Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring James Franco, John Lithgow
The Planet of the Apes series was one of those campy fun sci-fi franchises that was fun, not particularly deep or complex, just entertaining. There was always the heavy handed moral message in the films but the execution of the message was often unintentionally funny making the films all the more entertaining. Like so many franchises though the series continued to degrade as it progressed both in storytelling and production before it finally hit a wall. Tim Burton attempted to revitalize the franchise with a new film a few years ago but fantastic special FX couldn’t save a horribly written and directed film. It was inevitable that Hollywood would give it another go at some point so now we have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a pseudo remake of the film of the same name from the 70’s.
Like the original film this one is a prequel to the events of Planet of the Apes, the story of what brought our world to the state it was in during Planet of the Apes. This one can’t really be called a prequel though because it feels like the start of a new franchise. So it is possible that we may see Planet of the Apes in the future. There are plenty of little nods to the original series including the name of the first ape, actually a chimpanzee, to gain intelligence; Caesar. James Franco is a scientist desperate to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease which is rapidly taking over his father who is played by John Lithgow. In an attempt to move the testing forward at one point Franco tests his new drug on a chimp named Caesar. The chimp quickly begins to gain intellect far beyond any ape and even beyond that.
The drama is actually well rendered in this story for such an over the top concept and the CGI is solid for the most part. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis who became somewhat typecast in the role of motion capturing creatures after his amazing portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. Like that previous film Serkis gives his fully CGI character a sense of uniqueness and reality not common to these sorts of characters. The overt moral message is still here from the original films but it’s delivered with a teaspoon of sugar rather than jammed down your throat like the previous franchise. This is a summer movie so yes there is action and it’s fairly well executed and exciting. Overall, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an extremely entertaining film and a solid start to the franchise.
The film isn’t perfect though. It’s mostly predictable in its story and there is an issue with Franco’s character and that of his bsos completely switching points of view by the last act of the film. With that said though, there are some nice story twists and some incredibly powerful and dramatic moments throughout the film. Fans of the original will appreciate this update and those who’ve never seen the original films will enjoy it too.
To be blunt this 1080p blu-ray, presented in the film’s original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, is damn near perfect. The movie was shot on film which means there’s that fine warm grain that only comes with film and it was expertly mixed with CGI special FX from Weta. The blu-ray accurately recreates that viewing experience down to the hairs on the faces of the apes. Detail is amazingly high, color is dead on with no blooming, and black levels are dark and inky without losing any of that amazing detail. Contrast is also spot on and typical issues that plague CGI laden films such as banding and compression artifacts are nonexistent here. The only minor complaints I have for this presentation are a couple of scenes that stand out as being softer in focus than the rest of the film.
The studio pulled out all of the stops for the audio presentation too by bringing us a lossless DTS HD Master audio mix that’s nothing short of stellar. The film features a consistent aggressive dynamic range with strong lows and solid midrange. The balance is well done and dialogue is always clean. The audio is heavily front speaker loaded but the surrounds get plenty of use with ambient noise and room spanning action. If all of the front speaker audio was pushed just a little more to the center of the room you’d have a perfect audio presentation too. As it stands the audio here is still amazing.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack is pretty basic in its packaging coming in a standard slim blu-ray case with a slipcover. The slipcover art actually feels really too similar to another old monkey movie called Congo. Put those two blu-rays side by side on a store shelf and a potential shopper might grab the wrong one.
There are two audio commentaries; one from the director and another from the writers. The two commentaries combined offer a deep look at the creative process behind this film from the writing and thematic elements to the specifics of filming the project. There’s great information here but some input from the actors would have added a lighter feel to the proceedings.
There are seven featurettes on the blu-ray covering the early writing process, the motion capture, the shooting of specific scenes, the links (and there are many, both obvious and tough to catch) to the original franchise, and the music. The featurettes are all great but the organization on the disc is frustrating. Have these people not heard of a “Play All” button? After each featurette you will be kicked back out to the main menu where you’ll have to wait for it to load and then hit play again. Another problem is that you can’t just keep hitting enter after each featurette unless you want to take a break from the action and look at slideshows of character concept art, deleted scenes, and the trailers. Those items should really have been at the end of the list so that if you can’t just play all at least you could just quickly hit enter to start the next featurette one after another. With that complaint registered the information in the featurettes is solid and a must view for fans of the film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy homage to the franchise that it is reinventing and a fantastic start to what should be an amazing new franchise. This movie is easily one of the best of 2011.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 8.5/10
The Video 9.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10