Finally a worthy prequel: ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ — best summer escape movie

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

I expected monkey business as usual from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

And why not? I’ve been over, under, around, beyond, and below this particular “Planet” many times before. I’d even had enough faith to go back with Markey Mark and Tim Burton.

But none of these sequels, prequels and re-imaginings was anything to go ape over. There remained only the one, the original, the wonderful, the classic, “Planet of the Apes,” released in 1968 and starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut so lost in space he truly does go where no man has ever gone before.

In his wake came other versions, cruddy versions, cheap-o versions, zillion-dollar versions. Breathes there a movie critic with soul so dead who never to herself (himself?) hath said: Get your stinking paws off my memories, you damn dirty Hollywood!

But, “Rise” gets it right. More than right. It’s easily the most enjoyable escapism of Summer, 2011. And, like its intrepid hero, Caesar, it gets smarter as it goes along.

Briefly, the movie begins with Caesar’s mom, Bright Eyes (oh, did I tell you he’s a chimp?), being dragged screeching from the jungle and bundled off to a lab in San Francisco where Dr. James Franco (no better than he was at the Oscars, but much nicer to his co-star) is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Personal connection: his dad (John Lithgow) has it.

Through the usual science lab mix-up (this is how Frankenstein’s Monster got loose), Bright Eyes goes the way of Bambi’s Mom and her baby, Caesar, goes home with Dr. James.

As anyone who saw the documentary “Project Nimh” (and you should), it’s a good-hearted bad idea. Ultimately, mayhem ensues, led by the IQ-enhanced Caesar, played (mostly) by Andy Serkis in a motion-capture suit (he created Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” movies).

I’m pretty certain there isn’t an Oscar category for Best Performance in a Motion Capture Suit, but there should be. Serkis is beyond amazing — sort of Cool Hand Luke with prehensile toes and fur.

It may not be “King Kong” (the original) or even the Heston movie. But in its own way, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is simian cinema at its best.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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