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War for the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray Review)

2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a highly acclaimed follow-up in the summer of 2014. War for the Planet of the Apes hit theaters in the summer of 2017 and felt like it was received a bit more indifferently. Despite near universal acclaim from critics, the war-drama that happens to feature elaborate special effects may not have been what audiences were looking for. Regardless, this new trilogy of ‘Apes’ films may be one of the best series to come out of Hollywood in years and this final chapter now has a packed Blu-ray with a fantastic technical presentation. You can also read Brian White’s 4K UHD review.

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Film:

Where Dawn ended with a failure to create a stable environment for both apes and humans to live peacefully, War opens with the perpetual conflict that has taken a toll since. Two years following the end of the last film, Caesar and his apes have been living on the run and in hiding. A tragedy breaks Caesar’s spirit and sends him down a darker path to go after a vicious human Colonel (Woody Harrelson) obsessed with wiping out the apes. Lines are drawn and certain revelations are made, which place Caesar as the hero to continue championing.

While the film once again wants the audience to feel encouraged watching the continuing journey of the one ape who chose to rise up and everything that took place after, it should be noted that War is an incredibly bleak film. Rise hinted at the darkness to come and Dawn took us into a world where most of humanity had died off, but War has arrived at a place where the last remains of humanity are desperately clinging to their final chances of survival through violent means. It’s not a wonder to see a film as dreary as this taking place during winter.

Director Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback have crafted a film that does not shy away from the despair created by this reality. That in mind, this series has been sharp enough to keep a positive focus on the apes, with this movie making the biggest case for why humans don’t deserve what they had. There are many parables and references found throughout this film and within its structure. While that provides a level of attention one can recognize, it’s also part of what holds War back from being the definitive Planet of the Apes film.

Something that pushed Dawn to the next level for me was seeing how it created its take on the apocalypse and played with ideas involving leadership, pitting brother against brother and how misunderstandings lead to further turmoil. The nuance was appreciated and relatable. War is going to even greater, grandiose extremes by making the biblical analogies more overt and having social commentary serve as far more than just subtext. Connections to slavery have always been clear. The ape migration calls to mind the Trail of Tears. Imprisonment and forced labor create Holocaust imagery.

It’s a bold move by Fox to release a film like this designed to be a summer blockbuster. It may not be R-rated like Logan, but War is incredibly gloomy and attacks various ideas as well as many other adult-oriented mainstream films. However, the issue becomes a matter of whether having such familiar thematic points (in addition to clear inspiration from the likes of Bridge on the River Kwai, Spartacus, etc.) allows the film to hold onto an identity of its own. War falls in line with the previous Apes movies and feels like a logical next step for the series, but it’s also not breaking any new ground as far as what it has to say about war and humanity.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great filmmaking elements to go along with the sophisticated, if familiar, story. Weta Digital continues to exceed expectations as far as seeing entirely CG apes come to life in convincing ways. The level of emotion felt for Caesar, Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and others all come down to the collaboration between these actors and the terrific work done by Weta. We’ve come a long way from actors wearing masks and speaking with regal accents.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin does a terrific job of bringing in this wintery landscape to further emphasize the state of these characters. It goes well to provide a different look for the film. There’s also the action sequences which never feel out of place but seem like technical challenges handled wonderfully. With so much done to visually communicate who and where these characters are in their lives, it’s great to see a good amount of thought applied to making things clear in a matter of shots.

Speaking of which, Michael Giacchino puts in a lot of work to make up for what is a mostly dialogue-free film (since the apes mainly speak in sign language). One part of me thinks the film relies a bit too much on Giacchino’s score creating the emotion for the viewer. However, I also can’t deny the effectiveness of the man’s work. Given that Dawn is a more enjoyable watch, it likely comes down to my enjoyment of variety in tones heard in that film.

As far as the actors go, does anything else need to be said about Serkis? The actor has displayed immense talent in the world of motion-capture and once again finds all the right notes to play in delivering a fully-rounded performance as Caesar. Additionally, it’s also worth noting how interesting Steve Zahn is as Bad Ape, the only source of comedic relief in the film. It may distract some, but I feel he’s a necessary presence doing well to make sure we remember we’re watching a summer movie. Finally, Harrelson provides strong work as the main villain given just enough to work with, keeping him from becoming one-dimensional.

With a lackluster box office take, compared to the previous film, I don’t know what’s next for this series. However, I’m happy to champion all that we’ve seen in recent years with this series of films. War can feel like both an individual film as well as a great third act to the story that put its focus on Caesar. Fortunately for him, Weta Digital, Reeves and his team were all game to take this seriously and invest real ideas into the pulpy sci-fi idea of exploring the origins of a planet of apes. The results this time around are an engaging drama about individuals doing what they can for survival and it all happens to be packaged in a blockbuster film. Ape movies together strong.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: If you’ve read my Blu-ray reviews before you should already know what’s coming – snow! I love the look of snow in HD and this Blu-ray presentation does a fine job for a film so reliant on showing off its wintery setting. There is plenty of clarity in all the environmental work going on here. The real joy is seeing the many amazing details in the ape creations, along with the production design in general. The little snowflakes are just a great added touch that always registers.

Depth: The scope of this film may have felt somewhat limited to me, but the visual complexity of this film is best reflected early on and when you see the eventual prison camp.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky. There are lots of darkly lit scenes, nighttime sequences and shadowy moments. The contrast is great and there is no instance of crush to be concerned with.

Color Reproduction: This is a fairly muted film for good reason, however, the colors do register properly throughout. Particularly in the first half, as we see Caesar’s camp, fires, the green lasers on the soldier’s guns. All of these things really play well and that says nothing on one of the final shots of the film, which involves sunlight and a lot of characters all in one place.

Flesh Tones: The humans we see look fantastic as far as facial detail. You could even say the same about the apes, despite being CG creations, as they look that good.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The film sounds terrific. It certainly should, given the lossless 7.1 audio track. The score plays a huge role in reflecting how strong this audio track is. That said, plenty of bombastic action moments scattered during this film, along with quieter moments that really play well too.

Low-Frequency Extension: Plenty of force is put into the LFE channel, which really allows you to feel the force of the big action scenes that take. The opening battle reflects this quite well.

Surround Sound Presentation: It’s great when a technically complex film like this uses all the channels to its advantage. A great amount of work has gone into achieving such a great balance and the results mean hearing all the various noises involving the environment, the apes, the gunfire and more.

Dialogue Reproduction: Long stretches of this film feature no dialogue, but when people talk, they are heard clearly.

 

Extras:

You basically get everything you want on this Blu-ray. Multiple commentary tracks, an extensive behind the scenes look at the making of the film, deleted scenes and more.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary By Director Matt Reeves – Reeves is a great speaker who also seems very polite and willing to be a part of a conversation if given the chance. As expected, he provides plenty of great stories about the production, the filmmaking process and more. This is a great supplement to the film.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 23:13) – Features optional commentary by director Matt Reeves. The best thing I can say is how the deleted scenes gave Woody Harrelson more of a character.
  • Waging War for the Planet of the Apes (HD, 29:36) – It’s only a half hour, but this provides a pretty strong look at the production in general, including the build-up to War.
  • All About Caesar (HD, 12:38) – Send this to the Academy if you want them to have a further reason for keeping Serkis in mind for awards consideration.
  • WETA: Pushing Boundaries (HD, 10:35) – A look at how far the technology has come in realizing CG apes on the big screen.
  • Music For Apes (HD, 6:18) – Michael Giacchino has done impressive work with the past two Apes films and we get another look at that process here.
  • Apes: The Meaning Of It All (HD, 20:13) – A discussion with the cast and crew going over why this series has worked so well for audiences.
  • The Apes Saga: An Homage (HD, 7:46) – Many of the homages to the previous films explored here.
  • Concept Art Gallery (HD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD, 6:53)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film – iTunes and UltraViolet

 

Summary:

I may only really like War for the Planet of the Apes, as opposed to having the exact same great praise as Dawn, but it’s still a fantastic summer blockbuster. It’s an adult-themed film with an excellent use of visual effects to assist in the making of great ape characters. The Blu-ray features a wonderful technical presentation, along with plenty of extra material to give fans all they want in regards to the making of this film and more. Enjoy what this release has to offer and as a great capper to this wonderful reboot trilogy.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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