Rise of the Planet of the Apes

There must come a time when the Academy recognizes Andy Serkis, not simply those creating the computerized imagery around him. Rise of the Planet of the Apes contains a single word that solidifies performance, a resounding, defiant “No” that will signal the end of humans as we know it.

In context, it’s not as heavy, a caricature of a villain played by Tom Felton who exists simply to be evil. Most of the villains are like that, pulled from Hollywood’s stock of routine adversaries to offer resistance for the sake of resistance. There’s even an ape played with a chip on his shoulder, designed with a scarred or burnt face, because of course, that plays well with an audience.

Rise rips the heart out of this franchise, replaying the 1968 original in a reverse of sorts, Charlton Heston replaced with an ape. He’s blasted by water, belligerent, and increasingly resilient as the humans badger him with tests or acts of cruelty. What’s lost is a meaningful subtext, humans again destroying themselves, but in the most generic sci-fi means possible. Never mind that James Franco’s researcher character steals an intelligent ape, keeps it as a pet, robs the facility of an experimental drug, and still comes back into work with no disciplinary action. To think that some employees are fired for taking pens…

Beginning the Ape rebellion, Rise is either too concerned with paying homage or trying to fit, iconic lines hardly relevant in a modern setting and Heston’s rocket ship takes off in the background. Cute and slightly subtle, but also narrative damaging in the sense that Rise will never fit. Then again, Apes writers did manage to continue the franchise after the planet explodes back in the ’70s.

Apes will degrade itself to a creature feature spectacle, the monkeys… err, apes rampaging through California wreaking havoc and taking out helicopters. Weta’s work is exceptional and ground breaking as always, just shoved into a movie telling a, “human… bad!” story that carries a notation that we shouldn’t cure Alzheimer patients as opposed to disarming nuclear weapons.

This is a fun flick, certainly infinitely more so than that Tim Burton, uh, “thing” back in 2001 which Fox has wisely distanced themselves from to reboot. Starting over is the proper direction, resurrecting a budget-slashed finale back in 1973 -that was hardly a proper send-off- would have been too misguided, and playing off that decade old remake even worse. This is forward-thinking, just not backwards thinking, leaving room for sequels that, who knows, may still connect themselves. Hopefully we’re still Ape crazy enough to see it through to a grand finale.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Fox’s AVC encode for Rise is nothing less than marvelous, the mixture of live action, CG, and a hearty digital intermediate bringing together the perfect storm of visual intensity. Nothing feels missed, lost, or glossed over in the transition to home media, Weta’s latest darlings captured with the utmost care for the material, every piece of fur, wrinkle, or identifying facial feature maintained. Nothing shows signs of aliasing or break-up, and there is plenty of opportunity for it to happen.

There’s a light, scattered grain structure that generally stays out of the way. A few effects shots will exhibit a quick-to-pass frozen look, including the aerials as the apes make their way to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not just noise, but a stuck appearance that stands out considering how clean and resolved everything was prior. There’s also a smoothed out shot of Franco during a day-to-night transition, a single instance that is at worst a mild irritation.

Those are mere frames though, taking out of a film with plenty more to offer. While flesh tones will knock themselves out with overdone oranges on occasion based on lighting schemes, they typically sit back into a slightly elevated, natural hue. Rise is blasted with a beefy contrast that will become heavy, although not enough to wash away any significant definition. Black levels are certainly more subtle, keeping shadow detail intact while offering the dimensionality required for a disc that can be considered visually reference.

Why reference? It’s more than just the remarkable animation and texture. Humans interact with just as much clarity, sharpness, and vividness. Close-ups resolve outstanding high-fidelity detail, the mid-range as crisp and resolved as can be expected. California redwoods soar with triumphant beauty, their scale mesmerizing when backed by the San Francisco coast. Exteriors are as gorgeous as any interior, creating fully realized areas for the apes and humans to engage in conflict. All of it is presented here, and (almost) without any missteps.

Video ★★★★★ 

Summer blockbusters continue to roll in, each matching an expectation to deliver the visceral, gut-punching audio experience expected of them. It’s no surprise to anyone, or at least it shouldn’t be, that Rise is pure aggression encapsulated into a DTS-HD home mix.

What do you want? Directionality? Right from the start. Opening on a jungle, birds, insects, and mammals call out before some action is sparked by human invasion, thrusting the film into a chase sequence as leaves are kicked up, engines roar, and apes scatter. Positionals are used to their fullest, panning to the sides, overhead, and and diagonally. Whatever the action wants, it gets.

Maybe bass is more your thing? Roars from an ape that might as well mutate and become King Kong blast the low-end with an impact, matched only by the rotor on a helicopter during the finale. Oh, and the bridge assault? Buses are moved, guns fire, windows are smashed, and humans are pummeled. You’ll feel it just as much as the poor sucker being crushed by a dozen ape hammer fists.

Fidelity? Balance? Please. Find one summer romp that doesn’t carry the pristine qualities of both.

Does Rise miss anything? Not really. Interiors are lively, from the ape’s confinement building that echoes to the extreme and the lab settings where computers beeps and machines do their thing. There’s something going on here at all times, and it’s a constant effect.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Rise is afforded bountiful extras, kicking off with dueling commentaries. Director Rupert Wyatt is up first, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver coming up second. They’re differing viewpoints on what Apes is and the various challenges in bringing it to the screen, necessitating two separate tracks.

A dozen deleted scenes run for a dozen minutes, some in hilariously unfinished states. Mythology of the Apes pays tribute to the franchise as cast and crew fawn over the series. A New Generation of Apes brings out the designs and styles of the creatures, plus other considered effects methods. The Genius of Andy Serkis offers high praise to the mo-cap star, while Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries details the final scene and profiles other actors donning the suits. Composing the Score is self-explanatory as far as featurettes go, bringing the total runtime of these pieces to about 45-minutes.

A scene breakdown details the effects from their origins to the finished product, and a concept gallery provides added insight. The Great Apes delivers factoids on the actual apes species in a couple of text menus, with trailers and BD-Live access bringing up the rear.

Extras ★★★★☆