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Video: Watch the "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes' trailer

Hollywood Reporter
updated 8/4/2011 10:24:00 AM ET 2011-08-04T14:24:00

Some old potion is served up in a reasonably spiffy new bottle in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Resurrecting a lucrative franchise for another go-round 43 years after Charlton Heston first found himself on the short end of the evolutionary pyramid, Fox has wisely steered clear of attempting another remake of the original, which was bungled so badly by Tim Burton a decade back, settling instead on a contemporary scientific yarn that serves as a plausible prequel to all the other films. Strong action, special effects and by far the most credible ape “performances” yet seen will spell box office to inspire chest-thumping in all markets.

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Making the most of special effects breakthroughs pioneered on "Avatar" as well as on the extensive ape performance background of Andy "King Kong" Serkis, "Rise" closes the door on the makeup-and-hairpiece monkeyshines of the original "Apes" sequels once and for all. The success of the new film pivots on viewer belief that the genetically advanced primates here possess emotional and cranial capacities similar to those of humans; so completely is this achieved that audiences will be cheering for these sensitive creatures as they take revenge on their tormentors by launching an unusually ambitious animal-liberation movement.

Story: Top bananas: Best and worst of 'Planet of the Apes'

Of course, it helps tip the balance when the humans on display are as thoroughly dull and/or venal as they are here. The man who makes everything possible is genetic scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), who after more than five years of research experiences a breakthrough with a gene therapy drug called AOZ-112. This cocktail not only pushes one young chimp to incredible new thresholds of smarts and ability, it also has the side effect of reversing the dementia of Will’s out-of-it father (John Lithgow). From the point of view of Will’s greedy boss (David Oyelowo), this is a potential goldmine.

Slideshow: End of the world as we know it (on this page)

But Dad’s Alzheimer’s regresses. And then the chimp, named Caesar, grows into a rough, rebellious, malcontented adolescent, very strong and hard to control; more than any other chimp in history, this one truly has a mind of its own. Eventually, Caesar must leave home for a simian detention facility staffed by a bunch of sadists led by Draco Malfoy himself (or at least the actor who played him in the "Harry Potter" films, Tom Felton). Things get nasty enough to spark a prison riot, which soon turns into an outright rebellion seemingly joined by the entire ape population of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The story arc hammered out by writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver is solid, and director Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") propels it at an accelerating but unmanic pace, leading to an action climax on, above and under the Golden Gate Bridge that proves perfectly satisfying. Unsurprisingly, the final shot duly foreshadows a sequel, which could be considerably hairier than this first installment.

Aping the apes: TV's top 'Planet' parodies

Will is a scientist and his sweetheart Caroline (Freida Pinto) is a vet, so why not make them brainy, opinionated, somewhat eccentric individuals with interesting takes on the extraordinary events their work triggers? Let them argue, debate and be inspired and/or appalled by it all, rather than just ride on their looks. Franco has some nice moments with Lithgow, himself just fine, but otherwise is mostly in fierce register as he contends with adversaries both at work and at the detention center. Pinto looks more beautiful than ever but is playing the most boringly decorous tag-along girlfriend seen onscreen in years.

Another questionable element is the extent of the apes’ conversational abilities. When Caesar at last utters his first word, it’s undeniably a big moment. But the most effective simian interchanges are physical rather than verbal, so it will be a tricky tightrope to walk — if the series continues, which it likely will — to move the apes into full speech in a credible way.

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Serkis invests Caesar with a full measure of personality through the indelibly human look in his eyes. The ape cast is rounded out not only by chimps but by a memorable gorilla and orangutan, both of them fine supporting players. The special effects are most convincing and involving, particularly as the apes move through San Francisco and across the bridge in their attempt to take over George Lucas territory up north.

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter

Photos: End of the world as we know it

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  1. It's the end of the world as we know it

    The end of the world has been often recreated in movies and on TV. Often it's a danger from space that ruins our planet. In 2011's "Battle: Los Angeles," heavily armored aliens attack Earth, but America's military fights back. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Don't cross me

    2011's "Priest" is based on a Korean comic. In it, humans and vampires war for control, and Paul Bettany plays a warrior priest who must rescue his niece. (Screen Gem) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. It's all in the 'Book'

    In 2010's "Book of Eli," a nuclear apocalypse has devastated Earth, and Denzel Washington plays Eli, a nomad who carries a rare copy of the Bible with him on his journey. (Courtesy Of Alcon Film Fund / Warner Bros) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Where did everybody go?

    Hayden Christensen stars in 2010's "Vanishing on 7th Street," playing a TV anchor who seeks answers after a mysterious global blackout results in most people on earth vanishing, and shadows coming to life. (Magnet Release) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Zombies, always a good world-ender

    Zombie master George A. Romero returns with 2010's "Survival of the Dead," following the fight against the living dead as waged by a group of National Guards. Most of the action involves two feuding Irish families who are holding a small island off the coast of Delaware. One family is keeping their undead loved ones alive, hoping to find a cure, while the others want to kill the zombies. (Magnet Release) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Crazy for you

    2010's "The Crazies" was a remake of George A. Romero's 1973 original. A small town's water supply is accidentally infected with a virus that turns the humans who drink it into infected killers. (Overture Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. When angels fall to earth

    Dennis Quaid stars in 2009's "Legion," in which the Archangel Michael falls to Earth, cuts off his wings, and leads a small group of humans in an apocalyptic battle. (Courtesy Of Screen Gems / Screen Gems) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Prawn of the dead

    In the 2009 sleeper hit "District 9," aliens who come to Earth don't conquer us, but are instead treated as refugees, derisively dubbed "prawns," and stuffed in refugee camps. As you can imagine, they don't much like that, and violence eventually erupts. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Vamping

    In 2009's "Daybreakers," Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe exist in a 2019 world where a plague has turned most of the planet's human population into vampires. A vampiric corporation sets out to capture and farm the remaining humans while researching a blood substitute. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The final countdown?

    "2012," released in 2009, revolves around cataclysmic events that strike the Earth just as the Mayan calendar is coming to a close. Over the decades, many have prophesied that the world will end when the ancient calendar ceases on Dec. 21, 2012. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The long walk

    Cormac McCarthy's bleak novel "The Road" became a 2009 movie. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee star as a father and son who face starving stragglers and marauding packs of cannibals after a nuclear explosion destroys America. (Dimension Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Heads up!

    In 2008's "Cloverfield," a group of young people at a going-away party must flee for their lives when a seemingly unstoppable monster rampages through New York. Even the Statue of Liberty doesn't escape unscathed. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Man and his dog

    In 2007's "I Am Legend," Will Smith plays Robert Neville, one of the last survivors of a viral pandemic that turned most people into flesh-eating mutants. The story is based on a Richard Matheson novel, and this is its third film adaptation. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Save the children

    In 2006's "Children of Men," humanity faces extinction after two decades of global infertility, a common theme in apocalyptic literature. Clive Owen plays a disillusioned bureaucrat who must somehow protect a pregnant African refugee (Claire-Hope Ashley). (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Going to 'War'

    H.G. Wells wrote the alien-invasion classic "The War of the Worlds" in 1898, but more than a century later, it's still chilling audiences. Perhaps the most famous adaptation was Orson Welles' radio drama, which terrified many listeners into thinking it was real when the show aired in 1938. In 2005, Paramount released the latest movie version, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. When the weather turns bad

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  17. All quiet on the London front

    When a bicycle courier named Jim awakens from his coma in a London hospital, he finds the world around him completely changed. "28 Days Later" tells of a virus that turns its victims into violent killing machines. Jim teams up with the few survivors he is able to find and tries to find safety and a cure. Three alternate endings offered on the DVD release gave viewers plenty to talk about. (Fox Searchlight Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Journey to the center of the earth

    In a novel twist on apocalyptic fiction, 2003's "The Core" delves into what would happen to our world if the Earth's inner core suddenly stopped rotating.With the planet's magnetic field rapidly deteriorating, our atmosphere literally starts to come apart at the seams with catastrophic consequences. To resolve the crisis, a team of scientists must find their way to the planet's center and set things right. (Paramount) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Collision course

    How is it that Hollywood often makes two films on strikingly similar concepts at the same time? In 1998, two movies dealt with the problem of a space object heading directly for Earth. "Armageddon" was generally considered the better film, and featured Bruce Willis as the tough driller who must make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. (Touchstone Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Collision course, take two

    "Deep Impact" follows a similar plot to that of "Armageddon," with a comet plotting Earth's destruction as opposed to "Armageddon's" asteroid. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. And the rockets' red glare

    When aliens try to take over the world in 1996's "Independence Day," they learn the humans won't go down without a fight, especially not on July 4. Bill Pullman plays a war hero president whose military expertise comes in handy. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. No monkeying around

    Life is bleak in the 2035 setting of "12 Monkeys," released in 1995. Humankind subsists in a desolate netherworld following the eradication of 99 percent of the Earth's population and a holocaust that makes the planet's surface uninhabitable. A convict played by Bruce Willis volunteers to attempt to travel back in time to try and rebuild the future. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. He'll be back

    In Arnold Schwarzenegger's most famous film, 1984's "The Terminator," the future California governor plays a cyborg assassin. The seemingly unstoppable machine is sent back in time to try and kill Sarah Connor, who will eventually give birth to John Connor, who leads the human resistance against the killing machines. The film spawned multiple sequels and a short-lived television series. (Orion Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. After the mushroom cloud

    Many young viewers were traumatized by the 1983 TV movie "The Day After," which focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., after a nuclear attack. (ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A world gone 'Mad'

    In the "Mad Max" franchise, Mel Gibson stars as a policeman in a world gone mad, where fuel is scarce and law and order has broken down completely. Gibson, little known at the time of the first film's 1979 release, became a major star thanks to this role. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Who can you trust?

    1978's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is a remake of the 1956 film of the same name. In both films and the original Jack Finney novel, a small group of humans discover that people are being replaced by alien replicas grown from plantlike pods. (United Artists) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Unlikely survivors

    Michael Crichton, who would go on to even greater fame with "Jurassic Park," also wrote "The Andromeda Strain," which became a 1971 movie. Scientists must frantically investigate a fatal illness of extraterrestrial origin in a town where only one infant and one elderly man seem to be immune. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. You eat yet?

    The title of 1973's "Soylent Green" has become a punchline in the years since its release. Charlton Heston starred as a New York detective in a world where most of humanity survives on mass-produced rations that turn out to have a secret, and grotesque, ingredient. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. There is no law but Ape Law!

    "Soylent Green" star Charlton Heston also starred in 1968's "Planet of the Apes," playing an astronaut who crash-lands on an unknown planet and discovers that apes are in charge and humans are enslaved. The Statue of Liberty makes a cameo appearance in one of filmdom's most classic, and oft-parodied, endings. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Searching for home

    In 1959's "On the Beach," World War III has broken out and only Australia, far away from the fallout, is somewhat habitable. Aussie survivors know they will soon be contaminated with radioactivity, and try to follow a mysterious wireless signal in the hopes that somewhere, an uncontaminated world still exists. (United Artists) Back to slideshow navigation
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