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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

December 12th, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo

Planet of the Apes came out more than 40 years ago and is still considered a classic of the genre. It did well enough to produce several sequels, most of which were pale imitations. When it came to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it made sense to try and explain the origins of the world, but would this result in a good movie? Or perhaps it was a mistake to try and reboot the franchise, again.

The Movie

The film begins with the capture of several chimpanzees from Africa, which are then brought to San Francisco where they are being used as test subjects for a new cure for Alzheimer's. One of these chimps, Bright Eyes, is showing remarkable intelligence when she is tested by Robert Franklin. It's such a remarkable result that the head of the project, Will Rodman, wants to go ahead with human testing right away. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the researchers, Bright Eyes was pregnant when she was given the drug and after she gives birth, she attacks one of the researchers whom she thinks is trying to take away her baby. She is killed in the rampage and the rest of the chimpanzees are put down, except for the baby. Robert couldn't bring himself to kill the little guy, so he gets Will to take him home, just for a couple days till he can find a more permanent sanctuary to take him.

But when Will brings the baby chimpanzee home, two things happen. Firstly, we learn why Will was so eager to find a cure for Alzheimer's. His father, Charles, has it. Secondly, they bond with the chimpanzee, which Charles names Caesar, after they witness his intelligence. It seems the miracle drug was passed down from mother to son, only it seems to be working even better on Caesar. Three years later, when the story picks up again, Caesar has become as smart as an elementary aged child. Unfortunately, Charles' Alzheimer's has gotten worse. It's gotten so bad that Will is willing to to use his still experimental cure on his father. It seems to work, but their joy is tempered by problems with Caesar.

The first problem happens when Caesar escapes to play with some of the neighborhood kids. But when Hunsiker, the father, sees Caesar, he attacks Caesar with a bat. One of the chimpanzee handlers at the local zoo, Caroline Aranha, patches him up and she and Will begin a relationship. However, when the film picks up five years later, Caesar begins to have problems with his place in the world. He asks Will if he is a pet and where did he come from? The answers don't comfort him very much, but there's little time to deal with that, as Charles' symptoms start to return. Will returns to working on a more powerful drug, but here we start to run into major spoilers.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a very good job at balancing the early parts of the film, which are filled with character development and speculative science, with the second part of the movie, which has a whole lot more action. For most of the film, the movie could be about a son dealing with an ailing father, whose willing to push science just a little too far to help him. It could be a film about animals' place in human society and animal rights. Hell, it could be a movie about Caesar's culture clash and how he couldn't fit in with humans or with chimpanzees. It could have done all of these without ever being a Planet of the Apes movie. With strong writing and solid acting (especially by the motion capture crew led by Andy Serkis), this would have been a solid late entry into this year's Summer Blockbuster season.

Then we have the apes gone berserk. Sadly, I can't go into too much details on the switch the film makes near the halfway point, but suffice it to say, it rocks. From the rise of the apes till the end credits, there are almost no lines of dialogue, which was a risky choice, but in the end, it is one of the film's strengths. We do nearly completely abandon the human side of the story, which again was a risk that paid off.

Not everything they did paid off quite as much. Some of the human characters were quite a bit less interesting than they should be. Also, some of the nods to Planet of the Apes were not well executed. Setting up the sequel was done in a very understated way, which I liked. Having Charlton Heston playing Moses on a TV was a cute touch, but little more. Having Dodge Landon says the iconic line, "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!" just fell flat. Fortunately, right after this, Caesar spoke for the first time, and this helped save the scene.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with the director, Rupert Wyatt. However, while it is informative for the most part, like most solo tracks, it is not very energetic. There is a second audio commentary track with the co-writers, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, which offers a different perspective on the movie. Both are worth checking out. Up next is twelve minutes of deleted scenes, including some shot with the motion capture actors, which is freaky to watch. There are also a series of making of featurettes, starting with Mythology of the Apes, a seven-minute look at this film's place in the franchise. The Genius of Andy Serkis runs eight minutes and it is pretty self-explanatory. A New Generation of Apes spends ten minutes looking at the technological achievements in this film. Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries is a nine-minute featurette on the groundbreaking special effects used in the finale. Composing the Score is an eight-minute featurette on the score. There is a multi-part featurette called The Great Apes that looks at the real world information. Combined they run run 23 minutes and there's a lot of very interesting facts here. Finally, there's a gallery of concept art.

I believe the only two Blu-ray exclusives are Scene Breakdown, a Picture-in-Picture look at one scene with motion capture footage and early effects work. Plus there is a two-minute featurette on the motion capture actors going through Ape School. There are also the usual collection of BD-Live extras (Live Lookup, downloadable trailers, etc.) As for the film's technical presentation, there is an amazing level of detail on the film. This is especially important, because the apes needed to look as real as possible or the film would have failed. If the Blu-ray presentation was weak, the numerous special effects shots could have been fatal. Fortunately that is not the case. In addition to excellent detail levels, the colors pop, the blacks are deep and there's never any compression issues or aliasing to complain about. The audio is likewise strong with strong clarity, good use of directional effects, etc. The Blu-ray costs $6 more than the DVD, but it also comes with DVD / Digital copy of the movie. Taking into account the upgrade in video quality, as well as the exclusive extras, it is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes franchise; I thought Charlton Heston's acting was over-the-top, as usual, while the sequels mostly did nothing to improve upon the original. However, Rise of the Planet of the Apes took what was the best parts of the original movie and made them better. It is one of the best movies that came out this summer and the DVD and / or Blu-ray Combo are Pick of the Week contenders.


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