Listening to the new Rise of the Planet of the Apes

One of the most anticipated of this summer's releases, Rise of the Planet of the Apes certainly rises to the hype, thanks to the help of some newfangled technical expertise and a lot of good old-fashioned attention to detail.

In what could be called a prequel to the Apes series of the '60s and '70s, Rise takes a hard look at scientific experimentation and animal cruelty. Set in modern-day San Francisco, a geneticist played by James Franco is desperately seeking a cure for Alzheimer's to save his ailing father. He creates a drug that alters cell regeneration, and while it shows initial signs of success, it has some dire side effects (including turning the subjects' eyes a golden green, which makes it easy to tell who's who). While Franco gets top billing, the real star of this film is the motion-captured genius of Andy Serkis, as Caesar, the chimp that Franco adopts after a disaster in the lab. Most folks will remember Serkis for his role in bringing Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings, but you may recall that he also gave life to King Kong. He's got the monkey thing down.

The chimps, apes, monkeys, simians, whatever are all computer-generated. PETA can calm down. Not a single primate was harmed - or even used - in the making of this movie. It's quite impressive to see how well the team from WETA (again, from Lord of the Rings) and director Rupert Wyatt pull off the effects. They work. And work well at that. Perfect? Not quite, but convincing enough. New technology tracks not just facial expressions, but it even follows the pupil movement, giving a very convincing and emotive effect. It's so effective that you'll probably feel real empathy for the apes and end up cheering for them.

The soundtrack is wonderful. Patrick Doyle's score is understated; perhaps he's been influenced by working on almost every Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare movie. But he brilliantly brings in a hint of jungle percussion as Caesar's true nature is revealed. Later in the movie, the drums come to the forefront, taking a starring role in the soundtrack. Another example of a nice sound effect is when Caesar is locked up and draws his old attic window on the cell wall - there's a soft echo of children's laughter. Subtle, but effective. Listen to the soundtrack carefully (it might take several hearings), and you'll hear lots of similar touches.

It's also fun to see all the references to the original movies. The first ape that gets treated is called Bright Eyes - the nickname given to Charlton Heston by the apes who capture him in the first Planet of the Apes. One of the chimps is called Cornelia; perhaps she's an ancestor of Cornelius, the ape made famous by Roddy McDowell in the originals. Also tying into the older films are some of the news headlines that play in the background. A headline mentions the loss of the Icarus spaceship - of course, Icarus is the craft on which the time-travelling Heston crashed back to Earth in the first film. My favorite tribute, however, is the baby chimp Caesar playing with a toy Statue of Liberty. And don't forget to check out the TV monitors in the chimp shelter - they're showing a clip from The Agony and the Ecstasy starring, you guessed it, Charlton Heston. Returning again to the soundtrack, in the climax of the movie, the pivotal moment is probably the most famous line from the original Planet of the Apes. You'll know it when you hear it.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a thought-provoking look at how we treat animals and the morality of experimentation, and how easily we can lose our way. Don't forget to stick around through the first few moments of the credits to see how quickly science can get out of hand. And where a sequel might begin . . .