Updated: Dec 26, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
"WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD copy, 2017, PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements and some disturbing images; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube
Best extra: "Waging War for the Planet of the Apes"
CRITICS loved it.
Moviegoers did, too. Ecstatic with its mature and stunning storytelling, they propelled "War for the Planet of the Apes" to a worldwide summer box office of nearly $500 million. But strangely, the most enthralling installment of the reboot trilogy under-performed its predecessor, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," which peaked at $700 million.
Co-writers Mark Bomback and director Matt Reeves, the team behind "Dawn," spent months contemplating their vision for "War" since its storyline was going squarely to the heart of Caesar, the apes' spiritual and strategic leader. "We wanted it to be bigger, more epic, more emotional," says Reeves during the "Making of" documentary on the enclosed Blu-ray.
Fox set up a screening room so they could view dozens of war films to see "what sparked," says Reeves. First up was Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," then Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," David Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai" and John Sturges' "The Great Escape." They also watched "Spartacus," "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments," plus John Ford and Sergio Leone Westerns and Akira Kurosawa's Japanese adventures.
What resonated was the character-driven drama found within the violence of war, says Reeves.
Andy Serkis (Gollum in "Lord of the Rings") returns with another remarkable performance-capture as Caesar, wearing dozens of dots on his face with a GoPro-type head-mounted camera capturing every twitch, snarl and piercing gaze. "You see Caesar is ravaged at the beginning by the responsibility for holding them together as an ape society," Serkis says. "He's trying to hold on to the slimmest possibility that there could be a peaceful outcome. But in war, things are very desperate. They are now battling for survival."
A hardened battalion of humans from the north received a distress call from the colonists at the end of "Dawn," and they've come to eradicate the apes. They're led by an Army colonel played by Woody Harrelson with shades of Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now." Driven on a mythic journey to kill the Colonel, Caesar is pushed to a dark psychological place that echoes Clint Eastwood's characters in "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Unforgiven," Reeves says.
Steve Zahn provides an emotional and comic performance as a former zoo ape and scavenger who lives at an abandoned ski resort; Amiah Miller is Nova, a 9-year-old girl who contracted a virus that left her unable to speak; and Terry Notary is the bullying Rocket. Reeves calls Notary, who coached the other ape characters, a "Zen ape master."
The actors spent days perfecting their walk, run and trot as they navigated the rugged terrain of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. "Don't think about -- be an Ape," says Michael Adamthwaite, who plays the ape Luca.
The six featurettes also highlight the massive sets created by production designer James Chinlund, from the rock cavern hidden behind a waterfall, to the frozen ice palace that was once a ski lodge and the five-acre Tower Rock prison. "All About Caesar" traces his life from his first word in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" to the Moses-like leader in "War." "WETA: Pushing Boundaries" looks at the handiwork of the special effect kings as they create the digital mask for each ape character, and in "Music for Apes," composer Michael Giacchino discusses how he used Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score for 1968's the "Planet of the Apes" as a blueprint.
Reeves' articulate and informative commentary track, featured on the 4K and Blu-ray provides a wealth of backstories and technical insights.
Reeves and company captured "War" on 6.5K digital cameras (2.40:1 aspect ratio), a more mobile camera than the huge 3D cameras used on "Dawn." The presentation is epic and sweeping, with a visual richness and depth best seen on 4K. But the time and cost limitations of digital rendering meant the huge digital files had to be down-converted and mastered and edited in 2K, a decision that robs home viewers of a grand motion-picture experience. Wake up, Hollywood, we deserve better.
The HDR toning, especially the contrast between the apes' dark fur and droplets of rain, is much more dynamic and striking. On the other hand, the color spectrum between the 4K and Blu-ray is very similar -- both deliver a realistic, earthy palette of greens, browns and blacks. Overall sharpness is just a slight uptick for the 4K, with edges, facial detail and distant scenery more evident on supersize set-ups.
If this adventure had been mastered in 4K, the difference in clarity would've been like night and day.
The 4K disc is coded with the encompassing Dolby Atmos soundtrack, with a more dynamic bass response, expansive height effects with rain, explosions, gunfire and the apes' screams and Giacchino's lively score – maybe his best. The Blu-ray's DTS-HD track won't disappoint, but falls flat compared to the Atmos track.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" caps an apocalyptic trilogy that is smart, thrilling and well worth adding to your movie collection.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer