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July 31, 2011

Lab Chimp Revolts in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'

by Penelope Poulou

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is the prequel to "Planet of the Apes," the sci-fi saga which debuted in 1968. Back then, a crew of astronauts crash-lands in the distant future on a planet where intelligent apes dominate humans.

The new film, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," chronicles events leading up to the dominance of the apes.

Actor James Franco portrays Will Rodman, a scientist at a large pharmaceutical company conducting research to develop a drug that restores damaged brain tissue in humans. His ultimate goal is to cure Alzheimer’s disease, a cause close to his heart because of his ailing father.

To further his goal, he experiments on chimpanzees and finds the drug radically boosts brain function. That is obvious in Caesar, a young chimp exposed to the drug in the womb when scientists gave the drug to his mother.

Will adopts the baby chimp and raises him at home. Ceasar learns to read and write and he has a deep affection for his human family. But his animal nature clashes with his human upbringing. He uses brute force against a neighbor who bullies Charles, Will’s father.

Realizing he can no longer keep Caesar, Will takes him to what he believes is a place where Caesar can socialize with his kind. But the San Bruno Primate Sanctuary resembles a prison where the animals are locked up in cages.

For the first time, Caesar is confronted with humanity’s dark side. He reacts by inciting a revolt.

Filmmaker Rupert Wyatt creates a larger-than-life film with a philosophical concept and great special effects.

The story is told from Ceasar’s point of view and explains what led to the apes' supremacy in the earlier installments of the franchise.

Actor Andy Serkis, who portrays Caesar, studied the movements of real primates. The actor's facial  expressions are transposed onto the ape through motion capture technology first introduced in Peter Jackson's 2005 film, "King Kong."

Serkis interpreted King Kong back then as he does now with Ceasar. The difference is that Caesar is a far more realistic looking computer-generated primate, who interacts with the other characters.

“This is an unknowing, very innocent child," Serkis says of his character. "He suddenly becomes aware that the world is not an easy place to live in, and he has to make very strong choices to survive."

The film’s climactic moment signals the end of humanity as we know it and the dawning of a new era - as well as the promise of subsequent prequels in the "Planet of the Apes" franchise.