Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Two-Disc Edition Blu Ray + DVD/Digital Copy Combo) [Blu-ray] (2011)

Actors: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: December 13, 2011
Run Time: 105 minutes





I don’t think anyone believed in a new Planet of the Apes movie when Fox announced it last year . . .

Resurrecting the moribund franchise – a decade after Tim Burton’s woebegone reboot seemingly shot it in the head – sounded like a recipe for disaster. If the studio wanted to throw money in the street, they could just give it to us! But lo and behold, they actually had a pretty good idea of what they were doing. Not only was Rise of the Planet of the Apes the most pleasant surprise of the summer, it also constituted the best Apes movie since the iconic 1968 original!

Partial credit goes to Andy Serkis, who portrays the super intelligent chimp Caesar thanks to the magic of motion capture. Serkis delivers a brilliant, heartfelt performance that matches his iconic turn as Gollum, and while the visual effects didn’t quite achieve the seamlessness they need, he ensures that we feel every emotional beat. The film plants us firmly in Caesar’s corner from the beginning, and needs to hold it against the humans (both decent and otherwise) with whom he shares the screen.

Born in a lab, he’s spirited out by a good-hearted scientist (James Franco) who views his enhanced intelligence as the key to curing Alzheimer’s. Fate, however, has bigger things in mind, and as Caesar grows to adulthood, he experiences mankind’s cruelty far more potently than its kindness.

Fans of the series can predict where it all leads, but director Rupert Wyatt tempers the overall predictability of the arc. The characters on display show amazing complexity: neither wholly good nor totally evil, but often some combination of the two. Their actions feed the narrative rather than the other way around, so when the fight scenes and explosions start, they feel plausible and organic instead of arbitrary.

Wyatt refuses to skimp on the overall intelligence of the scenario – something the ’68 Apes embraced but which slowly vanished beneath the bombast of slapdash sequels. The set-up involves a bit of scientific silliness and Franco’s boss falls into the easy “evil corporate wonk” cliché, but otherwise the storyline retains an eerie plausibility to it.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes also evokes a few clever references to earlier films: present, but never so strong as to intrude upon the story. It comes together like a well-oiled machine, creating an eminently satisfying piece of storytelling that doesn’t have to pander to get our attention.

And at the heart of it all sits Serkis, snarling at us under a layer of pixels and shining through all the brighter thanks to his innate understanding of the technology at his disposal.

The Academy should have given him a nomination for Lord of the Rings a decade ago, and it appears they haven’t learned a thing in the interim. Not that he needs their approval to legitimize his work here. Rise of the Planet of the Apes constitutes that rare science fiction film that understands the proper place of visual effects, using them as soulful accoutrements rather than noisy distractions. Serkis shares that understanding, which has made him a star. What a relief that Rise of the Planet of the Apes proves just as canny as he.

THE DISC: The disc carries a copious amount of extras, most of which are a tad too self-congratulatory for comfort.

A doc entitled “The Genius of Andy Serkis” covers the performer’s unique place in film history, while another called “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries” details the technology that helped him get there. Several other documentaries serve primarily as fluff – ranging from an unimpressive recap of the Apes franchise to a simplified breakdown of real-world great apes that wouldn’t pass muster on even Wikipedia.

The audio commentaries, featuring Wyatt and the film’s two writers, constitute a big improvement in the quality department. Scene breakdowns, deleted scenes, concept galleries, and an interesting piece on composer Patrick Doyle round out the set (along with the now-standard DVD/digital copy). The visual transfer is reasonably good, but graininess plagues several shots. The sound quality is excellent, however.

WORTH IT? Definitely. Though a little harsh for family viewing, Rise constitutes a first-rate piece of science fiction.

RECOMMENDATION: Apes fans have been waiting for a film this strong: the first to really approach the genius of the first. Here’s hoping they can keep it up with any sequels in the pipeline.

- Rob Vaux



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