a level where we begin to wonder when live actors will become superfluous. I’m not sure that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one to extend that possibility, but it certainly does prove that live actors can interact splendidly with the living, breathing, full of feeling creatures morphed into being by performance capture technology. In this, as well as on other levels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a feast for the eyes.

The movie was directed by Rupert Wyatt, and he does the job well, but it is the Oscar winning digital effects masters at Weta Digital who are the champions of this movie. The New Zealand group previously created the films Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and King Kong. This time they have expanded upon their Academy Award winning work to render photo-realistic apes in place of costumed actors, and for the first time technology allows audiences to emotionally engage a character that does not actually exist.

Reluctant to resort to such pat descriptions, Rise of the Planet of the Apes truly is a ‘high octane action-packed thriller’ in which half-tested science leads to intelligence in apes and a challenge to humans. It stars James Franco and the actress from Slumdog Millionaire, Freida Pinto. Scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is testing a drug that holds great promise, but a glitch in the testing leads to the work being cancelled. The primary ape in the trials is put down, but not before giving birth to a baby. Franco takes the baby chimp home to care for and is quick to discover that the chimp was born with enhanced intelligence, a result of the drug used on its mother. Within a few years Caesar has risen to a level of intelligence common in eight year-old humans. Trouble arises in the form of a quarrelsome neighbor, and life changes radically for the young chimp when he is put in an ape house with an uncaring staff. From this situation gradually comes the rise of Caesar and his fellow apes.

Andy Serkis plays Caesar and there is already some talk that he is in line for an Academy Award nomination for his performance. He has gotten rave reviews for a portrayal that hums with an emotional heartbeat, engaging the audience completely. An ape almost six feet tall, Serkis as Caesar is so convincing he could wring emotion from a heart of stone. In this movie there are times when you forget the apes are not real. After much acclaimed performance capture work as King Kong and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Serkis is now bearing down on the Oscar that escaped him for his work as Gollum. With his performance as Caesar the actor has brought into limelight the contribution and hard work of actors creating characters through performance capture technology. Thanks to Serkis, there is an an emotional center to this picture that engages completely.

The climactic scene when the apes confront an army of police on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is just plain old spectacular movie magic. The apes are the good guys here and don’t let anyone tell you this movie isn’t exciting. Probably a sequel already on the drawing boards.

1 comment:

  1. Of course most mindless younger moviegoers have no idea how far movie-making has come from the shaky projected backgrounds to now, to believing apes/monkeys who think and revolt have been captured on film. And what is so wonderful about good films (about really good films) is the deliciousness of escaping one's own life for a couple of hours.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America