Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/
CNS/USCCB review -
http://www.catholicnews.com/data/movies/11mv087.htm
Roger Ebert's review -
http://www.rogerebert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110803/REVIEWS/110809988

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Rupert Wyatt, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, suggested by the novel Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle) is a surprisingly good update to the Planet of the Apes movie franchise of the 1960s-70s. 

All Sci-Fi stories require a certain degree of “suspension of disbelief.”  I always found the Planet of the Apes franchise to require this to a far larger degree than other popular American Sci-fi.  Yet by the time the closing credits finish here, one has a scenario (with some holes but not as many as one would expect) for both the rise of the apes and the fall of humanity.

So what happens?  Will Rodman (played by James Franco), a scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company named Gensyn is working on a drug that would reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  The drug, whose delivery mechanism is a virus, introduces a number of genes into brain cells which would encourage them to divide anew and make new synapse connections with other brain cells.  Initial testing on chimps proves promising.  However, the whole project is shut-down after one of the chimps, a female, goes berserk.  The company believes that it is a side-effect of the treatment.  Instead, we find out that it was because she was pregnant.  The head caretaker of the chimps, Robert Franklin (played by Tyler Labine) ordered to take down the chimps because of the failed experiment, can’t bring himself to kill the new-born chimp as well, and asks Will Rodman to take the little chimp home, even for a few days, while he tries to figure out what to do.  And so this is how Ceasar, the new born chimp makes it out alive and comes to be raised in a human environment at the Rodman home.

Now it turns-out that Will Rodman had more than a professional interest in working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, his father, Charles Rodman (played by John Lithgow) has it. 

In the 4 years that follow, Ceasar the chimp grows up in the Rodman home, approaching maturity.  It is clear that genetic treatment that his mother had received had penetrated into his fetal brain while she carried him in her womb as well.  So he becomes one smart chimp, learning to sign and do all sorts of tasks that an average chimp would never be able to do.  In the meantime, Charles is just getting worse.  Seeing that Ceasar had no ill effects from having been exposed to the treatment, Will decides to steal a number of the remaining vials of the experimental drug from his lab to give the treatment to his father.  Initially, the treatment works miracles on his father as well.  HOWEVER, soon it becomes clear the Charles’ immune system is fighting the viral portion of the treatment.  Will realizes that if this treatment was going to work on humans, a different virus would have be used as a delivery vehicle to the brain.  What to do?

Will convinces his boss, Steven Jacobs (played by David Oyelowo) that the treatment had not been a failure for the reasons the company had thought.  It did not cause the chimp subjects to go berserk and, in fact, the treatment had worked (at least initially) on his father.  Finally, Rodman tells his boss that if anything, the treatment had made _both_ Ceasar and his father (temporarily) more intelligent than they ever should have been.  Intrigued at the possibility that this therapy could actually increase human intelligence, the boss gives Will the go-ahead to work on a new virus delivery vehicle.

The rest of the movie is driven by two things.  First, Ceasar is growing-up.  And no matter how intelligent he may be, he’s still physically a chimp.  This means that he’s becoming far stronger than any human being around him, something that San Francisco zoo veterinarian Caroline Aranha (played by Frieda Pinto) warns Will about.  Second, using a virus as a delivery mechanisms is a tricky thing.  The first virus proved too weak for the human immune system.  Would using a different virus as the delivery mechanism prove better?

With several fortuitous twists the story proceeds to fulfill its task of explaining how the Planet of the Apes came to be.  Yes, it stretches the imagination but not as much as one would think.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes moved the story from the original series’ completely improbable starting point to a movie resembling Jurassic Park in many ways.  But I’ll leave it to viewers to judge for themselves whether they were satisfied with how this movie played with the elements of science and fiction.

Finally as a note to parents, I do believe that the PG-13 rating is appropriate.  Yes, there is violence.  But like a lot of recent comic book based movies, notably Iron Man I/II, Green Hornet or Thor, there’s a lot of glass breaking and shots (at the end) fired, but not really a lot of blood.  So if you found those other movies basically okay, you’ll find this one okay as well.


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