Filmmaker Rick Jaffa has restarted the old "Planet of the Apes" series by creating a pre-story for the classic first film of the series that was inspired by Pierre Boulle's novel "Planet of the Apes." In "Planet of the Apes" an astronaut from Earth lands on what seems an earth-like planet on which there is a mysterious reversal – apes are the civilized creatures in charge, and humans are cowering, primitive slaves. At the end of the movie, the astronaut discovers, shockingly, that he is on earth of the future, finding remains of the human civilization that had fallen to the apes. Subsequent films in the series developed the themes by providing a back story showing how apes had conquered the earth.
The new series is now launched, the new film providing a new explanation for the rise of the apes. James Franco plays a research scientist for a San Francisco-based corporation. He is working on a possible cure for Alzheimer's – a viral agent that will repair brain damage to restore high-level functioning. His urgent work, testing the agent on chimpanzees, is spurred by his own father's rapidly advancing Alzheimers. The father is played by John Lithgow as a formerly highly esteemed piano teacher who now struggles to peck out a vaguely recognizable version of a simple old favorite. Franco's work goes bad – an escaped ape, "Bright Eyes," causes havoc in the facility, leading to a cancellation of the project and destruction of the chimps in the facility, with the exception of "Bright Eyes"' newly discovered offspring, an apparently harmless newborn that Franco brings home surreptitiously.
The child, it seems, was affected in the womb by the viral agent, and turns out to be startlingly precocious, bonding emotionally with Franco's father, and thus the story begins. I wouldn't want to give away too much more here, other than to say that Franco and Lithgow do their usual excellent work, as does Freida Pinto as a veterinarian who ends up partnered with Franco and serves as the unnecessary human love interest in a story that is really centered on the apes. The real acting hero is Andy Serkis, who seems destined to be the CGI model of non-human characters – Golem in Lord of the Rings, and now Caesar in this new Planet of the Apes series.
Jaffa and screen-writing partner Amanda Silver have come up with an inventive script and have made a very effective picture from it. The work is fast-paced and exposition is well-handled. The scenes of the apes in various settings have an air of realism about them, even if the entire thing requires much suspension of realistic judgment to take in. I will be interested to see whether this does well enough to spawn a sequel. It looks like an expensive film, so it would have to do very well indeed for that to happen.