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Cinema in Focus: ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ a Smash

Sci-fi film explores the human desire for more intelligence and where it could lead

3 Stars — Challenging

In 1968, the original film Planet of the Apes was the result of a story by Rod Serling in which apes evolved into the dominant species on our planet. Now, 43 years later, the Rise of the Planet of the Apes changes the basic premise of the film.

Rather than evolution producing intelligent apes, it is humanity’s plan to create even more human intelligence that backfires. Creating a virus that regenerates the brains of apes but is deadly for humans, the course of history is changed as our pride creates the rise of the planet of the apes.

Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle with the screenplay by Rick Jaffa, director Rupert Wyatt uses computer-generated animation to create a very believable tale. With subtle markers that provide identifiable characters among the apes, Wyatt informs us not only on human life, but on the apes’ lives as well.

The central character of the film is a scientist whose father is suffering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. As a neuroscientist, Will Rodman (James Franco) is using apes as experimental animals to test a genetic change in brain capacity. When an experiment goes horribly wrong, the apes are killed except for an infant that Rodman hides by taking him home with him. He then discovers that this infant, whom he names Caesar, has inherited this mental enhancement and quickly demonstrates an intelligence that supersedes that of humans.

In addition to this violation of professional ethics, Rodman makes a second breach when he begins to treat his father with the yet unproven medicine. But this, too, goes horribly wrong when he changes the delivery system into an inhalant that is easily and quickly absorbed. It is this change that sets the stage for the rise of the planet of the apes.

The villains of the tale are a father and son who run the primate center with cruel disregard for their charges. This demonstration of what is the worst about humanity becomes the justification for the apes’ revenge.

The implication that it is the human desire for super intelligence that will be our ultimate downfall and that it is our cruelty to animals that makes such a downfall justified is the obvious message. That both our pride and our cruelty must change if we are to survive is a truth this film clearly demonstrates.

Discussion:

» Do you believe our desire to enhance our brain’s capacity will help or harm us? Why?

» When the apes become intelligent, some are shown to be cruel, while Caesar is shown to be merciful. This subtle variance creates a depth to the film that allows us to be sympathetic to the apes as they seek freedom. Do you believe that humanity would leave a forest of intelligent apes alone? Why or why not?

» After the credits begin, there is a graphic demonstration of how a virus could be spread throughout airplanes. How do you think we can protect ourselves from such a believable spreading of viral disease?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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