Blu-ray Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

STUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt | CAST: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Andy Serkis
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 12/13/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99
BONUSES: commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, more
SPECS: PG-13 | 105 min. | Science fiction | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the famed franchise, takes the classic sci-fi theme of a scientist tampering with things that are beyond the ken of mortal men and having it play out disastrously — for the entire world of mortal men. Once again, man’s hubris, however well-directed it may initially appear, does us all in at the end.

In Rise, the hubris appears in the form of Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours), a San Francisco-based neuroscientist who develops an experimental drug to cure Alzheimer’s disease and tests its effectiveness on the brain and body of a chimpanzee subject named Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis, whose movements and visualizations transform him into a seriously realistic-looking ape). One of the drug’s effects is that it raises the chimp’s intelligence to a human level, which is okay (well, not really) until the simian is taken away from Rodman and forced to live in a primate facility. As Caesar’s intelligence continues to grow, he begins to stake his claim as the leader of his new simian counterparts. When they break free from captivity, it’s the beginning of what truly can be described as “the rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie scene

Caesar knows the score in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s all really good stuff, from the intelligent, well-though-out story to the remarkable visual effects to the well-acted human drama of well-meaning scientist Franco and his team and nasty primate wranglers Brian Cox (Red) and Tom Felton (the Harry Potter series).

The story, pace and tone hits just the right groove to set up the film’s final third, which offers solid action and some well-deserved narrative and emotional resonance. It’s the kind of  thing I used to see a lot more of  in sci-fi and future-shock thrillers (like the original 1968 Planet of the Apes!), and I was pleased to get it here.

And that the movie looks and sounds outstanding on Blu-ray doesn’t hurt either. You can really see Caesar’s mind at work when you look into his rich, twinkling eyes.

Diehard fans of the Apes series will delight in the dozens of references to the earlier films in the oeuvre. Some of them are cute and obvious — like little Caesar playing with a Statue of Liberty miniature — while others are more carefully and appropriately inserted — such as Casesar’s later utterance of “No!,” a moment of ape rebellion that is actually referred to in 1971’s Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

There aren’t many surprises among the Blu-ray’s bonus features, though there’s certainly an extensive assortment. Two commentary tracks, one by director Rupert Wyatt and the other by screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, deliver what’s expected in a relatively dry, straightforward manner. The writers’ commentary, which focuses more on the characters and story, is definitely the stronger of the two.

A handful of featurettes delve into the film’s music, sound design and pre-visualizations, the work of Serkis and the real-life science of primates. The best of these is a piece entitled “Mythology of the Apes,” which finds the filmmakers acknowledging the legacy of the previous Apes movies and how it played into the content and logistics of Rise. This is the kind of stuff that fans truly appreciate, as it helps them realize the filmmakers are at least trying to work in the universe created with the original source material.

The Blu-ray also has a dozen deleted scenes, all of which feature effects-driven bits where the motion capture animation hasn’t yet been completed. In other words, the scenes are more interesting to note than they are fun to watch. But that’s okay, as the feature presentation provides more than enough good entertainment to go around.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.