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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 96 minutes.

OK for children.

The true star of this prequel (it started with the 1968 classic starring Charlton Heston) is the performance capture technology that enables Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar the Chimpanzee, to really look like an ape with intelligence. According to Fox, this film could only be made due to the technology that was developed for the film Avatar. Unlike Avatar, however, this was not filmed in a controlled environment. Rather, it was filmed on various locations, including San Francisco, which is the locale of the story.

Basically, the film is a setup to explain how technology ran wild, enabling apes to obtain human intelligence and, eventually, take over the world, resulting in Heston's famous discovery when he returns from a space mission. However, they don't take over the world in this movie.

It's told from the POV of the apes, sort of a modern Call of the Wild, Jack London's classic story of an Alaskan dogsled dog told entirely from the dog's POV.

There are some good performances by humans, too. James Franco gives a good performance as Caesar's adoptive father, and John Lithgow is effective as Franco's father who is suffering from dementia.

Director Rupert Wyatt keeps the pace up throughout the film, aided by a smart script by Amanda Silver, with her husband and writing partner Rick Jaffa. These Planet of the Apes movies need good direction to keep them from descending into ludicrous satire, and Wyatt accomplishes that very well.

But, as I said, the true star of the film is the performance capture technology, so how they did it needs to be explained because that was what was running through my mind throughout the film. Says senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, “As we did with Avatar, we used the performance capture suit and headgear to capture the actors’ facial expressions and get the full range of their performances.  But here, for the first time, we used performance capture as a fully integrated part of the live action performance. Working on Rise of the Planet of the Apes became all about the performances and the actors interacting with one another.  We would take care of the rest – the actual visual effects – later.” Clearly, what they accomplished is Oscar®-quality.

This is a fun, entertaining movie.