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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Year: 2011
Production Co: Chernin Entertainment
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Producer: Peter Chernin/Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver
Writer: Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver
Cast: James Franco, Frieda Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo

It was never going to be easy for any film in the Planet of the Apes canon because of the very long shadow cast by Cornelius, Zira, Taylor's melodramatic delivery, the weighty themes and the most effective sucker-punch twist in the history of cinema.

But they needed to try much harder than this to come close. At first you'll think it's just your overhyped expectations working against you, but before long it's hard to look past the ever-rising level of silliness. Part of it's the decision by screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and director Rupert Wyatt to throw their lot in with theatrics instead of scientific plausibility, but the tease of the premise was just so good. Questions about our place in the animal kingdom and our relationship to animals generated by a creature more 'us' than 'them' showed great promise and for the first hour Rise asks them bravely.

It just never quite answers them, opting instead to abandon the sci-fi soul-searching for the requisite destructive CGI climax and a parting shot to the big questions that will have you holding back laughter rather than filled with awe.

Not helping is the Uncanny Valley of the CG/motion capture. It's not Wyatt or his CGI team's fault – the technology just isn't there yet. It worked in Avatar because we had no idea what Pandora's tall blue natives looked like, but every time Cesar (Serkis) or one of his hairy cohorts occupies the screen, it's just too hard to forget you're watching animated animals. The latex appliance make-up effects of the 1968 original have more charm and realism and make you believe in the characters more.

He's born to Bright Eyes, a laboratory ape at the pharmaceutical company that employs scientist Will (Franco). An experimental Alzheimer's drug given to his mother before her death gives Cesar incredible intelligence, and rather than put him down as ordered when it all goes pear shaped, Will takes the ape home where he grows to be part of the family along with Will's Alzheimer's-afflicted dad (Lithgow).

When Cesar grows up and causes trouble in the neighbourhood once too often, he's shipped off to a dingy, cruel shelter for wayward monkeys. Heartbroken in his belief that Will's abandoned him, Cesar starts to get angry, and the caretaker's cruel son ('Malfoy' Felton) gives him a reason to hate humanity and plot the ape revolution you've seen from the trailer.

The early notions about remembering the differences between us and the other animals show great promise, but as soon as Cesar talks to an orang-utan in sign language (complete with onscreen subtitles), the film jettisons the thrilling sci-fi concept and suffers irredeemably for it. What's most interesting is that when the apes talk, it's so thoroughly ridiculous I laughed out loud. It wasn't until after I remembered they talk perfect English in the original Apes films, and it was easy to take it seriously. What's the difference? The only thing I can attribute it to is that the digital disconnect made it too hard to believe these characters were real in the first place.

Fun and cheeky nods to the original films will please hardcore fans (Felton screeching 'take your hands off me you damn dirty ape' will prompt the most cheers), but unfortunately little else will.

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