Had 20th Century Fox known their reboot prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes was going to lead to a brand-new franchise of hit films, they may have thought about renaming it. For those not all that familiar with these new Apes movies, rest assured that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the second, not the first, movie in this new series and - surprise, surprise - it's a sequel that not only lives up to the fun of the first movie, but surpasses it in almost every way.
This sequel begins at least a decade after the last movie ending, with Caesar (once again motion-capture performed by Andy Serkis) now older, with a wife (or the ape equivalent of that concept) and a son - and a new child on the way. He's established a simian society in the forest area outside of San Francisco, where he and those he rescued from the facility in the first movie (along with their offspring) seem to be living in relative harmony. As for mankind, it's all but been wiped out by the deadly virus viewers learned about at the end of the prior film. Millions (if not billions) have died, and humanity fights to survive in small pockets scattered across the globe.
One such gathering of survivors has established a refuge for themselves in San Francisco, but a small group of them have headed into ape territory, led by a man named Malcolm (Jason Clarke). We'll soon learn he's out there to check out a hydroelectric dam which - if properly restored - will give the refuge back in San Francisco electrical power. Things go wrong when his team runs into a group of apes and one of the humans, Carver (Kirk Acevedo), shoots one of the younger apes, Ash, who was friends with Caesar's son, Blue Eyes (performed by Nick Thurston).
The shooting results in debate among both the apes back at their home location as well as the humans back at their refuge. Koba (performed by Toby Kebbell), who has always been the most violent and least-trusting of humans, wants to attack now, but Caesar thinks too many fellow apes will die in the process. Meanwhile, the de facto leader of the human encampment, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), only sees the apes as animals to be disposed of if needed. Caesar leads a large group of his apes into the human refuge in the city (in a show of force) and tells Malcolm and the others that if both human and ape stay in their respective areas, there will be no trouble. Of course, that's not going to work out, as the humans need to fix that hydroelectric dam - so Malcolm and a small team decide to head back out and convince Caesar to let them have access to it. If you're guessing that things go downhill from there, you'd be right.
The story for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes might have looked a little "small" on paper, but Director Matt Reeves manages to turn it into a rollicking action movie. What's most impressive here though is the character development. It would have been so easy to make viewers root for the apes over the humans (like most of the first movie did), but Reeves gives us characters to relate to on both sides, and even characters like Koba and Dreyfus have reasons behind their madness. After watching this movie, it's no surprise why the studio made sure Reeves came back to helm the next installment (hitting theaters as I write this review), which the finale of this movie helps set up (although only in a semi-cliffhanger kind of way, so this still very much feels like a "complete" story - just one that leaves us with questions about what happens next).
As for this 4K release, like the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes it's really only a must-own if you don't already own the prior Blu-ray release. There are no new bonus materials here, and the 4K image, while an improvement, isn't such a leap over the 1080p version that it's worth the additional investment. On the other hand, if you don't own the movie and are 4K-capable, this is the version to get. The only real downside for first-time buyers is that this release doesn't contain the 3D version of the movie.
The Blu-Ray Packaging
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marches its troops onto 4K in this Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The 4K and 50GB Blu-ray arrive housed inside an eco-friendly black Elite keepcase along with two inserts: one with a code for a digital copy of the movie (sadly, only in 1080p, not UHD) and the other containing a second code for a sneak preview of the new War for the Planet of the Apes movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. There are no front-loaded trailers on the 4K disc; however, the Blu-ray is front-loaded with a trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings. Both the Ultra HD menu and the Blu-ray menu have a similar design, with a montage of footage from the film and menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is in this release is coded for both Region A and Region B, but will not play on Region C players. The Ultra HD disc (as is the case with all such releases) has no region coding.
While the previous Apes movie was shot on 35mm film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was shot digitally using the Arri Alexa M. The aspect ratio is different here too, opening up to 1.85:1 (the prior film was 2.35:1). However, just like the Ultra HD release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this transfer is not "True" 4K, being sourced and up-converted from a 2K Digital Intermediate.
While the HDR (high dynamic range) boost that 4K gives is evident, the biggest improvement over the Blu-ray version is in terms of black levels. They're inky deep here and shadow delineation is great - which is helpful as many of this movies scenes take place in the dark or, at the very least, in some dimly lit forest locations. In terms of detail, I won't say that the 4K disc is a huge leap over the Blu-ray (which has a pretty impressive 1080p transfer), but there is a slight improvement, particularly in terms of facial details on both the apes and the humans.
The featured audio option is a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is probably going to disappoint a lot of Ultra HD aficionados, given that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was given an Atmos mix for its theatrical release. With that in mind, it's hard for me to be really upset about what's offered here, since the 7.1 lossless track is truly a fantastic one. Although I've shaved a half point off the audio score just for the lack of Atmos (when it could have easily been provided by the studio), make no mistake: this is reference-quality sound for a 7.1 track.
For starters, you'll be hard pressed to find a more immersive track than the one offered here. This is one of those audio presentations that when it's raining on screen, you'll be going to the window to see if it's clouding up outside. The dynamic range here is pretty fantastic, and everything is properly mixed, so the spoken word is never drown out by all the aural activity from the surround speakers. LFE use is impressive as well, and I love how often the roar of various apes will result in subwoofer rumblings. There are no evident glitches or problems I noticed with the track in terms of dropouts, muddiness, or other issues.
In addition to the lossless English 7.1 track, 5.1 DTS tracks are available in French, Spanish (Castilian), German, and Italian, as is a Spanish (Latin) track in 5.1 Dolby Digital. There's also an English Descriptive Audio track in Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are an option in English SDH, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), French, German, Italian, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Mandarin (Traditional), Mandarin (Simplified), Swedish, Norwegian.
Ultra 4K Disc
One of the few Hollywood sequels that is superior to the movie that came before it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes succeeds by providing us characters (both ape and human alike) who are well-rounded and interesting to watch. So with all the special effects and action sequences (all of which are well done), the movie feels very much like a family drama - albeit one with talking apes in a post-apocalyptic setting. This 4K release of the movie isn't a huge leap over the previously released Blu-ray in terms of video quality (and the audio is the same), but if you don't yet own a version of this movie and are 4K-capable, this one's Recommended.