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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES -- DVD review by porfle

I must admit I had low hopes for director Rupert Wyatt's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), especially when I found that the excellent ape makeups which were such a key factor in the original series' appeal would be totally replaced by digital creatures.  Not that I hate all CGI, of course, but these days it's just not all that impressive anymore, is it?  And when it's bad, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

But once you get accustomed to its extensive use here, it's actually quite remarkably good.  Not 100% convincing, but then again, no special effect could be.  And as nostalgic as I am for the older flicks, there's no way men in suits would suffice for this story no matter how good the makeup might be. 

This is especially true with the main character, Caesar, a chimp whose intelligence has been artificially enhanced during a failed experiment to cure Alzheimer's.  We get used to Caesar as a character even though we're always aware that he's a CGI creation, and he effortlessly carries the majority of the film upon his digital shoulders with the authority of a real actor thanks in large part to the dazzling motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis.

Adopted by the head research scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco), Caesar is seen cavorting around the house in an amazing sequence which follows him from room to room as though the whole place were a jungle gym.  Raised like a child, Caesar is happy until he begins to question who and what he is, eventually chafing at his restricted existence.  After an unfortunate incident involving a hostile neighbor (David Hewlitt), Caesar is placed into an animal shelter and gets a rude awakening when accosted by others of his kind. 

Their poor treatment by the humans in charge inspires Caesar to lead his brethren in revolt after dosing them with the same chemical that has increased his own brain power, becoming a wise, courageous, and inspiring revolutionary figure in the process.  This is a fresh approach to the original saga that pays homage to the old films in ways big and small (a reprise of Charlton Heston's "damn, dirty ape" line is a bit of a show-stopper, immediately topped by the shock of Caesar's first spoken word) but avoids comparisons by giving us something we've never seen before. 

I kept wondering what the background subplot involving a lost manned Mars expedition had to do with anything until it finally hit me and I thought, "Oh, yeah..."  The film's main spiritual kin would be CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, yet it's easy to imagine it as the beginning of a brand new franchise that's highly promising if it continues to be as scintillating as this.  The ominous beginnings of a widespread biological disaster of global proportions add to the open-ended setup for the story's continuation. 

As Will, James Franco is back in familiar "Harry Osbourne" mode (watching a potentially lucrative scientific breakthrough go south before his eyes) but without the burgeoning psychosis.  His affectionate relationship with Caesar is handled very nicely.  Our shared affection for John Lithgow as an actor gives us instant empathy for his character of Will's Alzheimer-stricken father, to whom Will administers the untested serum.  As Will's love interest Carolina, a zoo vet who treats Caesar after an injury, Freida Pinto ably fulfills the limited requirements of her character.

The awesome Brian Cox, cinema's first Hannibal Lecter, is pretty much wasted in his small, unchallenging role as the animal shelter supervisor, but it's still good to have him around, with HARRY POTTER's Tom Felton sufficiently slimy as his sadistic son Dodge.  Tyler Labine of TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL plays another likable lug as Will's lab assistant, Franklin.  In the role of Will's hostile neighbor Hunsiker, whose full importance to the story isn't revealed until the very end, is the excellent David Hewlett of "Stargate: Atlantis."  Another familiar sci-fi vet, Ty Olsson, turns up as a CHP officer in charge of containing the rampaging apes. 

The thrilling humans-vs.-apes finale on the Golden Gate Bridge is impressively handled, a suspenseful and action-packed setpiece in which the individual personalities of Caesar's ape friends are highlighted to their fullest advantage.  As in the rest of the film, this is lean, flashy, high-adrenaline filmmaking that sweeps the viewer into a headlong sprint to the finish, with the intense performances of both the human and digital characters selling it all.  This unusual and exciting sequence alone would make the film worth watching. 

The DVD from 20th-Century Fox Home Entertainment is in widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound (English, English descriptive) and Dolby surround (Spanish, French).  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a couple of brief deleted scenes, three trailers, and the featurettes "Mythology of the Apes" and "The Genius of Andy Serkis."  (Also available as a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack with a bunch more extras.)

I can't imagine anyone being bored by RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, although with a whole generation growing up watching the breakneck-paced offspring of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and becoming increasingly jaded by it, you never know.  As for me, I not only found it a riveting action flick with moving emotional scenes, but simply a really cool movie in general.

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1 comment:

gman said...

I would love to go to the redwood forest in California. This movie is full of symbols and lines that are foreshadowing of events to come. It’s really quite brilliant because everyone knows what is going to happen. They do a great job with the graphics too as Cesar gets older and smarter his facial expressions are more human. I loved this movie so much I already put it in my queue for my DISH Network employee Blockbuster Movie Pass because they let me get in line to get the Blu-ray delivered to my house before it is available and it doesn’t cost extra even for Blu-ray. I found out that I can get the movie 28 days before any other movie provider too which is totally cool because I can rent when other people have to buy.