Rise of Planet of the Apes–James Franco

The eagerly awaited sci-fi “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” will be released by Fox this Friday, August 5, 2011. 

Expectations are high for this prequel, an origin story, for many reasons.  The original 1968 picture, starring Charlton Heston, has become a cult movie, but none of the four sequels was particularly good.  Furthermore, Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, starring mark Wahlberg, was commercially successful but is considered by most critics to be an artistic disappointment.

When the story of “Rise of the Planet” begins, Will Rodman (played by Oscar-nominee and controversial Oscar host James Franco) is a scientist working within a large pharmaceutical corporation named Gen-Sys, conducting genetic research to develop a benign virus that restores damaged human brain tissue.

As his name suggests, Will is committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, a debilitating disease that affects his father, Charles (John Lithgow).  Will’s focus is relentless—he’s practically married to his science—which has precluded any meaningful relationships.  But for the first time, the connection between Will’s research and his father’s illness has brought the two men together in a meaningful way, albeit under difficult and tense conditions.

Says Franco: “Will is a cold, isolated person. Most of his energy is directed towards his work.  His father Charles is suffering from dementia so he moves into his father’s house, which was once Will’s childhood home, to take care of him. Being a caregiver is a role Will has never had to perform before.”

Just prior to Gen-Sys’s beginning of human trials of a promising new drug, ALZ-112, Will’s simian tests subjects suddenly display bizarrely aggressive behavior. Management deems the research a failure, and Will must shut down his program.

Amidst the confusion of the study’s termination, Will finds himself charged with an overlooked newborn chimpanzee, the newly orphaned offspring of his most promising test subject.  The young Chimp, named Caesar, is destined for greatness.

Will secretly raises young Caesar as his own, at home, while caring for his own father.

Franco elaborates: ‘Will must now be a caretaker, not only to Charles, but to his baby chimp.  As the story progresses, Will becomes more of a person and less of a scientists.  He starts to care about Caesar more than about the success of the drug.’

Caesar is much more than a pet to Will, who gradually becomes a father figure to the chimp.  And, indeed, in many ways the film is a story about fathers and sons.  Will becomes a father to his own father, as well as to Caesar.

The film’s emotional core was a principal draw for the actors, including John Lithgow.  Says Lithgow: “It’s very unusual to have a big science fiction film with a foundation in human emotion and conflict. I was amazed by the script’s emotional authenticity. This film takes audiences’ expectations and turns them on their head.”

Lithgow adds; “The Will-Charles-Caesar dynamic is extraordinary.  Will is losing his father to Alzheimer’s just as he’s gaining this child.  That’s the emotional tension that sets the story in motion.”

Caesar leads Will to Caroline, a primatologist who serves as his vet, and in time become his love interest.  She is played by the beautiful Freida Pinto (of “Slumdog Millionaire”).

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is considered to be the first live-action feature in film history to tell the story from the point of view of a sentient animal, Caesar.  As the star of the film, Caesar provides real emotional bond with the audience, even a point of identification.  An ape with human-like qualities, Caesar can strategize, organize and eventually lead a whole revolution.