reel ann arbor

. May 21, 2012.

Anyone who grew up in decades past was excited about the news. The prequel to the Planet of the Apes movie series was coming.

For sci-fi fans, it was exhilarating to imagine the classic story filmed with computer-generated special effects, instead of the 60’s version of “high tech” men and women clad in monkey outfits, masks and makeup.

I scrambled to my seat in the theater for the preview of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the same campy thrill I felt when I saw my first black and white giant irradiated bug movie.

After the first scenes, my heart sank.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was ridiculous.

A list of the nonsense this stinker tries to pass off would be too long for this publication.

Some examples?

The band of hundreds-strong chimps, gorillas and orangutans leap through the glass windows of a multi-story building to the ground – and don’t get cut, let alone break their legs.

One 300 lb. gorilla manages to defy the laws of gravity as he jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge over a span of thin air into a helicopter.

The self-described “circus monkey” orangutan looks nothing like an actual orangutan. Apparently, modern circus operators also teach their monkeys American Sign Language.

While some may chalk up the nonsense to an attempt at campiness, the effort, if serious, is more stupid than over-the-top weird.

A female chimp is given a test serum intended to eventually cure victims of Alzheimer’s disease. The serum turns its recipients into monkey geniuses. The project is called off after the test chimp goes crazy and wrecks the joint, just as potential investors are meeting at the lab.

There was a “good cause,” for the chimp’s massive destruction of the entire multi-story building, accomplished despite locked doors and plenty of armed security guards; it seems the stellar research physicians didn’t notice the chimp was pregnant.

While there were glass enclosures, multiple cameras and daily test sessions, the birth also remained a mystery. The baby, named Cesar by the humans, goes on to become an ape organizer, liberating monkeys in an abusive wildlife home, at the local zoo and at the research center.

Cesar isn’t just brilliant. He’s politically correct.

While the “improved” apes have a conscience, avoiding violence when they can, most of the humans in this movie are barbarians. A neighbor of one of the doctors beats the physician’s afflicted father. The monkeys are abused with abandon by another character. The head of the research institute casually demands the apes be euthanized after the female chimp’s outburst.

Despite all the foolishness, it has to be admitted that there is a weird pleasure associated with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Whether it’s a nostalgic draw of a brush with the old series, or something else, is hard to tell.

There is something fans of the old ape movies will recognize. At one point Cesar grabs his human abuser. That’s when we hear the old Charlton Heston chestnut, “take your stinking paws off me you dirty ape.”

Human actors James Franco, Freida Pinto and John Lithgow do a reasonable job in their brief appearances as the good guys, but the primarily computer-generated monkeys are the real stars.

Watching this movie was like watching The Godfather: Part III. The nostalgia is there, adding a layer of pleasure, but some things are missing – starting with a good screenplay. One gets the feeling that director Rupert Wyatt was aiming for a campy feature, but there were too many animal rights undertones and too little humor to qualify.

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