Comic-Con 2011: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Panel Recap [Updated with Footage]

     July 21, 2011

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As part of Fox’s panel at this year’s Comic-Con in Hall H, the studio brought their franchise reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The film stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, and Andy Serkis and features cutting-edge motion capture technology to bring the titular apes to life. Hit the jump to read my recap of the panel.

The panel opened with the viral footage that was released a while ago showing a monkey wielding a gun. Director Rupert Wyatt was then introduced and proceeded to talk about Andy Serkis’ contribution to the film in the form of performance capture. Serkis plays the principal ape character Caesar. We were then shown a short featurette of Serkis on set doing performance capture. If you’ve seen any behind-the-scenes footage of Serkis portraying Gollum in Lord of the Rings, it was fairly similar.

rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-movie-poster-uk-01Serkis then came out onstage and Lindelof asked him how Caesar differed from playing Gollum or Kong in King Kong. He said he was initially drawn to the project by the script. He connected to the character of Caesar and talked about how the ape is treated like Frankenstein’s monster. Serkis said performance capture is not a genre; you don’t make a performance capture movie. He clarified that it’s a tool.

We were then shown a clip that began with Caesar at the dining table alongside James Franco and John Lithgow. Lithgow suffers from Alzheimer’s disease (thus the reason for Franco’s research), and wanders into the street where he enters a sports car that’s not his. He wrecks the car, and the owner comes out and starts assaulting Lithgow. Caesar watches the situation escalate from the window and finally comes out to intervene. What follows is Caesar going apeshit (zing!) on the neighbor in a seamless feat of visual effects mastery.

A second clip followed that showed Caesar escaping from his holding cell in a zoo-type facility in order to steal the serum that made him “Super Smart Ape #1.”  He releases the gaseous serum in the zoo, and the next morning all the other monkeys look a bit different. We cut to Brian Cox spotting Caesar and the other apes gathered together in a very human fashion, plotting their rebellion. The screen dissolved to black, but things do not look good for Mr. Brian Cox.

Finally, we were shown a sizzle reel of action-centered scenes featuring very, very bad apes. Seriously, they get mean. We got fast glimpses of the city being overrun by apes, followed by prolonged clips on the bridge that gets destroyed in the trailers. We also saw what happens after that ape jumps onto the helicopter, and it is gruesome.

[Update: The sizzle reel is now available online via The Playlist]

The visual effects on all the footage we saw was absolutely breathtaking. The emotion on Caesar’s face is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and it looks as though Weta Digital has really outdone itself. It remains to be seen if the actual rise of the apes will be as intriguing as it sounds, but the sizzle reel has me hopeful. I wasn’t sure how they would pull off making the apes terrifying instead of rubbery, but between the jawdropping visual effects that convey real emotions and the downright cruelty we were privy to, things look promising.

The floor is opened up for questions and when asked about The Hobbit, Serkis revealed that he’s wrapped all of his scenes as Gollum, but he’s now directing second-unit on the film for the next (and final) 200 days of shooting.

Click here for all our Comic-Con 2011 coverage.

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