Product III

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 17, 2015

Now there’s a good summer movie! They’ve really updated and improved Rod Serling’s (cool, flawed) original concept. You can’t evolve like that, in the Darwinian sense, in a mere seven thousand years. You can mutate though, or go viral. Good solution. This high concept is very nicely developed, meaning that in addition to the gimmick you actually get a reasonable plot, neither too smart nor too dumb, too fast nor too slow. Characters are a bit type-y, but they tend to be enacted with skillful individuality, so that familiar and particular are properly balanced. We’ve got some melodrama with the jerky neighbor, the cruel animal guys—Mr. Felton may have made a real strategical error in bringing his Malfoy character one step closer to reality, but no steps closer to nuance or complexity or interest; good luck with that career—the corporate baddy, etc. But we’ve got genre too, meaning that it’s all done with skill, craft and affection, and that the various shorthands are being put in the service of an idea or two.

Speaking of which, this is quite good on medical and biological ethics, on nature and nurture, on the possibility and not of intra-ideological (national, species) rapprochement. As far as that goes there’s a pretty amazing twist here, with Caucasian Chalk Circle giving way to Childhood’s End; the film has plenty of sentiment, but it’s clear and cold in the ways that it says that all things must pass. “Caesar is home.” (That first “no” is pretty cool, too.) Not only is the moment dramatically impressive, not only does it generate real poignancy, it also ends up being the writing on the wall. Bring on that sequel!

On the somewhat or sort of downside, I find some of these monkey-cam shots to be unnecessarily elaborate and show-off-y. We don’t go to movies to get carsick, guys! Also, as impressive as all the digital and animated and technological stuff is, it’s does start to add up to a lot of non-analogue.

This movie is a bit of a muddle, in other words. A pretty productive, pretty resonant one though! There’s some 2001, some Lord of the Rings, some Robert Zemeckis, and a thing or two that isn’t derivative at all. Interesting times.