Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-ray Review

Sequels, reboots, and remakes have been getting an unfair reputation over the years. For every sequel that gets released in theaters, the “sequels always suck” conversation or the “Hollywood-can’t-come up-with-original-ideas-so-they-have-to-make-sequels-to-every-successful-film-from-the-past” conversation tend to pop up. People forget that sequels, reboots, or remakes have always been made. Since the beginning of cinema, successful movies have always spawned sequels, remakes, spin-offs, reboots, etc. I don’t know if these critical people are only thinking of The Son of Mask or Godfather 3 when they speak negatively of sequels, but there have been as many good sequels as there have been bad sequels, just like there have been as many original Hollywood films as there have been unoriginal Hollywood films. It’s just a pointless topic usually used when that person wants to prove that either old Hollywood movies are better than contemporary Hollywood ones, obscure/independent/art-house films are better than typical Hollywood films, and/or foreign films are better than Hollywood films. I’m so tired of hearing this kind of debate because there are good and bad films of any genre, from any time period, from any country, and with any budget.

Prequels have been another story though – there haven’t been too many impressive prequels over the years. I don’t think I even used the word “prequel” in my vocabulary until the Star Wars video games, I mean Star Wars prequels, came into existence. After those disappointing Lucas films came out, other poor prequels followed such as Hannibal Rising, The Scorpion King, Dumb and Dumberer, Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Not that impressive and I would understand if people started saying “prequels usually suck.” Fortunately, there have been three prequels since 2006 that I think are even better than the original films: Casino Royale (2006), Star Trek (2009), and now Rise of the Planet of Apes. (A lot of people think that the X-Men First Class prequel is the best of the X-Men films, but I still prefer the first and second ones.) I love most of the James Bond films, but I was blown away by Casino Royale. Sean Connery and Roger Moore were my favorite James Bonds, but Casino Royale and even GoldenEye are my favorite James Bond films (both directed by Martin “bring a franchise back to life” Campbell). I never liked the Star Trek films except for Star Trek 4 with the whale and the evil cylinder, but the new Star Trek film blew away all the old films (even the beloved Star Trek 2 bored me silly). I watched the original Planet of the Apes a long time ago which I thought was just okay. I liked the whole reversal concept of apes being in charge and people put in zoos. I’m happy that people love the original and I wish I was alive during that time to see all the ape mania hoopla, but I unfortunately couldn’t get into the original film so I never cared to watch any of the sequels. I did see Tim Burton’s remake which I didn’t like at all (Tim Roth was awesome in it though). So I had pretty low expectations when I heard that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was going to be made. After reading positive reviews, I expected to be entertained but not blown away. I was blown away.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be considered the best action movie of 2011, but it’s much more special than that:

First of all, this movie is the best prequel I’ve ever seen. If there was a prequel screenwriting class in film schools, Rise of the Planet of Apes is the prototype film that should be studied in Prequel Screenwriting 101. The Star Wars prequels are the exact opposite of this movie. For anyone that wants to learn the wrong way of writing a prequel, watch those films. I can only imagine how good the Star Wars prequels would have been had they hired amazing writers as Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, or actually any other writers other than Lucas. They may not be able to write anything this good again as they did with Rise of the Planet of Apes. I’m assuming they are writing the sequel, but they may have just gotten lucky. After all, they did write The Relic and An Eye for An Eye, both pretty forgettable films. I wonder how they even got the gig to write Rise of the Planet of Apes. I don’t want to give away the story to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but I think it’s now safe to talk about the story and twists of the original Planet of the Apes movie: Astronauts leave Earth, hibernate in space for many years, and then they wake up and crash-land on an unknown planet controlled by intelligent talking apes. Humans are treated like animals on this planet. In the climax, the main astronaut realizes that the planet he’s on is actually post-apocalyptic Earth. The storyline of Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the two most interesting sci-fi elements of the original – how did the apes get so intelligent and how did most of the humans destroy each other? These questions are not only answered in an exciting, gripping and interesting way in the prequel, but I’m curious to see if the original Planet of the Apes film seems like a better film after watching this new version. For example, the Star Wars prequels have hurt the original trilogy more than helping the original trilogy (due to a combination of a back story that’s poorly conceived and prequel elements CGI-plopped into the original trilogy). So now I wonder if Rise of the Planet of the Apes gives the opposite feeling and has actually enhanced the original film which was released 43 years ago.

Second, I haven’t been a big fan of CGI characters due to them lacking soul, weight, realism, and not really merging well with their non-CGI environment and real actors. The few CGI characters that I have been impressed with are Kong from Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Gollum from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Captain Haddock from Spielberg’s Tintin, Neytiri from Avatar, and now Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s no surprise that Andy Serkis is the king when it comes to giving life to CGI characters. Besides his amazing performance, there were also other stunt men and women who did the most amazing motion-capture stunt work and acting playing all the other apes in this film. James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton and David Oyelowo were the main actors in the film and all did a good job, but the true stars of the film were Andy Serkis (Caesar the main ape protagonist), Karin Konoval (Maurice the orangutan), Terry Notary (Rocket and Bright Eyes, another ape and Caesar’s ape mom), Richard Ridings (Buck the gorilla), and Christopher Gordon (Koba the scary ape). If martial arts films can get the fight choreographer’s name in the headlines next to the names of the starring actors and director, then there is no reason for the stunt men and women to not get recognition as well. The motion-capture CGI apes and their actors were so impressive, I felt like I was watching one of those great animal movies such as Babe, Gorillas in the Mist, The Bear, Two Brothers, Old Yeller, The Black Stallion, and Eight Below. I was rooting for the apes from beginning to end, even rooting for the scarred ape Koba who was practically a nod to Stripe from Gremlins. Andy Serkis certainly deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as Caesar. Just as it is questionable to nominate him for Best Supporting Actor, I don’t even know how to label this film – as a film with the best CGI-animated characters or as a great animal film. I think of the original Planet of the Apes as a sci-fi film, but when I think of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I see it as an animal film.

Third, the director Rupert Wyatt is going to be getting a lot of calls from Hollywood to make more action movies. Although he doesn’t make those visually impressive slo-mo choreographed scenes that would be typically found in a Zach Snyder film, this director has skills. With the overkill of CGI in recent Hollywood action movies, it’s always impressive when a director can make a recent action movie with little CGI (such as Christopher Nolan) and impressive when a director can make all the CGI elements in the film not seem computer animated. Rupert Wyatt has mastered the merging of CGI and real in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I couldn’t tell that these apes were CGI and the apes perfectly merged with everything in this film – they merged perfectly with the human actors, the other CGI apes, and the environments. Just like the graceful movement of the apes, the action scenes flowed beautifully. From beginning to end, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an extremely intense ride.

The 2.35:1 1080p video quality is reference quality. If there were any flaws in the video, I didn’t notice any. I’ve watched it three times on Blu-ray since its release and I can’t find anything wrong. Even during a night scene when Caesar sneaks back into his old home, everything was clear and well-defined with the dark colors all handled well. Just as it showed in the theater, all the CGI characters merged well with the real characters. There was not one scene where the Blu-ray crispness and clarity separated the CGI elements from the real world – all blended together smoothly and were in harmony with each other.

This Blu-ray rocks a powerful DTS-HD 5.1 track which is also reference quality. The audio is totally an immersive audio that takes full advantage or the surrounds and subwoofer. This mix is so impressive that I almost get a bit nervous whenever Buck the gorilla shows up with his threatening noises and pounding. The sound editors/mixers did an amazing job with this film and the Blu-ray lets us really hear what they accomplished. Once again, the main highlight of this film is that all the CGI elements integrate into the film in a realistic way, not only thanks to the visuals, but also to the sound design, from the breaking of glass, gunshots, apes talking, apes climbing and jumping all over the place, spears and manholes thrown into vehicles, and so on. If the special effects get ignored by the upcoming Oscars, I hope the sound editing/mixing gets acknowledged with a nomination at least.

How nice it is for a Blu-ray to have a whole slew of interesting extras without the Blu-ray costing a small fortune. This Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo deal includes:

– Two audio commentaries, one with the director and the other with the writers
– Deleted scenes, all worth a look (many of them could have stayed in the film), as well as one cool scene with Koba discovering a shotgun
– The Genius of Andy Serkis
– Scene Breakdown
– Mythology of the Apes
– Character Concept Art Gallery
– Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries
– A New Generation of Apes
– Composing the Score with Patrick Doyle
– The Great Apes
– Trailers for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and other films (no trailers for the other Planet of the Apes movies though)

You don’t have to be a fan of sci-fi or a fan of the Planet of the Apes films to enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With good performances by the humans, exceptional acting by the motion-capture CGI apes, as well as an interesting story, this film was the most intense and surprisingly touching Hollywood blockbuster of the year. This is a heart-pounding movie released on a reference-quality Blu-ray, so of course I’m going to recommend for everyone to buy it!