Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Format: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Blu-ray Rating: ★★★★½

Review by: Bill Jones

The Film

It’s a wonder Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ ad campaign didn’t completely derail the film’s success. It was hard not be skeptical of the return of the series after the overly cheesy trailer teases of Ceasar unlocking his cage with a makeshift device, a sinister shot of apes looking down on a man in a rotunda and a gorilla jumping at a helicopter in a scene that drew comparisons to King Kong (and that’s not to mention the bad taste the 2001 Mark Wahlberg remake left in our mouths). It unfortunately made a cheesy trailer of what turned out to be a stylish summer blockbuster with incredible special effects, an engaging story and a groundbreaking performance by Andy Serkis.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes acts as a prequel to the earlier films in the series, telling the tale of how a scientist, Will Rodman (James Franco), created the Frankenstein’s monster of an experimental drug that leads to the Planet of the Apes. Franco’s intentions are only good. He’s trying to find something that will help his father (John Lithgow), who is struggling with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it gives the spawn of one of the ape test subjects human-like intelligence. And, of course, when that ape is taken by humans less kind than Rodman, it uses that intelligence to build an army and fight back.

Franco gives a solid performance, but Andy Serkis, the actor behind the ape performances covered in magnificent CGI, steals the show. He does a fantastic job of capturing the mannerisms of the animal, while using the human elements to give us a reason to care. The script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver does a great job of weaving the motivations of the characters into something engaging, and director Rupert Wyatt does a great job of making sure those performances and the action feel both fantastic and almost-believable. Ultimately, the cheesiness is lost with good editing and pacing, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes marks one of the biggest surprise standouts of 2011.

The Blu-ray

Before even getting to the special features on the Blu-ray disc, it’s hard not to acknowledge the box art of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is phenomenal. The outer sleeve is essentially a dark black, with a close up, slightly raised image of the face of Ceasar, along with the film title vertical up the left side, also raised. The lettering is shiny silver, and the only other things that shine quite like it are the green eyes of Ceasar. It’s also significant that there is so much expression in the face of the ape. The backside doesn’t offer much more info, just a few quotes and scenes from the film. It’s an elegant bit of packaging, one of my favorites in years.

On the disc, viewers get the film in high-definition, 11 deleted scenes and two feature-length audio commentaries. But things really pick up with “The Genius of Andy Serkis” featurette, which recognizes the outstanding performance of Serkis, even if the Academy did not. There are a number of other features, but most fascinating is “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries” and “Composing the Score with Patrick Doyle,” which should both be fairly self-explanatory.

All in all, it’s a great Blu-ray release for a solid blockbuster film, rounded out by a DVD/Digital Copy. Even the most doubting of fans would do well to give it a try, as it’s one of the best of 2011.

For more info, www.foxmovies.com

Pads & Panels received a copy of the Blu-ray set courtesy of the studio for review purposes.