RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APes Sci-fi. Starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis, John Lithgow. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Cert 12A
Franklin J Schaffner's 1967 adaptation of Pierre Boulle's novel about astronauts trying to make sense of a world where apes speak and humans are treated like animals remains one of the great sci-fi movies. What Planet of the Apes had in abundance was skill and invention on every level, from Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling's script to groundbreaking make-up, an eerie score, stunning cinematography, excellent performances and, of course, one of the most stunning closing scenes in cinema history.
It's not surprising that it spawned three sequels and a TV series, but Tim Burton's 2001 're-imagining' didn't work on any level apart from superior make-up.
Set in the present day, Rise introduces us to scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) who's trying to develop a drug to restore the brain functions of Alzheimer's sufferers, his father Charles (John Lithgow) being one. Trials of the drug on apes appear to be going well until a disastrous episode sees prize female chimp Bright Eyes go berserk and have the project closed and the apes put down. However, Will realises that Bright Eyes had been protecting her new born, smuggles the baby chimp home and raises him among humans.
Named Caesar, the chimp displays stunning levels of intelligence, quickly masters sign language and is a companion to Charles, who's showing signs of improvement thanks to Will treating him with the new drug.
Scientists playing God and upsetting the natural order of things has long been a staple of science fiction and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is no different. In the first half, director Rupert Wyatt trusts himself and the audience sufficiently to take the pace relatively slowly, letting the ideas sink in and allowing us to develop sympathy for the characters, not least that of Caesar, whose movements and expressions have been expertly crafted by CGI from the work of Andy Serkis.
An altercation with Will's next-door neighbour leads to Caesar being placed in a shelter and suddenly we're into an ape prison movie -- think A Prophet with primates. After that it's a full-on rush to a thrilling battle with the police on Golden Gate Bridge and a chilling coda.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is excellent sci-fi in that it posits a vaguely plausible scientific possibility and then pushes it to the limits of the imagination. As a prequel to the 1967 classic it more than does its job, remaining true to that film's world. The blockbuster of the summer, by a fair stretch. HHHHI
PROJECT NIM Documentary. Directed by James Marsh. Cert 12A)
The distributors of the latest documentary from James Marsh, who deservedly won the Oscar for Man on Wire, are to be commended for the smart way in which they've scheduled the film for release on the same weekend as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Indeed, the similarities between the story strands -- for the first hour or so of each at least -- are remarkably similar, with Project Nim recounting an experiment in New York in the early '70s in which a young chimpanzee was taken from his mother after a week and raised among humans to see if he could be taught to communicate through sign language.
First domiciled with a very strange family in Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side (How strange? Well, the wife casually lets slip that she'd been breastfeeding Nim. That's how strange), things began to get out of hand domestically and the project co-ordinator Dr Herbert Terrace moved research to a house in the country.
What's fascinating about the film is how appalling many of the people in it are and how they took this creature out of its natural environment for their own purposes and dropped him as soon as he grew and wanted to do what wild animals naturally do.
There are some distressing scenes here but the human race's saviour comes in the form of almost stereotypical Deadhead stoner Bob Ingersoll, who actually ponders whether, given the choice, he'd rather spend time with Nim or Jerry Garcia. Good man Bob. HHHHI
THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE Drama. Starring Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Cert 15A
For the first half of this movie about the dangerous life of Latif Yahia who, from 1987 onwards, had the unenviable task of acting as a double for Uday Hussein, the notoriously unstable son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, there's a fine and enthralling film in prospect. However, despite excellent work from Dominic Cooper in both roles the film loses focus and drifts into melodramatic territory as Latif falls for one of Uday's many mistresses Sarrab (an unconvincing Ludivine Sagnier) and the pair try to escape Iraq. By that stage, you'll feel like escaping the cinema. HHIII
BEAUTIFUL LIES Drama/comedy. Starring Audrey Tautou, Nathalie Baye, Sami Bouajila. Directed by Pierre Salvadori. Cert Club
A comedy-drama set in a sun-splashed seaside town and starring pixie-faced ingenue Audrey Tautou should make for a reasonably pleasant diversion but, sadly, this story of misunderstandings and letters being sent to the wrong people feels like it belongs in a different century -- and not the last one either.
Emilie (Tautou) runs a beauty salon and is adored from afar by handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila) who writes her an anonymous letter which she passes on to her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye) who's depressed about her impending divorce. It's all very trite. HHIII
>ALSO RELEASED There are worse kiddies' films you could catch than The Smurfs, in which the tiny blue creatures find themselves in Manhattan sharing an apartment with that skinny woman from Glee (Jayma Mays) and trying to avoid the dastardly wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria).