Thinking back to this year’s releases, there are few films that really stand out as particularly dazzling examples of the modern industry. Bogged down by the race to make the first essential 3D live-action film, and stuck with the usual problems of cliches and regurgitated content (too many sequels, too many remakes), the industry inspired few hugely memorable moments. There were however a number of surprisingly impressive hits: The Artist was glorious at Cannes, and will be again on the big screen, Drive was ludicrous and diverting and Tin-Tin was one of the best family films Spielberg has ever made, nuanced, wonderfully crafted and incredibly charming. But the film which landed the biggest surprising punch this year so far was definitely Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel that sought to explain exactly how the monkeys came to be in charge.
My initial problem with the concept of Rise was that it fundamentally undermined the entire conceit of the original film. That film was defined by one moment of revelation, in that charged finale where Charlton Heston discovers it was Earth all along, and it always seemed somewhat odd to be presenting a film that uncovered that secret with clumsy disregard for the legacy of the original trilogy. In doing so, Rise could never be called a true prequel, because rather than adding to the original, the effect was in fact reductive. No-one who found Rise as the entry point to the Planet of the Apes could enjoy the original film the way that it was intended, and the magic would be dead.
So I was surprised to be completely gripped by Rise; the attention to story-line and character development, particularly of Caesar the Ape are impeccable, and Rupert Wyatt’s direction is assured and offers very welcome invigoration to the franchise. The story centres on Franco’s scientist, who is developing a viral cure for Alzheimers, and discovers through simian experiments that the “cure” is passed genetically through generations when one of the test subjects gives birth to a hyper-intelligent infant, eventually named Caesar. The story charts Caesar’s growth, and how human evils, and his own King Louis like fascination with integration (and subsequent alienation) lead to him taking a stand and inspiring the initial steps towards the rise of The Planet of the Apes.
A lot of the film’s success is hinged on the cast. While James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and the other human players are impressive (more on which shortly) it is those unseen actors in the motion capture suits who steal the show. Lead by yet another nuanced, emotionally weighty performance by Andy Serkis, who it seems was made for this medium, the group breath life into the simian characters on a level that hasn’t yet been seen in motion capture.
While it might have been a far simpler choice to shoot footage of real monkeys and apes to pad out Serkis’ role as Caesar, the cast of mo-cap artists lend a humanity to their animal charges that simply couldn’t be captured through the alternative approach. Such is the impressive quality of WETA’s technology as well as of the acting performances that any concerns that the computer generated elements would detract attention were proved to be completely misplaced. Both the technology and the performances feel completely organic to the film, and a lot has to be said for the immersive process that lead to such fine results.
It is ultimately Andy Serkis who will walk away from this film with the greatest plaudits, and rightly so – despite being robbed of his primary tools for expression, he has taught himself a whole new vocabularly for acting, and he can seemingly imbue sympathy for even the most problematic or unhuman of characters. There is depth and soul to Caesar, and a wonderfully rich emotional current to his character that one suspects would not have been so virile if the task was in another actor’s hands. And if Serkis doesn’t come away with some form of Oscar nomination on the back of this film, there is no justice in the world.
As I said, the human element of the cast are also very impressive, though not quite as spectacular (it is after all never required): James Franco does well as the conflicted scientist who seeks both enlightenment and a remedy for his ailing father’s Alzheimers, and proves once again that his indie reputation is in contrast to his broad everyman appeal. Freida Pinto is underused as his love interest, but does well despite having very little to do at all, and John Lithgow is typically strong as Franco’s father. His Alzheimers sufferer is convincing and tragic, thanks to that intangible mix of pathos and charm that has characterised many of the actor’s more successful roles, and his own tragedy is almost more poignant than that which ultimately inspires the titular rise of the apes.
Elsewhere Brian Cox, Tom Felton and David Oyelowo feel a little like they have been ported directly out of a book on how to create shallow villainous characters, but each does perfectly well as charged without being giving the substance in the script to draw the necessary complexities out of their characters to make them really hard-hitting. As it stands, they’re unlikeable enough, each representing different facets of humanities capacity for evil, which is overall the Shakespearean inspired theme that runs throughout the narrative.
The substance of the film is simply mesmerising: the manner in which it prioritises story over spectacle, and says so much without explicit over-statement is an absolute triumph, and it is for good reason that it sits well within my picks for Best Film at next year’s Academy Awards. The visuals are great too, with an extremely strong devotion to shot composition, and a healthy fascination with producing an explicitly cinematic aesthetic throughout.
It is in short a wonderful film, and thankfully, the film’s quality has been balanced with a very strong overall HD package as well.
A five star transfer by any definition. The film looks beautiful in 2.39.1, which will mean little to non-tech-heads, but ensures that the visuals are crisp and clean and beautifully contrasted. Textures and detail are fantastic, and colours are lifelike and unwavering throughout, with very strong black levels and no compromise in the CG content, which looks as natural here as the “real” elements do. Since everyone else seems to have trotted this cliche out, who am I to argue: the damn dirty apes have never looked this good.
And nor have they sounded so good either. The blockbuster sound design really shows of the capabilities of the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track, and precedence is stacked perfectly, with clear vocals, bombastic action sound effects and a pristine presentation of Patrick Doyle’s wonderful score.
Somewhat typically, the disc is chocked full of featurettes that primarily focus on the performance capture technology behind the apes, and the necessary effects behind bringing them to life. One rather blatant doc focuses specifically on Andy Serkis’ genius as a performance capture artist, and shows how he injected his character his personality, and it is an insightful portrait of his acting process. Elsewhere there are two engaging audio commentaries, and around 12 minutes of deleted scenes all of which add up to a strong package.
- Theatrical Trailers
- Deleted Scenes (HD 12:00mins)
- Audio Commentary #1 with director Rupert Wyatt
- Audio Commentary #2 with writers Rick Jaffe and Amanda Silver
- Scene Breakdown (HD 01:34mins)
- The Genius of Andy Serkis (HD 07:48mins)
- A New Generation of Apes (HD 09:41mins)
- Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries (08:43mins)
- The Great Apes (HD, 22:37 mins)
- Composing the Score with Patrick Doyle (08:43mins)
- Mythology of the Apes (HD 07:11mins)
- BD Live Feature: Ape School (HD 02:00mins)
- Character Concept Art Gallery
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
This article was first posted on December 12, 2011