Disaster Du Jour #2:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
By Bert Ehrmann
August 17, 2012
What's with Disaster Du Jour? One of the most popular types of films decade after decade are disaster movies and it seems like these films are a reflection of the times we're living in, or at least a reflection of what we're frightened of at the time. In Disaster Du Jour, I'd like to explore disaster movies to see how they interrelate with one and other and how they fit into the times they were filmed.
There are some disaster movies that are obviously disaster movies like Earthquake and The Day After Tomorrow, but there are also some disaster movies that don't seem like disaster movies but actually are like the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).
A sort of a sort of reboot to/origin of the 1960s-70s Planet of the Apes films, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rise) chronicles the beginning of the end of the dominance of mankind the the start of the dominance of the "apekind" over the Earth.
Here, in the search for the cure for Alzheimer's disease, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) accidentally gifts human levels of intelligence to ape Caesar (Andy Serkis). As Caesar grows from infant to teen to adulthood, he begins to have questions about his place in the world. Is Caesar some pet to Rodman or a thinking being capable of self-determination?
Rise plays two interesting angles that are in the news today; high tech medicine that at times seems capable of curing all our medical ills and the idea that sometimes these cures have side-effects that can be worse than the disease.
Rodman's wonder-drug reverses the disease in his father but this cure is only a temporary one. When Rodman's father begins showing signs of the Alzheimer's again, this time more intense than before, Rodman begins work on a second drug to counteract this turn. However, this new drug has a few side-effects too; this time it gives any ape its tested on Caesar-like intelligence and, worst of all, proves fatal to any person exposed to it.
Caesar sees this drug as a means to unite apekind and escape their oppressors, no matter what the effects on this drug might have on mankind.
In the way humanity comes to an end, or is at least hinted to, Rise does share some similarities with the film I Am Legend (2007). In Legend its a runaway cure for cancer that mutates and dooms mankind. But I'd argue that these are only similarities. And both films do come to the same conclusion; science might produce some wonderful things but sometimes these wonderful things can come at a terrible price.
One thing I found interesting about Rise was that the computer generated and animated character of Caesar seemed more realistic than not. The animation was so good that when Caesar experienced any emotion it feels real. In fact, it's the rare film that by the end the audience is actively rooting for the apes, the villains of almost all the other Planet of the Apes films, to win the day and beat mankind.
While the story of Rise is much more well constructed than the average disaster movie, there are still a few weak points, most of which are character related, and there are a few plot holes as well.
But these are minor quibbles at best. And while Rise isn't the perfect film, I'd argue that it does a much better job than the original Planet of the Apes films in explaining how the apes came to dominate the Earth and mankind. In Rise - a genetically engineered virus meant to cure Alzheimer's disease proves deadly to people but grants extreme intelligence to any ape it comes into contact with.
In the original series of films - a disease killed all the cats and dogs on the planet and apes were brought into people's homes for companionship. And some of these apes were also taught to be servants and do menial tasks too. Those apes, lead by intelligent Caesar brought from the future where apes are already the dominate species rise up and strike down their oppressors. Then, soon afterwards, a nuclear war takes place that wipes out whatever wasn't already destroyed by the apes.
Tell me that's not a mouthful! 3/4 stars.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.