Director: Rupert Wyatt
Twentieth Century Fox/Chernin/Dune. UK Certification: 12(a)
Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Camera: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Patrick Doyle. Sets: Claude Pare.
James Franco, Frida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris, David Hewlitt, Andy Serkis.
A precursor to Pierre Boulle’s original novel La planète des singes and the series of films featuring Roddy McDowell that followed; scientist Will Rodman (Franco) arrives at a breakthrough with an Alzheimer’s vaccine he has been developing, following a series of experimental trials on chimpanzees. The vaccine causes an increase in intelligence and memory recall. Unfortunately, violence also seems to follow as a side-effect and Rodman’s cherished project is declared dead by the big pharmaceutical company backing it. Discovering that his favourite test subject had secretly given birth, Rodman takes the baby home to hide it from the company, as all other test subjects are to be destroyed, and names him Caesar. Caesar’s mother carried him whilst receiving the vaccine and he develops an astonishing intellect. Caesar becomes curious about his chimpanzee kind and is torn between this and his human family, which eventually leads him to start an uprising.
Just when one thought Fox couldn’t drill any deeper into this well-excavated movie mine, they smartly think up another seam to plumb for riches – the events that precipitate the famous rebellion of servile chimpanzees against their human masters.
Director Tim Burton may have stumbled, epic style, with his “re-imagining” in 2001 (a straight remake of the original film, wherein astronaut Charlton Heston astronaut crash lands on a planet where cultured apes are in charge and humans are aggressive, grunting animals) but writer/producers Jaffa and Silver are on surer ground by paying only lip service to the events that will transpire in this future, fictional Earth and focus purely on the creation of a new world order.
However, just like Burton, they can’t help some cheekily alliterated dialogue. Felton’s gleefully psychotic villain paraphrases Heston with “Get your damned paws off you dirty ape!” and they also name-check the lead Orang-u-tan Maurice, styled on actor Maurice Evans, who played lead Orang-u-tan Dr Zaius in the original film.
One can only wonder how long this current flow of inventiveness will last – with box office grosses over $100million what it cost to make, you can be sure this new injection to the franchise will not be the last.
Of course, there are derisory, almost corny aspects – Franco’s scientist is determined to rid the world of Alzheimer’s all because his beloved Pa (Lithgow) is conveniently afflicted with the condition (do scientists ever just work for love of the discipline)? In the time honoured tradition of all movie scientists diminished to a screen duration of only 2 or so hours, he also happens rapidly upon his cure, before the opening credits have finished rolling in fact. Within five years he’s moving toward human trial stage which is jumping the pharmaceutical gun ad absurdium.
The smart idea of having Caesar understanding sign language (the apes at this part of the series have not evolved voices) to communicate with humans is carelessly discarded during the scene where Franco takes Caesar to the lab where he was born and explains his origins. Franco relates this without signing, but Caesar seems to understand every word uttered, even when looking away from his master.
There are precious few things to savour in the modern American blockbuster, but the gracefully ageing Franco’s attractively furrowed brow is one of them and he is seriously determined throughout. Pinto’s boring and forgettable eye-candy Veterinarian reveals only how she unaccountably continues to accept woefully underwritten female roles. She is suitably outclassed by the meatier support performances of Lithgow and in particular Serkis, as the computer generated Caesar. Peter Jackson’s King Kong (in which Serkis played the title role of the monstrous gorilla with terrifying aplomb) proves to be ample training here as he dominates the film as a tortured ape soul with a devastating humanity.