I recently watched the documentary called “The Elephant in the Living Room,” which was about people who keep exotic (and possibly dangerous) animals in their homes as pets. It dealt mostly with a man who owned a couple of tigers and people who had big snakes. It also dealt with seemingly good natured ape pets that attack their owners. So my radar was pretty tuned in going into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Humanity will never fully understand the genetically programmed wild.
Will Rodman (Franco) is a scientist hoping to cure Alzheimer’s with new drugs that are being tested on apes. After an accident, the program is shutdown leaving him with an orphaned baby ape. He initially takes the baby home to help his Alzheimer’s- stricken dad for cuteness therapy but quickly realizes that the test virus given to his mother was genetically passed down to him, signified by his especially green eyes. After that initial setup we see Caesar growing up in the suburbs, wearing human clothes and having fun exploring the house that he lives in. Everything is running smoothly until Caesar starts to grow older and question the nature of whom he is and where he fits into the world. Is he a pet, a son to Will or possibly supposed to be something more? After an accident happens, Caesar is removed from society and incarcerated to a sanctuary for apes that isn’t everything that it seems. At this point, for a period of time, the film takes on the tropes of a prison movie. New guy is harassed, new guy beats up current head honcho and becomes the new sheriff in town. And lastly, the new sheriff starts a revolution.
The movie has genuine heart as well. This is largely due to the remarkable CGI work with Caesar’s face. At first glance the CGI work is a little suspect during the opening scene with the fast movements of the apes. However, you get used to the effects and accept it as the movie goes on. They achieve almost near perfection during the close-ups and shots where the camera lingers on Caesar and his primate comrades. It lost the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects to “Hugo,” which is understandable due to Scorsese’s visual mastery helping his effects. I think I would even put Apes behind the other nominations “Real Steel” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” This doesn’t mean that I thought the effects were subpar, it’s just that there were many moments during the action scenes where the effects were not as perfect as other parts of the film which lend to an unevenness to them. The strengths of the effects in “Apes” are the subtle nuances give to their faces. The real meat of the movie is Caesar’s facial expressions. Whether it’s a slow blink as he’s turning his attention to someone or his eye’s quickly going from confusion to anger to confidence, you feel what he feels. Human character development takes a back seat in this “Rise.” Franco is Franco, engaging and works well with the script. Frieda Pinto, as sparing as she is used, adds class as the girlfriend. John Lithgow fulfills the role of the sick dad easily.
Director Rupert Wyatt wisely takes his time rolling out Caesar’s revolution. This is an especially restrained yet fun directorial effort. You feel Caesar’s frustration and confusion as certain information is presented to him. He has a human friend that he loves but it’s the system around him that he deems to be unfair. The motivations are real and not forced and there is a surprisingly little amount of suspension of disbelief. As to where it falls in the lore of the past movies, it’s a new beginning. There are small links to some of the more famous parts of past Apes movie but gone is the hamminess of the originals as well as the confused adolescent feel of Tim Burton’s disappointing 2001 attempt. (Burton’s failures in the movie are due to a certain blandness which is surprising because of his resume). The new Apes incorporates realism and purpose. If you are ever going to make a movie about an ape revolution over humanity and make it believable, this is the way to do it.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” looks great on Blu-ray. Being a new release, the image is clean and has a natural film quality to it being that it was shot on 35mm. It really brings out the detail on the apes during the close-ups. You can see individual freckles and hair on each one with much realism. There are no glaring issues with dark scenes of the finally that deals with lots of fog and an explosion. Looks great all around.
“Apes” comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that is equally as impressive as the video. This is a very even sounding track from start to finish. The screeching and thumping of the apes are extremely realistically represented here. There is a nice LFE output for the action scenes and for Buck’s war calls. The score is represented nicely throughout the movie.
There are a plethora of extras on the disc. There are two informative audio commentaries, one from Wyatt about the making of the film and another one with the writers. Also, there are some deleted scenes that interesting but wisely cut from the film. Most of them did not show the finished CGI work but you get the idea. The other extras are as follows:
“Mythology of the Apes” speaks about the previous movies and how they help shaped the creation of Rise
“The Genius of Andy Serkis” is more praise for the brilliant motion capture actor. To go with this is another feature, “Ape School,” detailing the motion capture process. A third similar feature called “Character Concept Art Gallery” shows you the types of Apes they used.
One of the longer features I found to be the most interesting, “The Great Apes” is an informative doc-style background on the types of Apes used in the film.
The Blu-ray gives you the ability to switch from final effects and the “primitive” effect used…Pun intended,
Another extra called “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries” breaks down the visual effects behind reconstructing the Gold Gate Bridge digitally for certain shots.
Lastly there is a featurette on scoring the film and there are several Sneak Peaks for films such as Immortals and Another Earth
When I first heard about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” I thought it was going to be a largely unnecessary experiment. Were modern audiences going to respond to this dated and silly idea? The answer is yes. Wyatt has crafted an emotional story as the backdrop for the beginning of their story. It does work and there is a reason for it to exist. The audio/video is top-notch and the extras are plentiful. It is definitely worth at least a rent, and if you liked the movie, then go ahead and pick it up. It’s worth it.