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Rise of the Apes

 

I know why the caged bird ape sings… He sings of freedom.

 

Unknown Author

 

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Rise of the Apes Movie ReviewDuring one of the unexpectedly poignant moments in the new movie Rise of the Apes, a super intelligent primate passes a dog on a leash, looks at his own collar and signals to his adopted father, “Am I a pet?”

 

The dad, a sort of hapless doctor Frankenstein played by James Franco, struggles with an appropriate answer and so should we. Because the questions the movie asks about free will and the nature of captivity extends far beyond the confines of the planet of the apes.

 

Rise of the Apes is a prequel to the 2001 Planet of the Apes film and a modern adaptation of the 1968 classic by the same name. In Rise, intelligent apes are developed accidently when a major multinational pharmaceutical corporation conducts tests on primates to try to discover a cure for degenerative brain diseases.

 

Will Rodman (Franco) is the inventor of a serum called ALZ 112, which has been concocted to repair damaged brain cells and reverse the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s. The invention obviously has great commercial appeal, but Rodman’s interest is primarily personal. His father has advanced Alzheimer’s and he is in a sense working against the clock to save his dad’s mind.

 

Unfortunately, the most promising test animal breaks free as the drug nears final approval for human trials, kills several people, and is ultimately shot. The CEO closes down the project, but not before Rodman discovers the true cause of the animal’s erratic behavior. Unknown to researchers, the ape had given birth in its cage and was defending its offspring.

 

Not knowing what else to do, Rodman takes the baby ape home where he discovers that the super intelligence has passed from mother to child. He names the baby Caesar, teaches it to sign, and integrates it into his unusual family while administering the drug to his ailing dad in secret.

 

As Caesar grows up, he becomes sullen and distant. Watching other children playing outside, he wonders why he can’t be free to play and roam. Like all teens, he wants the keys to the car so he can explore the world for himself. Caesar is also imprisoned not only by his animal nature, but also by his adopted father who keeps him locked inside to protect him. He may have a human (or superhuman) mind, but he is also ultimately still an animal.

 

In a sense, Caesar learns that the real prison is the body itself. The ape’s dual nature means that like Rodman’s father – who is shackled to a mind that is slowly erasing itself – the ape needs to assimilate his warring parts under will. After a violent attack in which he loses control of his animal self, the young ape is sent to a refuge that is part Disneyland and part Alcatraz

 

Surrounded by other abandoned and neglected apes, he slowly uncovers the value of his animal side and discovers how he can direct both his intelligence and his ferocity will a will to power.

 

The movie compares the refuge with its secret cages and mazes with the business world with its endless offices and subterranean laboratories. The law of tooth and fang reigns in both worlds and in a sense the ape must master cruelty to be free. He must outgrow his father, assimilate the prison logic that attempts to define him, and become a self-defined being to rise above both man and ape.

Rise of the Apes is visually stunning. The CGI is excellent and seamless. Unlike many science fiction films – where the effects compete against the plot – it never pushes the scenes beyond the level of plausibility. Caesar’s facial gestures (brought to us via computer animation and the genius of Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Rings trilogy and King Kong in the movie of the same name) are especially moving.

 

Director Rupert Wyatt treats his subject seriously although he does toss in nuggets from the original source materials – including tentative references to 60s era emblems of the Civil rights struggle. Sidestepping the dangers of camp, the film also isn’t preachy or moralistic, preferring to allow the audience to interpret its meaning in the fast flow of its plot.

 

The shocking revelation of the 1968 film was that the alien world was, in fact, Earth, and man was no longer master of his own home. Rise of the Apes tells us that we can only be free if we free ourselves first.

 

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