I saw the new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this weekend and I admit I went into it with fairly low expectations. Not because I thought it looked bad, but because someone I work with told me beforehand that it was just mediocre. Maybe my reaction was skewed since the bar had been set kind of low, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t stellar; some of the dialogue was cheesy and, though I am a James Franco fan, he really didn’t pull off the whole scientist thing. It was obvious as he delivered his lines that he wasn’t comfortable speaking the science lingo. And one character actually uttered (very dramatically) the line: “You know everything about the brain except how it works.” Seriously? Who wrote that gem? On the other hand, the always-outstanding John Lithgow has a small role in which he proves yet again he is an actor of profound ability. Whatever that man is doing onscreen, whether it’s an outlandish comedic antic or an act of the deepest compassion, he sells it. I could probably watch him sit in an empty room and stare at a clock for 2 hours.
Other than the over-the-top delivery of the uber-cheesy “scientific” lines, this flick impressed me. The special effects were damn good and the plot was well thought-out and nicely executed, with a smooth tie-in to the original Planet of the Apes. Mad chops to Andy Serkis (as in, the genius mastermind of Gollum of the LOTR trilogy) for bringing his performance capture method of acting to Caesar, the main chimp and true star of this film. His performance and the gorgeous CGI ape won me over immediately. And I wasn’t the only one. The emotional bond between Franco’s character and Caesar, whom Franco took care of from his infancy, was so fully developed, I choked up on more than one occasion. In fact, it surprised me how strong an emotional response I had to the story.
Director Rupert Wyatt did an excellent job of telling this tale from the apes’ point of view. I admit I rooted for them pretty much the whole time. By the end, I was more attached to a few of the apes than to any of the humans. Not that I wanted to see any humans suffer (except Tom Felton, of Draco Malfoy fame, who played a real prick), but the chimps were treated with such a lack of respect and their pain and suffering met with such complete indifference by the humans “taking care” of them, that it felt good to see them victorious. As a scientist, I’ve seen so many examples of the ways animals are mistreated in the name of medicine. Not just euthanized and not just given experimental medication, but actually put into diseased states before being cut open to test the efficiency of a new surgical method, for example, or how well someone with, say, diabetes would do while undergoing a certain procedure. I get the reasons for this. I know these drugs/methods must be tested before tried on humans, but I can’t help but ask myself if we humans have the right to grossly manipulate and exploit other forms of life for our own benefit. This is the reason this movie struck such an emotional chord with me. Because the truth is, after all I’ve seen firsthand and read/heard about secondhand, if the monkeys ever get smart enough to organize a revolt, no one could say we didn’t have it coming.