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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Entry updated 12 July 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2011). Twentieth Century Fox/Chernin Entertainment/Dune Entertainment. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, suggested by La Planète des singes (1963; trans as Planet of the Apes 1963 US) by Pierre Boulle. Cast includes Brian Cox, Tom Felton, James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto and Andy Serkis. 105 minutes. Colour.

A geneticist testing an Alzheimer's cure on chimpanzees adopts the orphaned infant of one of his subjects and raises him as a human infant (see Apes as Human). When the superintelligent ape-child, Caesar, is forcibly transferred to a primate sanctuary, he organizes his fellow apes, exposes them to an airborne viral version of the neuroenhancing agent, and leads them in revolt to establish an independent community in the Muir Woods while the virus, which is fatal to humans, embarks on a rapid worldwide spread.

Husband-and-wife writing team Jaffa and Silver, whose previous sf credit was The Relic (1997), pitched Fox their Pinocchio-into-Moses story as a way to revive the Planet of the Apes franchise after Tim Burton's profitable but unloved 2001 venture. Their alternate version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) reconceives Caesar as the product of Genetic Engineering rather than a Time-Travelling superchimp from the future, and makes humans rather than domestic pets the victim of its Pandemic. Throwaway fan references abound to names, details, and dialogue lines from the 1968 film, and some harmony with the original film series is preserved by having a version of the 1968 storyline take place in the background, with a Mars mission launched and lost (presumably in time) on newscasts – inviting the audience to read this one as an alternate prequel to the first two films in the franchise, while eliminating the ingenious Time Loop bent out of the three later films in the original cycle.

The film was a significant milestone in performance capture, with its massed chimp performers in crowd and action sequences, and a demanding digitally avatarized lead performance from Serkis, who had previously played King Kong (2005). Though essentially concatenated from formulae – the cure-for-Alzheimer's motif had already been used in the previous Frankenstein Monster films Deep Blue Sea (1999) and Splice (2010) – it embellishes the template, and Pierre Boulle's original satiric conception, by drawing ingeniously on real-life experiments in raising chimps in humanized environments. The human plot proceeds fitfully and indecisively than the simian; Marsden's character, killed off in the first cut, was spared via reshoots after test screenings. A surprise runaway hit on release, it outperformed all the previous sequels at the box office, and Jaffa and Silver were put to work on a followup. [NL]

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