DVD Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I confess to having had no desire to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes until I started hearing good reports about this latest instalment in the long-running franchise, which originated way back in 1968. As a result, I decided to bite the bullet and I rented the DVD issued by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. OLM tries to review any film made wholly or partially in Canada, and because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was mostly shot in Vancouver (substituting for San Francisco) it fully qualifies as Canadian content.

Furthermore, according to the Internet Movie Database, scenes were filmed at Mammoth Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia; Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, B.C.; Stanley Park in Vancouver; The Agrodome at the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds in Vancouver; and on the streets and in the distinctive back alleys of downtown Vancouver. Rise of the Planet of the Apes also features Canadian actors in supporting roles: notably Tyler Labine (cast as a doomed genetic researcher) and David Hewlett (best known for his recurring role in the sci-fi TV series Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and SGU Stargate Universe – all mainly shot in B.C.). Hewlett plays an airline pilot with anger management issues whose key scene appears during the end credits, as he inadvertently spreads a disease fatal to humans, but not to primates, around the world.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the original series, with only the vaguest connections to Planet of the Apes or its inferior sequels (Beneath the, Escape from, Conquest of, Battle for) and two mid-seventies TV spin-offs (Return to the Planet of the Apes was a low-budget animated TV show). In Rise, no scenes are set in the distant future or on another planet, and the time-travel plot conceit so evident in the sequels of the 1970s is absent. The plot of Rise begins with the capture of a chimpanzee in the African jungle by poachers. During experiments on primates to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a genetically-enhanced chimp uses its greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom. Production of ALZ 112 – the promising but still unproven treatment for Alzheimer’s – is rushed, because billions of dollars are at stake, even though the drug, which dramatically increases primate intelligence, may be lethal to humans.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a watershed film – in that Andy Serkis’ motion-capture creation of super-chimp Caesar is by far the most compelling performance in the picture, easily outdistancing the pedestrian work of human lead players James Franco and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and deserving of a special Academy Award for best performance by an actor under layers of digital effects. (Bruce Greenwood’s performance as the monster in Super 8 would also qualify in this category.)

The script of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was co-written by Rick Jaffa (The Relic) and Amanda Silver (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) – solid horror credentials from the 1990s. Where have Jaffa and Silver been all these years? The inspired supporting cast includes John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) as Franco’s sick father, Brian Cox as the crusty owner of a shelter for primates (more of an Alcatraz for monkeys) and David Olewoyo as the amoral head of the big drug company where ALZ 112 is being developed. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is, I’m told, far superior to Tim Burton’s 2001 misfire, making Rise the best film in the series since astronaut Charlton Heston first said through gritted teeth: “Get your stinking paws off meyou damned dirty ape.” – a line that is repeated in Rise by Tom Felton’s sadistic custodian in the wretched animal shelter from which Caesar leads his simian brethren in a Spartacus-like escape.