Wednesday, August 10, 2011

MIFFdrawal session 2: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

When you make an action movie all you have to deliver is emotional engagement as constantly as possible but with a weather eye on its intensity. When you make an action movie with a sci-fi premise you need to deliver a message with the action payload: like a bomb dropped upon the blazing streets of Desden emblazoned with the words: HELLO HITLER!

You often get the action without the sci-fi and just as often the sci-fi without the action. Sometimes you get the sci-fi and the action without the message. Michael Bay has tried his hand at all of these and has become unassailable (his Independence Day - ID4 for anyone who couldn't spell Independence Day - set the bar for the latter). So, though it wasn't by Michael Bay, when I bought my ticket for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I knew what I was going to get.

That's why when I say that the best actor in this film is a CGI ape I'm not trying get all narky and sarcy, just stating the facts, ma'am. The great swag of ones and zeros built around Andy Serkis' creates a convincing impression of the animal it is meant to be. Along with the others who are similarly cocktailed, this is the emotional focus of this film and makes sure it does what it says on the title.

The humans need not be anything more than fine looking and flavourless (enter James Franco and the vet he picks up, played by Freida Pinto), instructively pitiable (John Lithgow as the best human performance) or evil (the rest of the cast).

Then you need action which you get here by the truck load and it carries a lot of emotional engagement.

As a kid I saw the first Planet of the Apes and loved its freakiness. I saw two sequels but missed the last until I was too old to care about it. Not all of these films worked as well as the original but they made solid work of its claim. Through the series the rising sense of the disaster of human folly is brought closer to the centre of the screen until the final installment becomes a clear condemnation of racism. See, as diluted from the ancestor as it could get, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes still found a way to punch. Who knows, if Rise starts off a new series we might get some truly ok sci-fi action on our screens.

Tim Burton's ten year old failure needs very little mention here. I'll only say that my love for it does not extend beyond my love for his Batman movies (which I do not love at all).

Oh, there are a lot of "sly" tributes to the original series. I hate these things. Make your own movie. Everyone knows you know where it's come from just get on with it.

Oh, I said this was an action film with a sci-fi premise, didn't I? That might mean there's a message. Is there? Why yes, there is: Don't play God, there's a good chap.

Is this a lukewarm review? The numbers demand that some will be. But mainly it's lukewarm because the film is so on target with its objective. It's emotionally engaging, not emotionally memorable. I'll forget about this tomorrow until the first sequel emerges. I've seen Solaris once. Years ago. It's still with me and probably always shall be. Better? Worse? No, just different. Just different.

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