Part prequel, part reboot, and part reimagined origin story, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is not simply a revival of Planet of the Apes (1968) and the beloved cult film series that followed and took a serious dive into high kitsch. It’s a terrific character piece, a gripping prison break thriller with a wicked high-concept twist and the smartest action movie of 2011.
James Franco is the human star of the film as research scientist Will Rodman, driven to develop a drug to help, or even cure, dementia and Alzheimer’s to help his deteriorating father (John Lithgow). He aims for revolutionary but gets evolutionary when he continues the development of his experimental drug, which is designed to regenerate brain tissue but has devastating side effects, in his own home lab.
The human story, however, is secondary to the odyssey of Caesar, the offspring of an ape that died in Will’s experimental trial and has been raised as a member of the family. Which is great while he’s small but becomes an issue—at least with the authorities—once he is fully grown. Once the film leaves the conventional human drama and moves into the primate holding facility to observe Caesar as he finds his identity as an ape and his responsibility as a leader, the film becomes far more engaging.
Andy Serkis was once again ignored by the Academy Awards but his incarnation of Caesar is one of the top performances of the year. The fur and the primate musculature are created with computer animation but the body language and facial expressions and personality is all Serkis, the man in the motion capture suit, and he gives us an evolution of character worthy of Spartacus or Moses: He leads his people to freedom, and he does so by watching, learning, understanding and taking command as a compassionate leader. Simply put, Caesar is more dense and complex than any of his human co-stars and grounds the high-concept idea in a character you can’t help but root for.
This is a film that by necessity leans on extensive digital effects and director Rupert Wyatt does an impressive job at creating a cast of simian costars with character and personality. Some of that is thanks to the motion capture cast, whose physical performances give the digital animators a rich canvas, but Wyatt choreographs it all to perfection, right down to the thrilling battle between newly emancipated apes and the human military on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Wyatt slyly sneak the human equation into the margins of the film and a blackly, bleakly ironic epilogue where clean animated graphics blueprint our doom with dispassionate clarity and unemotional inevitability. The end of the world comes not with a whimper or a bang, but a color-coded flow chart.
For such a clever and satisfying piece of science fiction writing it has its logical gaps, but they get forgotten in the thrill of the story. And not simply the action. Caesar may be the most morally centered and committed character his era and he behaves in every instance, respecting all life, even those lives that refuse to respect him and his kind.
Freida Pinto costars with Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, and Tyler Labine.
The visual effects earned Oscar and BAFTA nominations
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray + DVD]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes [4K + Blu-ray]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes [DVD]
The single-disc DVD features two very brief deleted scenes (one is actually an alternate scene, shown with rough animation) and two short seven-minute featurettes, including “The Genius of Andy Serkis,” which spotlights the “performance” aspect of performance capture. Just as Caesar taught his tribe to evolve, so did Serkis teach the cast of performance capture actors how to bring a CGI character to life.
The Blu-ray edition features the rest of the small zoo of supplements. Director Rupert Wyatt provides one commentary track, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver provide the other, there are ten addition deleted scenes and a lot more supplements