What if there was a research drug in the laboratory right now that had a good chance of curing Alzheimer’s but needed more testing on animals before it could be released for human trials? And what if that same drug made its research subjects smarter?
That’s the premise of the exciting and surprisingly thoughtful Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the lead genetic researcher working on the miracle drug for Gen Sys Corporation, but he has a driving motivation of his own: His father (John Lithgow) is rapidly descending into dementia.
Clinical trials for the ALZ-112 drug go well, but when they inadvertently treat a pregnant chimpanzee then separate her from her newborn, she goes on a rampage and the project is shut down. Rodman manages to save Caesar, a baby chimp. Caesar turns out to be extraordinarily intelligent, but after an incident where he attacks a neighbor who was assaulting the now-cured father, he gets sent to monkey jail, the San Bruno Primate Shelter.
Caesar escapes, steals some of the more powerful ALZ-113 from Rodman’ s house, then goes back and exposes the 100 or so primates at the shelter to the drug. The smart monkeys break out en masse and attack!
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes is an iconic science fiction film, with memorable imagery notably including Colonel Taylor (Charlton Heston) finding a half-buried Statue of Liberty on a beach in the monkey-dominated future Earth. I’d always wondered what events led to the burial of such an enormous statue, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a good job explaining.
At one point in Rise there’s a TV news broadcast about the first manned mission to Mars, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it was the very mission that Taylor and his crew were on when they cryogenically froze for a few hundred years before crash-landing in the earlier film. Smart.
A number of scenes are shot in Muir Woods, and during those scenes it’s clear just what a good job actor Andy Serkis does as the model for Caesar. Rise of the Planet of the Apes ultimately depends on whether the simians are believable or not, and in 95 percent of the shots they really do seem like chimps, orangutans, apes, etc. rather than CG creations or actors with heavy makeup.
Is it possible that humans will become the inferior race and genetically smartened chimpanzees become the rulers of Earth? Probably not. But as the basis for a smart, exciting film that both fills in the backstory of a classic science fiction tale and acts as a fun movie in its own right, Rise of the Planet of the Apes proves a film well worth seeing.