Judge Mike Rubino loves any film where an ape fights a horse.
Our review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, published December 13th, 2011, is also available.
Evolution Becomes Revolution.
It's been a long time since Charlton Heston first strutted around a land full of apes wearing nothing but a loin cloth. The beloved sci-fi franchise, which spawned four sequels, a cartoon, and a television series, was considered by many to be lost in time after an awful attempt at a remake by Tim Burton. So when Rise of the Planet of the Apes ended up being one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the summer, it was a more surprising twist than the Statue of Liberty.
Facts of the Case
Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours) is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer's. While testing his new drug on apes, he discovers it has a profound effect on their ability to learn. After an accident in the lab, Will loses his funding and his test subjects—save for one baby chimpanzee named Caesar (Andy Serkis, Burke and Hare), who Will takes home to raise on his own.
As the years pass, Caesar learns almost at the rate of a human, while Will's drug experiments show promising results. Things don't stay sunny for long, of course: after being taken away from Will and placed in an ape shelter, Caesar decides it's time for a revolution.
Sci-fi fans love franchises. They have an insatiable need for more, whether it's in the form of sequels, books, or fan fiction. While lots of folks gravitate towards Star Trek or Doctor Who, I've always been in the corner of the apes. There's something about morality plays covered in questionable latex masks I've long found appealing. Naturally, when Tim Burton's remake was released in theaters, I was there at the first showing, an excited high schooler wearing a white t-shirt that read "I <3 apes." after seeing that disappointing mess of a film, i vanquished that shirt to the forbidden zone and decided the Apes franchise was better left in the '70s.
I should thank Tim Burton. Going into Rise of the Planet of the Apes with the lowest of expectations allowed me to be totally blown away. A healthy mix of reboot and homage, Rise manages to approach the goofy "apes take over the world" premise with a fair amount of realism and emotional investment. The direction, by the relatively green Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist), is fluid and humanistic. You care about these apes; you care about them because of Andy Serkis.
Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) is the unseen star of the film: he not only voiced Caesar, but acted out his movements while covered in motion capturing gizmos. Serkis gives Caesar an expressive soul with believable actions, weight, and facial movements. Best of all, the "dead eyes" that have so often plagued realistic, motion-captured characters (see every Robert Zemeckis kids film) are gone. Perhaps more than any other Apes film, you actually care about Caesar. It helps that the movie is filled with some of the most stunning CGI I've seen. The 3D model of Caesar actually matches the level of Serkis's performance, rather than detracting from it.
The same can't be said for James Franco, who is a constant distraction every time he opens his mouth. Franco is either ill-suited to play a "groundbreaking scientist trying to cure Alzheimer's," or he's just collecting a paycheck. His needs as a character don't resonate, and instead James Franco's just as nagging as Mark Wahlberg was in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. He stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the film's human cast: John Lithgow (Dexter) turns in a remarkable performance as Franco's suffering father; Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) is a compassionate love interest and ape activist; and David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland) is an appropriately sleazy businessman in a helicopter. Even Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films) is more believable than Franco—which is saying something, considering he says one of the cheesiest throwback lines in the movie.
Wyatt, along with screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, wisely move Dr. Will out of the spotlight early on. Rise of the Planet of the Apes views its human protagonists similar to those found in a disaster movie; they try to contain the outbreak of the apes, much like you would stop a virus or zombies, but they're destined to fail (also, why are there so many apes in San Francisco?) Approaching the premise this way gives the film a momentum that doesn't stop until the credits roll—and the climactic standoff on the Golden Gate Bridge is what summer blockbusters are all about.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray) is an outstanding release with an audio/visual presentation that will really show off your home theater system (or make you want to upgrade). The 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer is stunning, with sharp visuals, gorgeous effects, and accurate coloration. The image is so good there are brief moments when the CGI apes can't match the real life sets, but that's rare; overall, it's a beautiful looking film with believable special effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio track matches the excellence of the visuals, with a robust and intense 5.1 mix. The dialogue and score are appropriately balanced, and the sound of apes and explosions are loud enough to scare the neighbors.
The two-disc Blu-ray set comes with an impressive number of supplements, too. There are two commentary tracks, one with Wyatt and one with Jaffa and Silver; 11 deleted scenes, including a few that could have really changed the tone of the film; and a slew of featurettes about Andy Serkis, the effects team, the mythology of the franchise, and the film score. The second disc contains a standard definition DVD of the film as well as a digital download.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy reboot of the classic franchise, a thrilling disaster movie, and one heck of an impressive home theater experience.
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