I?ll start with a confession?I, Neil Gardner enjoyed the Tim Burton remake of the original film. OK, the ending was silly, but the ape affects were good, the storyline faithful (ish) and Helena Bonham-Carter made for one curiously attractive simian (which mirrored, somewhat, the original book?s almost-relationship between man and ape) Anyway, I just wanted to say that, clear the air and now we can move on.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a very clever film indeed. Fears of remake-hell have been consigned to the rubbish-bin of internet paranoia, as Rupert Wyatt?s film is a prequel. But before you get visions of Gungans and trade disputes, this is one prequel you will be VERY happy to sit through. A superb ?how it all began? plot, with a plethora of nods to the original movie (not the Burton one, shame!) the film deals with the dual storylines of ape ascendency and the slow downfall of mankind.
As with the original film(s), there is very little of Pierre Boulle?s novel in here. Some themes do survive, including vivisection and research, inter-species relationships and superiority complexes. I for one would like to see a film version of the book, just to see what it could be like. And if anyone were to do it, Rupert Wyatt and the WETA Workshop team should do it, because with Rise of the Planet of the Apes they have brought us a masterpiece of live-action and CGI-as-reality. The motion-capture techniques WETA have been pioneering since Lord of the Rings come to the fore here, with not one, but numerous fully-rendered, stunningly realistic digital ape characters. Led by a career-defining performance by the superb Andy Serkis, the motion-capture artists are the real stars of the film. Working in concert with WETA?s animators, this team of stunt-people and performers bring to life an army of apes that at no time seem fake or plastic. This is the first CGI heavy film I have seen where the effects matte in perfectly, and where the HD nature of Blu-ray doesn?t show up the deficiencies of the CGI process.
The plot follows the birth of chimpanzee Caesar (played by Serkis), genetically altered and ?rescued? from the lab by a scientist (an underwhelming James Franco) who is trying to cure Alzheimer?s. As the ape grows and ages, his intelligence grows with him, leading Franco to try the drug out on his ill father, who rapidly recovers from his Alzheimer?s. All goes well for several years, with Franco meeting and falling in love with a ?sexy? zoo vet (Freida Pinto) and Caesar getting ever-more intelligent. But, as predictable as the pointless ?love story? is, so too is Caesar?s sudden anger management breakdown and subsequent removal to a handily local ?ape sanctuary?. The sanctuary not only recuses/imprisons chimps, gorillas and orang-utans, but also British actors, as both Brian Cox (not the nerdy physicist) and Tom Felton (being just as nasty as he was as Draco Malfoy) are pretty much locked in, not just as ape-keepers, but also as bad-guys (I do hope Felton gets to stretch himself sometime soon, I would hate for such a promising talent to be resigned to generic bad guy roles). From here on in Caesar learns about the ?plight of apes? and the story builds towards the inevitable escape and revolution. Throughout there is a subplot about how the human race is slowly being infected and wiped out by the same drug that has caused the apes? increased intelligence, as well as a brilliant but subtle nod to the original Charlton Heston film and how that movie?s events are set in motion.
So?does this ever-so-clever prequel work? Yes, it does?oh boy does it! In spades. This is one of the finest films of recent years, with an impressive merging of physical and digital effects, stunning performances from Andy Serkis and his ape troupe, and a storyline that gets just about everything right. John Lithgow gives the movie heart as the father with Alzheimer?s, and the issues surrounding animal testing are never painted as purely black and white. Does the movie need the Franco/Pinto love story?no. Are there occasional ?WHAT?!? moments?yes. But do these small mis-steps matter?no, not at all! This is a superb film that entertains from the very first minute to the closing credits (don?t miss the great use of a map over the end credits to progress the death-of-humanity plotline). I for one hope there will be a sequel to this prequel. More Andy Serkis is never a bad thing. And who knows, maybe we?ll get to see the death of sappy love sub-plots as well as the death of mankind?! We can only hope.
The Blu-ray has one of the finest images I have yet seen, with a wonderful audio track. The usual problem of HD Blu-ray showing up the matte lines with CGI is much less of an issue in this presentation (although there is a slightly dodgy helicopter shot towards the end!) The apes look real?seriously, they do. You will not be disappointed with how this film looks and sounds, and it could even become a go-to disc for showing off your system to friends and family.
The disc includes several interesting making of documentaries, including a fascinating behind the scenes look at the finale bridge scene and how WETA worked with multiple motion capture artists outside (a world first), plus a much-deserved ?The Genius of Andy Serkis? feature which, as the name suggests, waxes lyrical about what an incredible actor and performer Mr S is (and I should know, I had the pleasure of directing him in a 13-part comedy drama audio series back in 2007, and he was excellent, and yes, a very nice bloke too!)
So, if you are looking for a great film, that will suit just about anyone?s tastes, that will engage your brain and entertain the rest of your body, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one to go for. The revolution has begun, and this time it is furry with long prehensile arms.