Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Cautionary Blockbuster

A serum has been developed that results to neurogenesis, i.e. regeneration of neurons, cells that make up the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord, nerves). There are two cells in the human body that never regenerate: the cardiac cells (that make up the heart) and the nerve cells. Once these cells die, they aren’t replaced by new ones unlike cells in the liver, muscle, lungs, skin, etc. This is the reason why once aging starts and degeneration steps in, it’s a downward spiral for human health, thus we have diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease; why heart diseases are almost fatal. In Rupert Wyatt’sRise of the Planet of the Apes,” the ALZ-112 (and its upgrade modification, the ALZ-113) is developed, known to effect regeneration of nerve cells.

The implications are amazing. This is a hopeful development for patients afflicted with Degenerative Diseases. We’ve heard of them and they seem like the proverbial death sentences: Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Niemann Pick, even Atherosclerosis, etc.

When Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) gets desperate dealing with the red tape involving difficulties in greenlighting human clinical trials, he injects his Parkinson’s-stricken father (John Lithgow) who, as a result, regains his cognitive skills; his memory and skills even more heightened than before. And the baby chimp that he saves from annihilation (born from an experimental ape injected with the same serum) becomes an intelligent member of his household. Will Caesar (the ape) be able to live harmoniously with Rodman’s anxious neighbors? How long will the miracle serum last?

In what would be a prequel to Tim Burton’s 2001 disappointing blockbuster “Planet of the Apes” (with Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter – set in the not too distant time-warped future, 2029), this flick is a compelling cautionary tale deceptively told in sci-fi drivel. The serum has an incorporated virus that somehow spreads and eventually afflicts the world.

There are a few cheesy scenes (orangutans and apes communicating through sign language: “You know sign language,” asked Ceasar. The gigantic baboon replied, “I’m a circus orangutan.”) There are plenty of aww-shucks moments as the infant ape grows into a 5-year old mammal, treating hunky Franco as his adoptive father. Whatever conceit it has in eventually ending like the expected summer blockbuster is forgivable. I’d gladly sit through this one many times over than flagellate myself with one of our dime-a-dozen, chimp-intelligence fueled Pink Films.

As bonus, the beautiful Freida Pinto (Latika of Danny Boyle’sSlumdog Millionaire”) finally stars in a major Hollywood release, appearing opposite A-lister James Franco. She plays Caroline, Rodman’s vet and romantic interest. At some point during the movie, the story becomes a prison-tale (new inmates getting harassed) only this time, with monkeys as inmates, instead of humans. It has flaws, but if you’re receptive to a few liberties inherent in the sci-fi fantasy genre, then you’d be able to immersively sit back, munch on your overpriced popcorn, and enjoy the ride as the Golden Gate Bridge gets eventually besieged by a pack of furry mammals.

Dodge Landon (Tom Felton), the mean spirited caretaker ("warden") of the Animal Shelter, checks his "inmates".

James Franco in bed

James Franco

Freida Pinto as Caroline, the vet. The former Elite model will next appear in 3 new films including Jean Jacques-Annaud's "Black Gold" (with Tahar Rahim, Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong); Tarsem Singh's "Immortals" (with the new Superman Henry Cavill) and British film master Michael Winterbottom's "Trishna" set in Jaipur, India, based on Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'urberville". Will she disrobe as in Winterbottom's "9 Songs"?

Tom Felton: As naughty as his Draco Malfoy's alter-ego!

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