Tim Burton's 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes was not universally acclaimed, to say the least, and Twentieth Century Fox let one of its biggest franchises lie dormant for a decade before releasing this summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The early buzz was lukewarm, and the decision to use CGI apes met with harsh criticism from some fans of the earlier films. Turns out, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is pretty great. Director Rupert Wyatt's film wisely begins a new story in which James Franco tests a possible Alzheimer's cure on lab apes to astonishing and possibly deadly results. A brilliant performance by Andy Serkis and some amazing Weta Digital effects are standouts as the film lands amid an ape revolution.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is all about Caesar, a chimpanzee that inherits the intelligence-boosting effects of Alzheimer's drug ALZ-112 from his mother, who is killed while protecting Caesar from lab technicians. Scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is forced to start drug trials over from scratch after the mishap upsets the board of his biotech company. Will adopts Caesar and takes him to the home he shares with his aging father, Charles (John Lithgow), who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Caesar continues to grow smarter, and Will uses the chimp's DNA to create what he thinks is a successful cure for Alzheimer's.
None of the previous films in the franchise explored the origins of the hyper-intelligent apes, so Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an interesting change of pace. Caesar ends up in an ape sanctuary after violently protecting Charles from a nasty neighbor, and is mistreated by the facility's manager, John Landon (Brian Cox), and his son, Dodge (Tom Felton). Caesar is not like the other apes, and his mind quickly turns to revolt. The film's science is shaky at times, but this is hardly a fatal flaw. Will's new drug proves deadly to some humans, but in primates it unlocks much potential. The duplicitous drug puts in motion the trappings of an ape-led society with Caesar as its leader.
The visual effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes are some of the best ever, particularly the charismatic Caesar. Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, gives a hell of a performance, and his work is reflected in the computer-generated Caesar. Everything from Caesar's facial expressions to his body movements as he climbs a giant redwood tree is incredibly realistic. Weta's apes do not appear as late additions to a scene, as they effortlessly interact with the human actors. The CGI apes are not only more realistic, they are more menacing, too.
The story builds to a great ape escape in San Francisco, and though the finale feels a bit like an extended set-up to a sequel, the film as a whole is satisfying. Franco makes Will a sympathetic and likable character without forcing the film to waste tons of time on his back-story. Lithgow and Cox are great in small roles that are contrarily pitiable and loathsome, but Freida Pinto is little more than a stand-in girlfriend for Will. Director Wyatt (The Escapist) keeps the action moving and drama relevant, though I question his decision to keep a truly terrible reading of the famous "damn dirty ape" line by Felton in the film. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fresh start for the franchise, and Caesar is a fascinating anti-hero. Viva la Revolución!
Fox delivers a solid 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for this recent release. Detail is consistently strong, from the hairs on Caesar's head to the San Francisco skyline as seen from across the bay. The image is pleasantly deep, with excellent clarity and texture. Colors are accurately reproduced and black levels are solid, leaving the transfer without bleeding and crush. Wyatt occasionally uses a soft focus, but, on the whole, the image is sharp and crisp. There are absolutely no problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
The film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally impressive, and it expertly recreates the theatrical experience for the home theater. The film's sound design places the viewer inside a rainforest, at a busy biotech laboratory and on the top of the Golden Gate Bridge during the film's finale. The track is loud and boisterous, but the effects never overwhelm the dialogue, which is as clear from the front speakers as it is from the surrounds. The LFE comes alive to provide aural back-up during action scenes, and effects pan throughout the sound field. Range is excellent, and quieter notes are as impressive as the big effects. Fox also provides English, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks and English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes arrives with striking cover artwork of Caesar's face. The two-disc set is housed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a heavily embossed slipcover that sports the same image of Caesar. Inside the case are the Blu-ray and a DVD/digital copy disc. While a feature-length documentary is not included, the disc's extras as extensive:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes leaps out of the gate to resurrect a dormant franchise with an interesting origin story and a fascinating anchor in chimpanzee Caesar. The all-CGI apes gamble pays off for Director Rupert Wyatt thanks to incredible work from Weta Digital, and James Franco effectively sells the film's dramatic science. Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks to be the start of a new adventure in the series, and the return of Caesar in future installments is welcome. Fox's Blu-ray is technically excellent and loaded with extra features. Highly Recommended.