The movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (which was directed by Brit indie filmmaker Rupert Wyatt) is a great summer movie which can be enjoyed on multiple levels:
- Escapist summer fun
- A paean to animal rights
- An expose on the perils of obsession
- A horror story about Alzheimers disease, and
- A cautionary tale about the rapid advance of science and technology
For Time magazine, it played like an animal-rights flick. But for me, it was more about “science playing God.” But the plot also hits a nerve when dealing with the issue of Alzheimers. (The brother of a good friend recently died from this wicked disease.) But it really works as all of the above. Anyone familiar with the “Ape” franchise knows how this movie will end, but it doesn’t really matter. The movie’s ending is silly, but the special effects keep the viewer entertained.
The drug territory explored by “Apes” is an extension of a theme started by the 1960’s weepie “Charly” (if not before) and explored recently by the overly optimistic and frequently silly “Limitless.” (Both, however, are recommended.) In the case of “Apes,” a prequel to a franchise that started in 1968, the drug works for apes, but not for humans.
Just a couple of personal observations. First, the movie wastes the talents and beauty of Freida Pinto (known most famously from “Slumdog Millionaire”) who plays the love interest for the film’s main character (who is played by James Franco). If her role had been enhanced, the “science playing God” aspect of the movie would have been greatly improved.
Second, John Lithgow, as always, is great in this movie. He plays the Alzheimers victim to perfection, as he goes from fog to enlightment and then descends into tragedy.
Third, Andy Serkis, who plays the lead chimp “Caesar,” and the CGI graphics associated with the chimps are very convincing. (I have one complaint though: I didn’t think the orang looked very realistic. But other than that, I was very impressed by the movie’s general feel.) One of the reviewers complained about the lack of bonobo in Rise.
Rottentomatoes gave this movie an 83 percent positive rating. Sean Means of the SLTrib gave it 3 and one-half stars. Doug Wright of KSL-radio gave it 2 and one-half stars, while his fellow reviewers gave it 3. Doug seemed unnecessarily critical of the movie’s setup and premise, but those sort of comments seem silly . . . afterall the movie is about apes taking over the world. One of Doug’s colleagues wondered where all the apes at the end of the movie came from? Reasonable question. MaryAnn Johanson, writing in the SLCWeekly, gave the movie 4 stars:
You may not believe how much this unexpectedly lovely movie is more about tender emotion that it is about summer popcorn action (though there’s plenty of that, too).
For me, “Apes” is interesting because it dares to bring up important contemporary issues, even if they are explored superficially. The act of bringing them up is important.
For example, ieet.org did an online survey asking: “Should humans attempt to uplift (enhance) certain animals.” The answers were as follows (I’m not sure about the nonrandom sample size):
- Absolutely. It’s our responsibility to ensure that animals reap the same benefits from enhancement tech as we do. 16%
- Sure, but let’s be careful not to make them smarter than humans. 6%
- No, because I don’t think we have their consent. 14%
- Definitely not. Such experimentation could be extremely harmful and dangerous to animals. 47%
- Uplift? Making animals more like humans is a downgrade, not an upgrade. 11%
- I’m not sure. 6%
Back to the movie, it is seriously underrated as an entertainment vehicle.
Recommendation: Don’t walk, run to your local movie theater; this is a great summer movie. And by all means, take your older kids. The flick earned a suprising $55M on its first weekend. When out on DVD, this would be a excellent movie for Family Home Evening. After the movie, you could discuss Alzheimers and other issues related to aging, or the treatment of animals, or “science playing God.”
For a tongue-in-cheek anthropoligcal review of the movie, see the blog the wildniche. For a youtube discussion with Wyatt, Serkis, and Franco about the ethics of cognitive enhancement and animal uplift see: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/munkittrick20110806