Thursday, August 18, 2011

Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

San Francisco's charms had a powerful effect on Caesar.
Planet of the Apes (1968) was mostly notable for it's sharp and witty social commentary about a world in which humans have become pets, slaves, vermin, in short, the underclass. It also worked well as an action film, the score and the camerawork was very good, and it had one of the most memorable "reveals" in the history of film. Rise of the Planet of the Apes has nothing similar to offer. It's not a lousy film, but it's definitely a lazy and unimaginative one.

One big problem is the plot, which plods forward like a beginner's exercise in scriptwriting: scientist tests anti-Alzheimer's drug on chimp A; drug works; scientist adopts chimp A's infant; infant chimp becomes brilliant thanks to drug; teenage chimp does something bad; chimp goes to ape prison; chimp leads mass escape from ape prison; and so on and so on. There are some tenuous sub-plots, but basically all this film does is make us watch a CGI chimp (Caesar) do cute and clever things up until it's time to put him in prison. From that point the film becomes the simian version of The Great Escape. The plot throws no surprises or twists at us, and the finale is a real letdown. The TV ads would have you believe the escaped and newly intelligent apes get medieval on San Francisco's ass. Sadly, such is not the case. It seems the studio was determined  to get a PG-13 rating and so the violence is kept to a bare minimum. There's a lot of noise and property damage, but not much else.

What's most lacking in Rise is wit and humor. I saw this with a full audience and no one laughed or even giggled. The script doesn't even try to have fun with its basically outlandish concept; it's as though the writers had orders from PETA that animal cruelty and experiments on animals are not a fit subject for levity. And as for social  and political commentary, there's not a drop. There's an interesting angle to this in that the 1968 film made much mention of evolution. This film doesn't, and while there's no particular reason it should, one wonders if the political climate in the U.S. had a chilling effect on the writers. It seems to me there should have been a scene with Caesar encountering a Michele Bachmann-type creationist, but, hey, I'm only interested in being entertained.

The actors aren't normally bland performers, but in this film they are. James Franco mails in an earnest scientist performance of the kind usually seen in 1950s sci-fi films; Freida Pinto smiles and frowns on cue; and Brian Cox as Kommandant of Stalag Ape stands around wondering why the studio paid extra for him when any random member of Actor's Equity could have done just as good a job at a tenth the cost. The director, Rupert Wyatt, has only one other feature under his belt, and it was, of course, an escape from prison film. Considering how big the budget was on this film, I imagine the studio kept the inexperienced Wyatt on a very short leash, which probably helps explain the film's resolute dullness. The special effects? They're OK, but there's nothing to match them in the script.

No comments: