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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/13/2011

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/23/2011

In my recent review for Water for Elephants, I wrote about my seemingly inexplicable dislike for the circus, and about how we all have little quirks like that. Well, get ready for another dislike -- I don't like monkeys, apes, or any other primate which falls into that category. Again, I don't know why. I can remember reading the Curious George books as a child and I don't think that I was scarred by them. I did the see the Dino de Laurentis King Kong at a young age, perhaps that did it. Whatever the case, these animals never get oohs and ahhs from me and I can easily do without their antics. Therefore, an ape-centric movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes would have to work pretty hard to get my attention, much less impress me. And some of the movie actually managed to do that.

James Franco stars in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as Will Rodman, a research scientist who is looking for a cure for human brain illnesses, such as Alzheimer's, from which his father, Charles (John Lithgow), suffers. Will's team is testing a drug on apes, and it has shown promise, as the ape's intelligence and brain functioning shows improvement. However, the drug also agitates the animals and the experiment shut down. Will learns that his primary test subject had given birth and hidden the baby. Will takes the baby ape home and names it Caesar. As the years pass, Caesar shows a remarkable capacity for learning and he quickly becomes like a child to Will. Also, Will's work is progressing and his tests on Charles show positive results. However, Caesar's intelligence allows him to feel cut off from the world -- he's not like other animals, yet he doesn't fit in with humans. This sadness causes him to act out, which only lands him in trouble. As Caesar's IQ and his emotions grow, he comes into contact with a group of apes, and he makes plans to lead a revolution against the humans.

Given my avoidance of apes, it may not be surprising to learn that I've never seen any of the original Planet of the Apes movies in their entirety. The twist ending to the original 1968 film was ruined long before I had an opportunity to see it and all of the other ones simply looked too similar. (I did see Tim Burton's 2001 version of Planet of the Apes and the less said about that, the better.) However, this new movie looked interesting, as it took place before any of the other incarnations of the series, as well as the original source novel. This was an original idea which was intended to lay the groundwork for the other stories and act as something which could be enjoyed independently of any other Planet of the Apes story. Remake? Reboot? This didn't seem to fall into either category, and for once, it felt as if Hollywood was taking an old idea and actually trying to do something new with it.

And for the first hour, it works. I was able to ignore the fact that the experiment sounds a lot like the one from Deep Blue Sea with apes instead of sharks and get into the movie. The premise is interesting, the inclusion of Will's father adds a necessary human factor, and most importantly, the film is able to make the audience feel sorry for Caesar. If you don't feel anything for Caesar, then the film will be lost on you. We can easily see that he feels trapped between two worlds -- he wants to participate in human activities, but he can't due to the fact that he's a wild animal.

But, things fall apart quickly in the second half the film, as the plotholes begin to pile up. Eight years pass, and yet we get the feeling the Will hasn't been to work once. What kind of primate problems are happening in San Francisco for what is essentially an "ape pound" to exist? The number of animals in this pounds seems to grow exponentially without warning. And my favorite issue, Caesar goes through a lot of trouble to learn how to open a window...and the other apes simply bust through it. The latter half of the movie simply becomes an exercise in overkill, as we watch scene after scene of the apes running amok. There's no suspense or real sense of excitement here. We certainly don't want to see a bunch of humans get killed and Caesar has lost our sympathy by this point. Thus, the clout earned by the first half of the film is wasted.

However, for me, the biggest flaw in the film is the visual effects. From what I can gather from the extras, no real apes were used in the movie, as they were all CG. Some of the shots of Caesar's face are very detailed and they do a great job of conveying the emotion which he's feeling. However, a lot of the full-body shots don't look very good at all, with some making me think of PlayStation 2 graphics. Yes, I said PlayStation 2. These lapses in quality really pulled me out of the movie. A friend who can bear to see any animal harmed in a film stated that she wasn't going to watch the movie -- I told hew not to worry and that she'd only be seeing a computer program being harmed. There are some shots in the third act where the breaking windows don't really match up with the CG apes coming through them. Andy Serkis has received a lot of praise for his motion capture work, and it's certainly admirable, but the effects involved don't always justify his dedication.

So, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a mixed bag. The first hour certainly works, as it actually evokes an emotional response from the audience. However, the second hour becomes far too focused on being an action movie and it goes from being sappy to silly. The ending and the box office results point towards a sequel, which I hope will be a more well-balanced film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes monkeys around on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The crisp look of the picture gives it a very nice amount of depth, as the objects in the foreground are nicely separated from the background. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is detailed and we can make out the textures on objects. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects work very well during the action scenes. The ape noises are distinct and very detailed, as we can pick out separate sounds. The stereo effects are nicely done as well, as they illustrate off-screen noises. The subwoofer gets a lot of work during the third act, from gunshots and the apes jumping on cars.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Rupert Wyatt. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. The Disc contains eleven DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes. In several of these, we get to see Andy Serkis playing Caesar, as the visual effects weren't completed -- most of these moments simply show Caesar further learning and exploring his world. "Mythology of the Apes" (7 minutes) explores the connection between this movie and the films in the classic Planet of the Apes series, along with how this story evolved. The actor behind Caesar is profiled in "The Genius of Andy Serkis" (8 minutes), where we get to see him performing in his special suit. "A New Generation of Apes" (10 minutes) takes us behind the scenes to see how visual effects and motion capture was used to create the apes in the film. "Scene Breakdown" (94 seconds) is an interactive piece which allows the viewer to explore three layers used in a visual effects shot. "Character Concept Art Gallery" allows us to see various drawing of seven of the main apes. "Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries" (9 minutes) takes us to the set of the final battle which involved the most motion capture actors ever (in an outside location no less). The music from the film is highlighted in "Composing the Score with Patrick Doyle" (8 minutes). "The Great Apes" (23 miniutes) offers facts on chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, allowing with nature footage and comments from experts. Finally, we get three THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long