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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray Review)

2 Dec, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 12/13/11
Box Office $176.6 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.
Stars James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, John Lithgow, Tyler Labine, David Hewlett, Andy Serkis.

I don’t see why anyone who’s a fan of the original Planet of the Apes wouldn’t love this movie. This is a reboot not set within the continuity of the original 1968-73 film series, but is peppered with references to it that “Apes” aficionados will enjoy, while setting up a sequel that would seem to be the true remake of the original, unlike the leaden attempt from Tim Burton a decade ago.

While the original film, co-written by Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” fame, is an all-time classic, its sequels quickly degenerated into a space opera that milked the premise of Pierre Boulle’s original novel.

Any movie purporting to depict the creation of the ape society would be tasked with explaining not only the rise of the apes but also the downfall of the humans. This ground had been covered in Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the third and fourth films of the original series. The idea then was a combination of nuclear war and evolution (including a space virus that kills all the cats and dogs) to give rise to ape society, but the original film series kind of outsmarted itself with a time travel structure that ultimately doesn’t make much sense.

Rise is ingenious in its simplicity, combining the explanation into a single plot device: a genetically engineered virus. It’s designed by medical researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) as a delivery system for a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, a condition from which his father (John Lithgow) suffers. The drug has remarkable effects on chimpanzee intelligence, and the improved mental function is passed along to Caesar (Andy Serkis), who eventually decides he doesn’t deserve to be subservient to humans any more. But while the virus renders apes intelligent, its effect on humans is not as beneficial.

This set-up is similar to that of Deep Blue Sea, though that film focused on altering the brains of sharks in search of a cure for Alzheimer’s. The virus angle is a bit of a nod to 12 monkeys, which is fitting since that movie featured the same kind of circular time travel plot device that drove the earlier "Apes" films.

Just as the story has been given a 21st century upgrade, so too has the design of the apes, with the makeup that was a staple of the other movies being replaced by modern CGI. The combination of seamless visual effects and a masterful performance by motion-capture veteran Serkis (no stranger to apes, having previously doubled for King Kong) makes the ape uprising very believable. The apes are so sympathetic at times that you actually start rooting for them.Among the usual deleted scenes, making-of vignettes and commentaries, the disc delves deeper into the film’s place in the franchise, with a featurette that explores the mythology while listing several of the homages to the earlier movies.

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