UHD Blu-ray is finally here! Boasting 2160p resolution at 128Mbps with the very best lossless audio, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the new format's most promising feature — what actually makes it a significant step up over standard Blu-ray — is content in high-dynamic range with a 10-bit video depth (HDR10) and a wide color gamut up to BT.2020 (WCG). And there's also the promise of Dolby Vision in the near future, which is set to push picture quality to 12-bit video depth and theoretically in 10,000 nits peak brightness.
It's worth noting this is a brand new format, and for the moment, the content is fairly limited. Then, there is also the fact that calibrating displays for enjoying the best picture quality possible is somewhat tricky since material in HDR10/WCG is not readily available. With that in mind, I must admit I did the best I could on my display, which is the Sony Bravia XBR75X940C, to calibrate using Spears & Munsil and SpectraCal CalMAN C3, which I plan to upgrade to the C6-HDR very soon, in a DCI-P3 color space. Thus, in reviewing the current slate of content — titles offered a couple weeks in advance via Best Buy — our readers will please forgive these initial impressions and expect some trial and error as we continue to fine-tune our picture quality assessments and methodology.
In spite of that, my colleagues and I have come to the general consensus that we should hold the UDH format to a higher standard and be much more conservative with our video scores. Essentially, what would normally qualify as 5-star presentation in standard Blu-ray could hypothetically be thought of as a 3-star video on UDH BD. It is still a significant improvement and will be a better viewing experience, but with this new format, we are looking for more than just sharpness and resolution. Now, we must also take into consideration how the transfer benefits from the HDR/WCG upgrade, which complicates matters since not all movies are produced in native 4K or mastered with 4K digital intermediates (DI). What this all amounts too is our attempt and promise to provide our readers with the most honest and accurate assessments as possible as we enter this new format.
Much like he did in 'District 9' and 'Elysium,' director Neill Blomkamp asks provocative questions of our modern social order in his latest dystopian sci-fi epic 'Chappie,' but he doesn't quite have the narrative chops for answering those queries or probing any deeper into them. However, as in those aforementioned efforts, the South African filmmaker nonetheless delivers another wildly entertaining portrait of a future where technology becomes more of a burden than a benefit. The invention of armored robots used as a tactical police force is a tool for the advantage of the upper class, preserving the status quo, instead of an advancement for the collective whole. When money and profits are involved, greed and self-preservation trumps altruism, squashing any hope that technology could ever serve the greater good or improve our current doom and gloom situation. It's true of our historical past and sadly, even our present, so why should the future be any different.
Working from a script he penned with fellow cowriter of the apartheid allegory and spouse Terri Tatchell, Blomkamp reinvents the service bots seen in 2013's class warfare parable. Only, in this universe, their designer, a timidly nerdy Deon played to perfection by Dev Patel ('Slumdog Millionaire,' 'The Newsroom'), made his machines to be more benign and obliging, programmed to shoot only when the threat is real. Finally cracking the code for artificial intelligence, the idealistic inventor uploads his program to a seemingly unlucky robot scheduled for the trash heap, going against the strict orders of his boss (an underused Sigourney Weaver). After some difficulty adjusting and learning to communicate, the conversations between it and Deon touch on the metaphysical and theological. The young man almost arrogantly wants "Chappie" (voiced by Sharlto Copley) to recognize him as his creator, making him promise to abstain from temptation, and Chappie realizing he comes with an expiration date questions his purpose.
This is all great stuff for audiences to ponder while mesmerized by the stunning photo-realistic visuals thanks to the collaboration of Image House and Weta Workshop, often leaving viewers wondering if the robots might actually be real. Aiding in the plot's casual and rather superficial ruminations on the complexities of intelligence are a trio of hardened criminals serving as Chappie's surrogate family — two of which some astute viewers will recognize as the duo of the electro rap group Die Antwoord while the third is a cliché American thug simply called "Amerika" (Jose Pablo Cantillo). With Ninja doing his best as the tough-love daddy to the child-like robot and Yolandi Visser acting the tender, unconditionally loving mother, this portrayal of the modern domestic household muses on the debate of nature versus nurture. The robot struggling with moral dilemmas and a need to belong bring to mind issues of urban violence being born of economic and social inequality. But the most profound question that goes unanswered, especially for Chappie's wellbeing and peace of mind, is the idea of autonomous consciousness and the soul being one and the same: What's happens to him when his battery dies?
For the most part, Blomkamp seem content to raise these observations without providing answers, which frankly, is the same fault found in previous features. 'Chappie' is more food for thought than a philosophical treatise. And like those two sci-fi actioners, the director packs just enough plot and engaging thrills to make the tale of a sentient robot discovering its place in the modern world into satisfying escapism. Opposition comes from a highly competitive robotics engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). Vincent's resentment is what eventually leads to the film's most offhand acts of violence. Again, the filmmakers touch on ideas of industrial espionage and greed at the heart of things, but don't really do much else with it. Instead, it settles and generally prefers popcorn entertainment, which it does successfully.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Chappie' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify the size of the content, or if the disc is dual-layered or tripled-layered. The new UHD disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
For this review, I'm watching 'Chappie' on a Sony Bravia XBR75X940C connected to the new Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. When calibrated, I was instantly impressed by the results, achieving 98% of the DCI-P3, and the picture quality is astounding when the Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) feature is activated. Worth noting is the fact that this particular display automatically switches to a setting called "HDR Video" when such content is detected, and watching in that setting, the impressionable child-like robot learns a lesson in the school of hard knocks on Ultra HD Blu-ray with an often stunning HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, making it one of the best looking 4K titles thus far. However, it's worth noting the video appears best in its original Rec.709 color gamut whereas BT.2020 seems too dark while harshly exaggerating reds to the point of being distracting and unnatural.
For this sci-fi actioner, the movie was shot on a variety of HD cameras, such as the Sony PMW-EX3 and the Sony HDC-1500 which max out at 1080p video while a couple sequences were shot on the GoPro HD also in standard HD. The filmmakers also used the Canon EOS-5D Mark III, which is capable of filming at higher resolutions than 4K, but a majority of the movie was shot using the Red Epic camera system, which maxes out at 5K resolution. All the elements were later mastered in a 4K DI at Rec.709, and the results are a noticeable and significant improvement over its Blu-ray counterpart. Admittedly, there are a couple spots of very mild, practically negligible aliasing on the sharp edges of buildings, the metallized bodies of police robots and computer monitors. Aside from that, the picture quality is a near-reference presentation that nicely demonstrates what the new format is capable of.
In spite of these very minor issues, the video is incredibly vivid and sparkling with brilliant whites that pop off the screen with radiant luminosity, making the entire picture from start to finish lively and energetic. Contrast is pitch-perfect throughout, giving the sky a lovely, realistic glow and fluffy clouds a great deal of pep and clarity. Black levels are extraordinarily deep and penetrating with appreciable gradations and clear differences between the various shades, delivering rich, stygian shadows that allow the finer details in the darkest portions to come through. We can plainly see subtle differences in Chappie's body, from the movement of individual joints and the most miniscule scratches to the wires and tubes loosely dangling beneath his metallic armor. Even dark, poorly-lit interiors, such as Ninja and Yolandi's concrete hideout, offer plenty of visible information in the background, like the wacky-looking graffiti. The UHD BD showcases an intensely animated, sumptuous color palette full of dazzling primaries and secondary hues that provide warmth and accurate skin tones appropriate to the climate and the environment. Look no further than the final fight sequence between the rival gangs and MOOSE versus Chappie towards the end for an eye-catching display of various colors, particularly the clear distinction between the yellows, reds and oranges in the fiery explosions and an excellent example between the darker and lighter aspects of the photography.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the 4K image is terrifically impressive in terms of clarity and definition, revealing more information here than the previous release. Objects in the far distance are razor-sharp, exposing the tiniest imperfection or minute blemish, like bullet holes and deep carvings, along the deteriorating concrete walls of the abandoned warehouse. And the video is incredibly consistent, whether we're inside or just outside the building. Fast-paced action sequences also remain distinct and detailed, allowing viewers to take in every piece of debris, make out every grain or pebble on the ground, and plainly see each person or car whizz by. The faces of actors expectedly are lifelike and revealing, divulging the faintest freckle on Yolandi's nose and the most minuscule wrinkle around Ninja or Hugh Jackman's nose. The metallic bodies of Chappie and MOOSE also astoundingly expose hints of wear and tear, light scratches and scars from previous action, flecks of rust, and small spots of faded paint. Daylight sequences, of course, are the most dramatic with clear outlines of the top of buildings in the far distance and visible textures and threading in the clothing, making this one of the finest UHD Blu-rays for early adopters to enjoy.
The lesson continues with 'Chappie' receiving a new audio upgrade that's sure to give anyone's system a nice workout. The maker has graciously adorned this artificial life with an exciting Dolby Atmos soundtrack; however, the added overhead speakers don't quite deliver a marked improvement over its predecessor, except for the occasional ambient effect. For the most part, much of the lossless mix offers the same endlessly gripping soundscape where the sides envelope the listener with continuous activity. Whether in the bustling traffic of the city, staring at computer screens in the offices of Tetravaal or receiving a lesson on gangsta etiquette inside the factory home of Chappie's surrogate family, the surrounds are endlessly employed, creating a consistently immersive 360° soundfield. The quiet, more intimate moments are filled with subtle discrete effects, some of which periodically can be heard above the listening area. Action sequences erupt with debris falling everywhere and helicopters smoothly panning from one side of the room to the other or overheard when flying from the back to the front or vice versa.
Where the Atmos track really shines is in the front soundstage where imaging explodes on the scene with an enthralling, gloriously spacious wall of sound as distinct off-screen effects bounce around in the front overheads. The musical score also extends into the same space with animated energy, creating an appreciable half-dome effect that's terrifically engaging. Various sounds and noises zip and zoom across the screen with flawless, fluid movement, consistently delivering a variety of convincing noises. Dynamic range is extraordinarily extensive, reaching room-penetrating highs with crystal-clear clarity while maintaining excellent distinction in the mids like a champ. Vocals remain pristine and intelligible in spite of the loud action and tumultuous mayhem. An awesomely commanding low-end supplies some serious oomph to the chaos, nicely digging deep into the ultra-low depths on several occasions (Bass chart).
As he did in 'District 9' and 'Elysium,' director Neill Blomkamp asks provocative questions of our modern social order in his latest dystopian sci-fi epic 'Chappie,' but he doesn't quite have the narrative chops for answering those queries or probing any deeper. Nevertheless, he manages to deliver satisfying popcorn entertainment while giving audiences some food for thought.
Added to that, the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc arrives with a strong, near-reference 4K video presentation with the noticeable pop we'd expect from the new format, making it another highly impressive UHD release. Plus, the movie also comes with a highly-enjoyable Dolby Atmos soundtrack, along with a nice collection of supplements, making the overall package worth checking out for early adopters enthusiastic about the new format.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.