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Apes and Non-traditional Acting Roles

September 18, 2011

What does everyone think about the whole Andy Serkis Oscar campaign? Serkis is the masterful physical actor who brought Gollum (from the Lord of the Rings films), King Kong (in the 2005 Peter Jackson remake), and now Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes to life through advanced “performance capture” techniques. After being inundated with praise for those first two roles, Serkis is now being talked up ad nauseum for an Academy Award acting nomination despite not actually appearing in the film.

While I’m not entirely sold on Serkis as an Oscar candidate, I do see the potential importance of what a nomination could mean. Interestingly, there was a similar campaign for Frank Oz, the puppeteer and voice of Yoda in 1980’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Oz was unsuccessful, but I do believe that actors in non-traditional roles should be given more consideration. Similarly, I don’t think new acting categories can be added, because there aren’t necessarily transcendent voice, or motion-capture performances given every year.

I suppose a nomination for Serkis might ultimately be a good thing, though he has zilch chance of winning. The Academy, and the public at large, isn’t ready for that yet, but a nomination would probably get them thinking about the possibility in the future. In all likelihood,  he’ll be passed over by the Academy but enjoy some love from the Saturn Awards.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has received somewhat surprising praise. It is one of the better-received movies of this summer and has made a whole barrel of monkies – I mean money. A natural skeptic, I couldn’t help but wonder the following: is the 7th Apes film and second “reimagining” of the franchise actually good?

Having finally seen it, I can say that the answer depends on the audience. On one hand, Rise delivers a timely and frightening premise, and a fully-realized story. It’s good enough to please casual viewers enough for them to want to see the inevitable sequel.

On the other hand, and this is the side I feel most seasoned science fiction fans will take (myself included), is that Rise muddies up a beloved franchise with yet another unnecessary incarnation and new character arcs.

This is not to say the film is bad, or even disappointing, as it was better than my expectations allowed me to anticipate. As a piece of science fiction, Rise is great. It’s the story of scientist Will Rodman’s (James Franco) pursuit of an Alzheimer’s cure, and how the testing caused chimpanzees to develop into the bipedal, dominant species on the planet led by Will’s adopted pet, Caesar. This is essentially an origin story of the Planet of the Apes that Charlton Heston discovered in the 1968 classic (and Mark Wahlberg again in the 2002 re-imagining).

It will be interesting to see the sequel because there were bits in Rise that suggested it was attempting to maintain some continuity with the pre-established storyline. Anyone who has seen 1971’s, Escape From the Planet of the Apes (a criminally underrated film, I might add) will know that any real continuity would be impossible barring an exceptionally creative deus exmachina.

As a film, Rise’s story is often bogged down by the two storylines. Although the Alzheimer’s element is important, the personal drama in Will’s family just seems to get in the way of Caesar and the rest of the apes, who are the unquestioned stars of the show.

Stepping down from the soapbox, Rise of the Planet of the Apes really is a solid piece of entertainment and I understand the success it’s having. As a discerning fan of the franchise and sci-fi in general, it lived up to my lukewarm expectations but not much more than that.

From → Film Reviews

  1. Nice post, Tony. For someone who likes movies, but no so much the science fiction genre, you really opened my interest in seeing Rise. I am an avid James Franco fan and wanted to see if the franchise could redeem itself after the Mark Wahlberg debacle. Your insight and knowledge helps inform readers of the campaign and the landscape of science fiction in general. You seem to think Serkis has minimal potential but tremendous of winning an Oscar in the future. Please keep us informed.

  2. Serkis is a unique and very real talent but I don’t think the world is quite ready to recognize him on a stage such as the Academy Awards. Glad to hear you’re interested. “Rise” was a solid film and even better if you’re not too attached to the franchise.

  3. hegetsitright permalink

    The world might not be ready to recognize Serkis on a platform like the Academy Awards, but others recognize his talent in the industry. His unique acting ability combined with his niche roles in the aforementioned films, make him a candidate for recognition- whether it be at a specific awards show or through a campaign.

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