The value of a home-grown franchise for a big studio can't be undervalued, and since they adapted Pierre Boule's novel "La planète des singes" into 1968's "Planet of the Apes," it's become one of 20th Century Fox's key properties, spawning five additional movies, and two separate TV series. But the monkey-heaviest sci-fi series around isn't what it once was, and 2001's Tim Burton 're-imagining' failed to successfully re-launch the franchise, due to being really, really terrible. But you can't keep a good merchandising opportunity down, and the studio have gone back to the well, with the talents of Andy Serkis, James Franco and effects geniuses WETA Digital leading the charge.
Derived from a script entitled "Caesar," by Scott Frank, and starring Franco as a scientist whose attempts to cure Alzheimer's disease leading to the creation of a hyper-intelligent ape who leads a revolution against mankind, the film has undergone title and release date changes, but it's finally settled, and heading for an August bow. Now, after a couple of days of teasing, Apple have landed the first trailer for "Rise of the Escape of the Conquest from Beneath the Battle for the Planet of the Apes," or whatever the fuck we're calling it these days. And... we're not quite sure what to make of it.
For the most part, the teaser goes for atmosphere over spectacle, which is admirable, and the effects work by WETA (who, interestingly, get top billing thanks to the "Avatar" connection in the trailer) is certainly impressive, even if it's not quite at the level where it can pass for an actual chimpanzee. There's certainly some nice imagery at work in places -- we've long been a supporter of director Rupert Wyatt, whose underseen debut "The Escapist" was very excellent indeed, and there are moments here that certainly demonstrate his skills.
But we're still not convinced. The performances seem a little stilted -- Serkis' typically expressive performance-capture work aside -- with James Franco seemingly reprising his turn in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films and "Slumdog Millionaire" star Frieda Pinto either playing Franco's girlfriend, or the literal manifestation of his conscience. And it's hard not to feel that the film hasn't quite overcome the silliness inherent in the premise -- the scenes of monkey mayhem in the trailer''s second half are clearly aiming for something like "The Birds," but are far more reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening." Plus, the monkeys can't exactly be that intelligent if there's a gorilla launching itself off a bridge towards a helicopter.
We've got enough faith in Wyatt, and the decent draft of the script that we read, that we're not writing it off altogether, but the film remains one of the bigger question marks of the summer. We'll find out if it works when "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" opens on August 5th.