Now that word-of-mouth has caught up with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is well on its way to being a huge global hit, folks will be lining up to take credit for the picture. Who deserves the credit for how well this turned out?
Weta Digital's Joe Letteri and Andy Serkis should be showered with kudos (and awards consideration, which Fox plans to push) for the enormous strides they took with performance capture since Avatar, but as James Franco pointed out on Charlie Rose, the advance has much to do with humanizing the process so that actors are emoting opposite one another, hugging and mugging. Franco engaged with Serkis, as Naomi Watts did with him as King Kong. There are warm and fuzzy feelings bouncing back and forth. "That's what I was trained to do," Franco said simply.
The actor, who has taken a lot of heat for his fey Oscar hosting, ardent studying, soap opera fetish and rampant overexposure, delivered a solid performance and comes out ahead by starring in another hit. Now some of his long list of movies may actually get made. He's playing Oz in Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful. His NYU thesis film, the Hart Crane biopic The Broken Tower, which debuted to mixed reviews at the Los Angeles Film Festival, has picked up a distributor (Focus Features) and is heading for Toronto, while Sal, starring
himself Val Lauren as Sal Mineo, is confirmed for Venice (Franco plays Milton Katselas). The Playlist has more details.
Fox may not have marketed the movie effectively--they had to overcome cynical antipathy to yet another cookie-cutter sequel--but this film is much like Avatar, a case where seeing is believing. Some years ago the studio bought the origin story pitch from Rick Jaffa and
Allison Amanda Silver, two veteran producer-screenwriters who have earned more for movies they've written than have seen produced, and finally greenlit the movie as a prequel that could score with the VFX technology that Fox had invested so heavily in--and finally knew was ready.
The steadfast backer of the film at Fox has been Tom Rothman, who approved hiring the relative unknown Rupert Wyatt off his well-reviewed pulse-pounding Sundance 2008 entry The Escapist (which is not available on Netflix streaming; I ordered a DVD on Amazon), who also runs a well-regarded indie film collective in London, The Picture Farm. His career will now go into hyper-drive--he can do action, character, effects--the world is his oyster.
The studio had the sense to change the title to include "Planet of the Apes" (as opposed to "Rise of the Apes"--that was smart), to push up the movie from fall to summer, but didn't want to screen the picture without its final visual effects. They made a splash with it at Comic-Con in July, but the buzz didn't really hit until last Tuesday's Zanuck Theatre screening on the Fox lot. Then all tweets broke loose. And rave reviews were to follow. The movie ranks at 81 % on the Tomatometer. Everyone I know who has checked out this movie has been favorably surprised--men and women, who will now start to increase in numbers.
Inside the studio, besides Rothman (who also deserves credit for this summer's smart X-Men: First Class reboot) the other execs who come out ahead are Fox production chief Emma Watts, day-to-day exec Peter Kang, and producer Peter Chernin's production exec Dylan Clark, who all toiled long hours to make this movie turn out as well as it did.
Check out this Planet of the Apes franchise chart.