Fox isn't monkeying around in terms of quality with its latest entry in its long-running Planet of the Apes franchise. Neither a sequel nor a remake but rather a reimagining of the apes' origin story, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stars James Franco as a San Francisco-based scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's Disease by experimenting on apes. The result is Caesar (Andy Serkis)—a mutated chimpanzee with humanlike intelligence who rallies his ape brothers to rise up against the man and make a run for the redwood forests north of the Bay Area.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is now playing in theaters, features impressive motion-capture work enhanced by CG that makes the movements of the chimps, orangutans and gorillas seem much more realistic than the previous movies, which all relied on extensive makeup work. Some are even suggesting that Serkis—who has done motion-capture work before as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and as the big ape himself in King Kong—should be nominated for an Oscar for his sympathetic portrayal of Caesar, who elicits more of an emotional response from the audience than all of the other human characters combined in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The first Planet of the Apes movie caused a sensation in 1968 when star Charlton Heston's character, Taylor, crash-landed on a strange planet ruled by talking apes only to find out at the end that he had traveled forward in time to a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by, as he puts it, "damned dirty apes." The film was followed by four sequels—Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes—as well as a remake of the first film by Tim Burton starring Mark Wahlberg as the lost astronaut.
All of the Planet of the Apes movies—from the 1968 original to the 2001 remake—are available on both DVD and Blu-ray with enough extras to go bananas over. Besides the first movie, the one to check out before you see Rise in theaters is 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Roddy McDowall plays Caesar, an intelligent talking chimpanzee working under the radar in a circus. Like his counterpart played by Serkis in the new movie, this Caesar also tries to hide his intelligence to avoid abuse by his handlers. When Caesar discovers that his human foster father has been killed, he organizes a violent revolt against his human oppressors.
At the end of Conquest, Caesar does indeed lead his ape brothers to freedom and delivers what is probably the most memorable speech in the annals of simian cinema: "We have passed through the night of the fires, and those who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God, and if it is Man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion, and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!"