Special Effects Gone Ape In 'Rise'

It's the state-of-the-art computer technology that makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes worth watching.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Many years ago, the movie "Planet of the Apes" told the story of a spaceship crew led by Charlton Heston that crash-lands on a mysterious planet, a planet that turns out to be their own: earth, in the future, where humans are slaves of apes.

That cautionary tale led to more movies, and now to a prequel.

Here's Kenneth Turan with a review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" does it right. It's a smart and thoroughly enjoyable summer diversion that entertains without insulting your intelligence. And it answers the question that's been hanging in the air since the first film came out in 1968: How did it happen that apes came to rule?

It all starts with an earnest scientist named Will, played by James Franco, who's been working for years on a drug that would cure Alzheimer's. When his latest serum makes a startling improvement in a chimpanzee's cognitive skills, Will can barely contain his excitement.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Mr. JAMES FRANCO: (as Will Rodman) We gave him a gene therapy that allows the brain to create its own cells in order to repair itself. We call it a cure to Alzheimer's.

TURAN: But before the human testing can begin, the project is shelved. Will spirits a young chimp named Caesar out of the lab and raises him at home.

He also gets his hands on enough of the serum to keep injecting the chimp. The results are remarkable at first, but we all know, this is playing with fire. Neighbors complain, and Will is forced to leave Caesar in a primate sanctuary.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Mr. JAMES FRANCO (as Will Rodman): He hasn't spent any time with other chimps.

Unidentified Man: Oh, we're used to that. He'll be a little skittish at first, but we'll integrate him. Look, you'll probably miss him more than he'll miss you. You'll be surprised how quick they adapt.

TURAN: It's here that Caesar begins to gather his ape following. The key reason "Rise" has the impact it does is its use of state-of-the-art computer technology.

It's a combination of motion-capture and performance-capture special effects that make the films 150 or so digitally-created apes look remarkably real.

The results owe a lot to the actors who wear the motion-capture suits, especially the great Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. That's him playing Caesar, the chimpanzee who becomes the he-who-must-be-obeyed godfather of all ape-dome.

Caesar's facial expressions are essential to following this chimpanzee's complex mental states. This is one sophisticated animal and one sophisticated summer blockbuster, as well.

MONTAGNE: The movie is "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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