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Apes Misbehavin’

In the original B-movie “Planet of the Apes” of 1968, three astronauts travel far into the future to a planet and time when simians have enslaved people. The big reveal comes when a buff Charlton Heston stumbles upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, evidence of a civilization-ending World War III, and realizes he is on Earth. The original became something of a cult classic, permanently stunted the career of Roddy McDowall, and spawned at least two sequels and a little-noticed 2001 remake. Now comes the prequel, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” imagining a much different scenario to explain the beginnings of the primate conquest of humanity. Of course, four decades on, movie technology has evolved faster than either humans or our chimp cousins. Instead of men and women in ape suits, actors model monkey movements while wearing virtual reality suits, and computer graphics project primate bodies and faces onto them. It’s the same technology used in recent movies such as “Avatar” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” As for the setup, which takes place in the present, we have an unhinged microbiologist, Will (James Franco), who develops a virus that can regenerate brain cells. Rattled by the rapidly advancing dementia of his father (John Lithgow), Will presses ahead with tests on chimpanzees of what may be a cure for Alzheimer’s. His moment of triumph is dashed by the dramatic and violent entrance of his prize subject, Caesar (Andy Serkis), gone rogue. Out of pity for the chimp, Will takes him home, and out of frustration over his derailed discovery, he decides to speed up testing of the virus, using his father as the subject. Can you spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e? Can James Franco? This is one of those movies in which the audience sees it coming a mile away. Without giving too much up, suffice to say that the miracle cure has a problematic side effect: it boosts IQ faster than the Krell could boost theirs in “Forbidden Planet.” Soon we’ll have talking apes. Soon enough, we do. It all makes for rip-snorting action — and I mean it. Lots of ripping, and a ton of snorting. Plus smashing, crashing, exploding, and roaring. Have I mentioned the apes? Apes swinging, leaping, soaring, pounding and pouncing, climbing, and riding horses. Apes aping the “2001: A Space Odyssey” apes. Apes misbehaving. Apes with attitude. Apes on a mission. Oddly enough, the technical wizardry in this “Apes” is not so hot. These apes defy gravity in a computer-generated way that is unconvincing to the eye. And those talking apes have it better than Freida Pinto, who plays Will’s love interest and has fewer and less interesting lines than her simian counterparts. Not that it matters much, since neither she nor Franco can manage much beyond blank expressions, and their dialogue is strictly Grade B. Still, if you like a summer blockbuster with plenty of noisy, pulsating, frenetic action, this is your man. Er, ape. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of violence and action. It is playing at the Moviehouse in Millerton, and elsewhere.

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