Andy Serkis plays Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Movies rarely improve seven chapters into a franchise, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes
proves to be a stunning exception to the rule thanks to a magnetic star turn by Andy Serkis as a super-intelligent chimpanzee.
In this prequel, "Caesar" (played by Roddy McDowell in the original 1968 Planet of the Apes) gets adopted as a baby by a scientist (James Franco). The chimp bonds with his human caretakers. As he matures, Caesar becomes more threatening. After pouncing on a neighbor, Caesar gets sent to a primate center where he lives in a cage alongside baboons, orangutans and gorillas.
Serkis, who pioneered "motion-capture" performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, articulates his character through facial tics, furrowed eyebrows, and uncanny mimmickry of a chimpanzee's body language.
Serkis' physical movements were tracked by tiny cameras and body sensors, then layered beneath digitally-generated chimpanzee "skin" by New Zealand's Weta Digital group.
Technically, the film represents a high mark for its fusing of heartfelt storytelling and meticulous tech craft. Thematically, Rise of the Planet of the Apes addresses the interspecies bond between man and monkey. That relationship will be explored in greater detail in England next month when Rachel Mayeri presents her Primate Cinema documentary project.
Mayeri told me her films, including a 2009 piece in which humans re-enact a baboon mating ritual, reflects a new sensibility. "We've moved from anthropomorphism to zoomorphism. . . , from [saying] 'they are just like us' to 'we are just like them."
For her new documentary Apes As Family, Mayeri spent months studying chimpanzee's viewing habits. Their favorite TV show? Teletubbies.