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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I still remember seeing the original “Planet of the Apes” with Charlton Heston on a summer day many years ago when I was young. I haven’t seen any of the sequels, or the Tim Burton remake. However, I had heard good things about this “prequel,” and thought it might be a good way to spend a couple of hours on a hot summer afternoon. I’m glad I did. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is great fun.

The movie tells the story of Will Rodman (James Franco), a brilliant young scientist who has developed a serum to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Will cares for his father (John Lithgow) who has Alzheimer’s. It breaks Will’s heart to see his father succumb to the disease.

Will works for a large drug company in Northern California, run by Steven Jacobs, who is only interested in profits. The company tests the serum on chimpanzees. Dubious Jacobs decides to scuttle the project when one of the chimps, named Bright Eyes, goes berserk. After Bright Eyes is killed, Will discovers that she was protecting her baby, which Will names Caesar. Will sneaks Caesar home with him. Will injects Caesar with the serum, and Caesar becomes highly advanced. Will cares for Caesar for eight years, until he is forced to give him up. Reluctantly, Will takes Caesar to a facility that raises primates for scientific research.

Just like Spartacus, Caesar uses his advanced knowledge and leadership skills to rally the primates against their cruel caretakers. They head for San Francisco, and have a standoff with the police on the Golden Gate Bridge. The movie cleverly leads viewers to a place where it’s a logical leap to Planet of the Apes, in which, after the human race has been largely wiped out, intelligent apes govern.

Special effects wizards have created computer-generated apes which look and act real. The scenes between Will and Caesar are very touching. Much of the credit for the believability of the adult Caesar goes to actor Andy Serkis, who, through computer-generated special effects “plays” Caesar. Don’t ask me to explain how they do this! However it’s done, between Serkis’ performance and special effects, Caesar’s transformation from innocent and loveable to angry leader is very effective.

Even if the final confrontation between human and ape on the Golden Gate Bridge is a bit of a letdown, nothing else in this movie is. Director Rupert Wyatt keeps the film moving at a good pace. The scenes in the primate house are particularly effective. When a defiant Caesar roars “No!” to his captors, it’s as dramatic as the first time Helen Keller speaks an intelligible word in The Miracle Worker. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver also deserve credit for keeping the story true to the spirit of the original. They even use perhaps the most famous line from the original in an appropriate and clever way.

I’m also grateful to Wyatt for keeping the playing time of the movie under two hours, and the violence non-graphic. So you can take all but the youngest kids and enjoy it together. Unlike many other PG-13 movies today that blur the boundary between PG-13 and R ratings, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” thankfully, does not.

Finally, don’t leave the theater, or turn off the DVD, the minute the credits start to roll. You won’t want to miss a clever sequence running through the credits which sets the stage for the original movie.

Tom Condon, OP