A beautifully written and compelling backstory to the original Planet of the Apes series, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes offers an action-filled and yet poignantly immersive story fleshed out with state of the art special effects which make the prosthetic make-ups of the original series seem quaint by comparison. Incisive performances from live action and performance-capture artists give a grounded legitimacy to the science fiction storytelling here making for one of the year’s most memorable action-based entertainments.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: December 13, 2011
Review Date: December 13, 2011
Rescued from euthanasia by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) when his chimpanzee mother goes berserk in front of a group of business investors at the lab, young Caesar (performance capture artist Andy Serkis) grows more cognizant and intelligent by the day thanks to the drug ALZ-112 administered to his mother when she was one of the apes being used to test a new Alzheimer’s drug. But Caesar’s natural bond with Will and his father Charles (John Lithgow) gets him in hot water when Charles’ rapidly deteriorating mental state causes a neighbor to attack him as Caesar springs to his defense. Imprisoned in an animal control facility run by the bordering-on-sadistic John Landon (Brian Cox) and his surly son Dodge (Tom Felton), Will has no choice but to leave Caesar there until he can figure out a way to get him back home, but Caesar takes matters into his own hands as he methodically figures out a way to not only escape himself but to also give his fellow apes a dose of the drug which can make them evolve as he has.
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have written a script that plays great homage to the Apes films of yesteryear keeping their prequel as true to the story already told in the 1968 original movie (we even see the launch of the Intrepid supposedly carrying Charlton Heston to Mars which got the whole yarn off the ground) while fashioning their own history of Caesar’s rise to leader of the growing, powerful ape population. Though there are loathsome humans to be sure in their scenario, humans we fully expect to eventually meet their match for their putrid behavior and ill-treatment of the simians, the two writers keep things balanced by taking the time to show Will and Charles as compassionate, attentive care-givers to the young chimp, and director Rupert Wyatt uses every opportunity to allow us to see Caesar’s maturation in a series of wonderfully shot sequences: from his negotiating his own house (how nimbly he gets himself a cookie) to a magisterial sequence set in California’s Muir Woods as Caesar has his first real outing in a natural habitat, a sequence that allows the quick passage of five years in his life taking him to young adulthood. Writers, director, and motion capture expert Andy Serkis also fashion a series of incidents which firmly put the viewer on the side of the apes: Caesar drawing a replica of his bedroom window in his cell, his overwhelming sense of abandonment, and his subsequent forthright rejection of humankind as he gains power and the respect of his peers are all magnificent to see. Of course, the climactic showdown on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is the film’s most impressively sustained bit of action, but the activity after that is what’s likely to remain in the memories of viewers who should find it in equal parts touching and triumphant.
James Franco is perfect casting as the scientist, initially cold and facts-oriented and later evolving into a truly compassionate, responsive man. Freida Pinto is a rather routine but nonetheless acceptable love interest. John Lithgow skillfully maneuvers the tricky nature of Alzheimer’s with alacrity, and Tyler Labine as Will’s fellow scientist is likewise concerned and admirably noble (even if his actions do tragically plant the seeds for man’s eventual destruction). Brian Cox is his usually steely administrator while Tom Felton continues his smugly nasty persona first made famous as Draco Malfoy, here as Dodge Landon, this time with an American accent. As the greedy corporation head out for the money with no regard for the welfare of the lab creatures, David Oyelowo’s Steven Jacobs is predictably vile. Andy Serkis, Karin Konoval (as orangutan Maurice) and Terry Notary (who plays the mother chimp Bright Eyes and served as the stunt coordinator for the other motion capture performers) all excel as believable simian characters.
The film’s Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent in the image with plenty of detail to be seen throughout, particularly in close-ups in which the CG-originated apes look completely real. Contrast may be dialed in a bit too strong causing flesh tones to vary throughout the movie, sometimes verging on too brown but occasionally looking just right. Color values elsewhere appear spot-on. Black levels are very good as well. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers an aggressive sound palette that immerses the viewer in rock solid sound envelopment throughout. Split surrounds are a frequent occurrence and aid very much in bringing the action from the screen into your viewing space. Patrick Doyle's bombastic score has been channeled through the entire soundstage, and the sound mix features incredible bass response that occasionally reaches system-threatening levels of depth. Dialogue is never overwhelmed by the sound effects and music and has been rooted to the center channel.
There are two audio commentaries, one by director Rupert Wyatt and the other by writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Considering the number of pauses in each, it might have been better to have edited the two tracks together into a single, more viable commentary track. Wyatt pretty much praises everything he sees and offers anecdotes on various shots, actors, and situations. The writers do point out all of the allusions to previous Apes movies they’ve planted throughout the film.
All of the video featurettes are presented in 1080p.
There are eleven deleted scenes which may be viewed separately or in one 12-minute grouping.
“Mythology of the Apes” features writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, director Rupert Wyatt, James Franco and Andy Serkis discussing the previous films in the series and how this one ties into the others. It runs 7 ¼ minutes.
“The Genius of Andy Serkis” shows behind the scenes glimpses of the actor at work in his motion capture suit and praised by actors James Franco, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, and John Lithgow as well as the film’s special effects technicians who all marvel at his expressiveness and agility. This runs 7 ¾ minutes.
“A New Generation of Apes” has director Rupert Wyatt, producer Kurt Williams, and stunt coordinator Terry Notary discussing the “ape camp” Notary conducted to get motion capture actors ready to perform for the camera. Executives from Weta Digital who handled the motion capture apes also weigh in on their work in this 9 ¾-minute featurette.
“Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries” finds stunt coordinator Terry Notary and director Rupert Wyatt discussing the work on the Golden Gate Bridge finale sequence with behind-the-scenes glimpses on how that was captured (obviously not on location). This runs 8 ¾ minutes.
“Rocket Cookie Scene” breakdown allows the viewer to switch between the early animation, the motion capture work, and the final rendered scene for a pivotal sequence in the picture. The viewer switches between each version using the color keys on the remote and can see via picture-in-picture views the various elements come together. This runs 1 ½ minutes.
“Composing the Score with Patrick Doyle” shows composer Patrick Doyle talking about his inspirations for music cues in the film and working with a choir for certain sequences in this 8 ¼-minute piece.
There is a character concept art gallery which allows the viewer to choose a sketch of seven various ape characters and then see their CG personas from the film.
“Ape Facts” offers three mini-documentaries on the three kinds of apes portrayed as characters in the movie. Each documentary runs about 7 ½ minutes for the chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan featurettes or together in one 22 ¾-minute group.
Three theatrical trailers can be viewed individually or in one 6 ½-minute bunch.
The disc is BD-Live Ready and contains one exclusive featurette not on the disc: “Ape School” featuring Terry Notary at work with his motion capture actors. It runs 2 minutes.
The second disc in the set is a combination DVD version of the movie/digital copy of the movie.
The disc includes promo trailers for The Sitter, In Time, Machine Gun Preacher, Immortals, Another Earth, and There Be Dragons.
4.5/5 (not an average)
An exciting and heartrending prequel to a familiar franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes may in fact be beginning its own series of films. This richly rewarding action picture and human/ape interest story comes highly recommended on Blu-ray!