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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 

 Rise of the Planet of the Apes


Directed by Rupert Wyatt (2011)

Iíve always said Iíll start believing in animal rights when animals start fighting for them. Rise of the Planet of the Apes has called my bluff.

The latest in the sci-fi series that began 1968 takes us back to the origins of how apes came to replace humans on the Earth. Briefly, a scientist tests a viral cure for Alzeimerís on chimpanzees and it gives them super-intelligence. One runs amok and the chimps are destroyed Ė apart from a baby called Caesar whoís secretly brought up by the scientist.

As well as being clever Caesar has a strong sense of justice and when he beats up a nasty neighbour heís locked up in a kind of ape prison, where he plots his escape and return to the forests.

The first half of Rise is routine stuff. We discover that the scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) is on a personal mission to save his father (John Lithgow) from senility and pursue a love interest with chimp doctor (Freida Pinto). Caesar (Andy Serkis + special effects) is cute in both senses, and itís notable that he achieves a much wider repertoire of expressions than any of the humans.

In the second half things warm up as the imprisoned Caeser sets about an ape rebellion. He finds a nearly-as-bright lieutenant in Maurice the ex-circus orangutan (Karin Konoval) who, like Caesar, has learned to sign.

Playing the frustrating role of Owen in the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Caesar tries to educate his fellow inmates. He does the one-stick-weak-many-sticks-strong shtick on Maurice who points out that the problem is that apes are stupid, and wanders off. Heís the armchair socialist. Not sure where he got his brains from but you have to ignore the odd inconsistency with this one.

Anyway, Caesar gets over that stumbling block and creates an inspiring ape-solidarity. It doesnít quite follow the path set out by Friedrich Engels in his seminal pamphlet The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man but we soon forget about that as it all gets rather exciting and we cheer on the chimp revolution.

There were concerns from some people - who clearly failed to catch the intelligence virus - that this film would inflame British youth in the wake of the August riots. Itís significant, though, that Rise appears in the year of the Arab Spring.

Itís not the greatest film ever made but itís got a spirit about it, and itís all the more powerful for it being the spirit of the age.

September 5, 2011


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