Case in point is “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” where the computer-generated motioncapture simians overpower the performances by the flesh-and-blood actors. It’s only a matter of time before highly-paid stars will be replicated by their cheaper computer counterparts. But will the manufactured actors have charisma?
In “Rise,” Caesar steals the show. He’s the ape who develops super intelligence and leads the revolt that will one day result in the world discovered by Charlton Heston’s astronaut Taylor in the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes.”
Caesar isn’t real. The only kernel (and it’s a big one) of humanity comes from Andy Serkis, the mime/actor who specializes in giving motion-capture characters their motion and emotion. He did it as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” films and as King Kong in Peter Jackson’s version of that classic.
On the human side, James Franco plays Bay Area pharmaceutical scientist Will Rodman, inventor of the wonder drug that invests Caesar’s DNA with big time braininess. Will actually injects Caesar’s mother, Bright Eyes, while she’s pregnant, so Caesar is super smart from the start.
Bright Eyes (incidentally, that’s the mute Taylor’s name given by the apes in the first “Planet”) is shot to death after a freak-out during Dr. Franco’s smart drug demonstration. Money-mad Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) pulls the plug on the new dope, not knowing about little Caesar, whom Will abducts to his home to raise as his own.
The scientist has not lost faith in the drug, spurred on by the escalating Alzheimer’s of his father, Charles (John Lithgow whose acting, at times, almost overshadows the motion-capture Caesar/Serkis).
Taking a page from the true story of Project Nim (a recent documentary), Caesar is ripped from his human family and thrown in with other apes in a sinister facility run by sadist thugs, much like the nasty apes who mistreated Taylor.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”), this all leads to a spectacular “Spartacus” rebellion, with apes swinging from the Golden Gate Bridge, as Jacobs attacks in a helicopter. State-of-the art effects, notwithstanding, “Rise” resembles the prior pre-sequel, 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” in terms of story. Still, computer technology makes this pre-sequel worth watching … and futuristically frightening.