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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
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
- Audio Commentary with Matt Reeves - It's not hard to figure out one of the reasons Dawn of the Planet of the Apes turned out so well after listening to this informative commentary by the director. Reeves has a real love for the franchise and emphasizes over and over again in this track how he wanted Caesar to be the main focus of this movie, as opposed to the humans. Subtitles for this commentary are available in English, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), French, German, and Italian. (Note: This commentary track is also available on the Blu-ray disc.)
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 4:34) - A surprisingly short collection of just three deleted scenes from the movie, which can be watched individually or all together and come with an optional commentary track from Director Matt Reeves. The scenes consist of: "Ape Ceremony" (2:07), "Entering the Dam" (1:15), and "Camp Here" (1:08).
- Journey to Dawn (HD, 8:47) - This is a standard behind-the-scenes look at the development of this sequel, including comments from Director Matt Reeves, Producer Dylan Clark, Writers/Producers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Star Andy Serkis, and other members of the crew.
- Andy Serkis: Rediscovering Caesar (HD, 9:02) - The star of the sequel talks about getting back into character. Also included here are comments from Co-Star Keri Russell, Producer Dylan Clark, and Director Matt Reeves, among others.
- Humans and Apes: The Cast of Dawn (HD, 17:47) - As the title indicates, this is a look at the actors that make up the cast of the movie. Included here are comments from Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, and Keri Russell, as well as Director Matt Reeves and Producer Dylan Clark.
- The World of Dawn (HD, 14:31) - This featurette takes a look at the filming and the production design of the movie, including the fun and challenges of shooting the movie out on location rather than on interior sets. Once again, we get comments from many members of the cast and crew, including Matt Reeves, Dylan Clark, Andy Serkis, and Jason Clarke, among others.
- The Ape Community (HD, 10:26) - Matt Reeves, Andy Serkis, and other members of the cast and crew talk about how this sequel examines the new life and social structure that Caesar and his fellow apes have established.
- Move Like an Ape: An Artist's Medium (HD, 15:25) - This segment takes a look at the many actors who played apes in the movie and their training and work doing the motion-capture performances. Included here is Matt Reeves talking about how he wanted to make sure the apes in the film looked as realistic as possible in their movements.
- Weta and Dawn (HD, 20:27) - A look at the visual effects of the movie and the incredible work by the Weta team. Included here are comments from Visual Effects Producer Ryan Stafford, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri, Producer Dylan Clark, Director Matt Reeves, and Star Andy Serkis.
- A Fight for a New Dawn (HD, 16:00) - Director Matt Reeves and other members of the cast and crew talk about the big climatic fight in the movie between Caesar and Koba and how that scene was realized through the magic of visual effects and stunt work.
- Gallery - A collection of four separate slide shows of images, broken up in the categories of "Concept Art", "Characters", "Costumes", and "Props". Viewers have the option of manually advancing through these photos using their remote controls or choosing an auto-advance option.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD, 6:17) - Three theatrical trailers for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which can be played together or individually.
- Sneak Peak of Exodus: Gods and Kings (HD, 2:14) - This little featurette, of course, has nothing to do with Dawn, but rather was Fox's attempt to promote their then-upcoming Ridley Scott film on a major Blu-ray release. It didn't work, as the film was a box office disappointment. But if you've never seen the movie and have some interest in it, here's a little preview. There's also an option here to play the same trailer that is front-loaded onto the 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.