PCMR Rating: 5.5/10
PCMR doesn't just watch movies all day, oh no. For 40 hours a week I work the stony grey soil of software development, yoked to keyboard and mouse, engaged in all manner of dark arts.
PCMR understands that most people aren't really interested in what a programmer does for a living. Occasionally though, this wisdom temporarily escapes me, and I embark on a futile attempt to impart some technical information that's 'really interesting'... you can imagine how it goes. Oh, I know, I really do, but I foolishly feel the need to retest the waters every now and again: "surely this is remarkable!?" (It really very rarely is)
You see, techno-babble is complex information, like comedy: you either get it or you don't. For those that don't, you can always explain it... but at the risk of further tumbleweeds... and so it goes with technical stuff. No amount of "but don't you see? That's amazing!!" will convince someone who didn't immediately marvel at your new fart machine phone app.
And so it goes with 'Caesar Begins', aka Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I enjoyed much of the special effects, especially in the prison-break sequence, and the motion-capture performances of the apes is genuinely interesting: this I get.
In this part of the film, Andy Serkis ably demonstrates that computer generated (mo-cap) characters can act, and act well. Unfortunately though, the human actors don't fare so well.
James Franco plays an incredibly irresponsible, and thoroughly two-dimensional scientist. (The whole 'apes taking over the planet'? That's pretty much his thing). His girlfriend (Frieda Pinto) is unquestionably a girl, and also quite friendly, but she doesn't really contribute anything at all, except hotness, and one timely diversion in the third act. Franco's boss is a risible corporate caricature, with some truly awful dialogue. Brian Cox, too, is present, but without much purpose, and his henchmen (Bad Cop and Not So Bad Cop) also make up the human numbers.
The exception is John Lithgow, who gives an effective turn as Franco's father, an alzheimer's sufferer, and the catalyst for the ultimately unfortunate research.
In the final third, special effects dominate once again, but when the camera flies freely, either scaling trees Avatar-style, or flitting around the Golden Gate Bridge at impossible angles, these CGI illusions are far less absorbing than the mo-cap of the second act.
So, Lithgow apart, the apes carry this picture, especially in the middle third. The thing is, for PCMR, there are too many flaws in 'Apes: Episode I' for it to earn a glowing recommendation. It's perfectly fine, but it ain't great.
It should deservedly pick up some technical Oscars, and it certainly is a great technical achievement, but technical achievement alone cannot elevate this movie above the 'just alright' category.