War for the Planet of the Apes - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
After a short text briefly recaps the events of the previous two films, War for the Planet of the Apes opens on a cold, rainy day with human soldiers marching in single file. As the young men walk in slow-motion through the forest in their camouflage uniforms, the audience can read the angry, hateful jargon written on the back of each helmet. The entire scene feels more reminiscent of the past than of an imaginary future, evocative of the similar xenophobic language used by Vietnam soldiers as a way to cope with an unspoken resentment for a vain and unwinnable war. Thoughts race through memories of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and other such war films. There's little denying the parallel is perhaps the point director Matt Reeves ('Let Me In') was aspiring for, especially when the platoon opens fire on a seemingly peaceful, unsuspecting ape camp. The ensuing battle is a distressing spectacle of haunting imagery as it quickly becomes apparent the apes are grossly outgunned. We're also shown the remorseful face of one gorilla fighting on the side of humans, almost as though regretting his part in the demise of his own kind.
Afterwards, Caesar (another remarkable motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis) makes an appearance and once again, appeals the better half of those humans wanting him dead, which this time comes in the form of a rogue, scarily cold-blooded commander named The Colonel (an excellent Woody Harrelson). Unfortunately, his simple gesture for peace only leads to the deaths of Caesar's wife and son, thus paving way for the plot's central theme while ceaselessly making audiences regret not having a large box of tissues at their side. The amazing visuals and jaw-dropping realism of the CG apes are just as much in abundance as the buckets of tears guaranteed by those with a sympathetic heart. Whereas predecessors touched on ideas of science run amok, the danger of power, racial tensions and for peace in spite of our differences, War is a character-driven drama focused on the longing for meaningful relationships and bonds, sprinkled with little reminders of the way we treat our ape cousins, other animals and our planet in general. This is seen when the mute orphan Nova (Amiah Miller) and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) joins Caesar's quest.
For the third and presumably final installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series, the script co-written by Reeves with Mark Bomback expands on the notion expressed at the end of Dawn where Caesar acknowledges the similarities of apes and humans. Although the continuously brooding and scowling leader of the ape uprising is haunted by the death of Koba, he also begins to understand the overwhelming narrow-mindedness of the hate that drove Koba. He, too, becomes consumed by his rage to see The Colonel dead for inflicting him with pain and suffering. It's not until Caesar's conversation with this seemingly indifferent human that he finally recognizes how much alike they are when love is in ruins. Anger, pride and vengeance can destroy the rational mind, pushing aside wiser decisions and the ability to foresee consequences. And as portrayed in this second sequel, this seems truer when feeling the extinction of one's species drawing near and the fight to survive the inevitable becomes a priority. However, as Caesar soon learns, the repercussions of giving into these emotions is damaging, making victims of those he's responsible for.
Clocking in at 140 minutes, the bulk of War for the Planet of the Apes has Caesar and his clan living in captivity under The Colonel's dictatorship-like reign. Looking down from his ivory tower, he watches like a godly king while the apes labor to rebuild the wall of an abandoned military weapons installation. The scene of Caesar interrupting the whipping of a weak and emaciated orangutan immediately elevates Caesar to a Christ-like Moses figure that must lead his kind on an exodus to a promised land. In the previous films, morality and the usual good guys vs bad guys dynamics were largely ambiguous, but here, Reeves and company make it very clear humans are the real monsters in this war for the planet. And the real beauty of this third installment is how the filmmakers link the plot back to the original series, despite borrowing a few story ideas from Conquest and Battle. It doesn't hurt the production is aided by the spectacularly stunning computer-generated imagery that brings the apes to a new level of realism. But for fans of the 70s series, War is also an exceptional addition to Caesar's mythology and a superb conclusion to a surprisingly good trilogy.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings War for the Planet of the Apes to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy, which can be redeemed via FoxRedeem.com but only available in HD / SDR and HDX on VUDU. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout keepcase. At startup, the UHD goes straight to a main menu screen with full-motion clips, the usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The war for the planet spreads to Ultra HD with a lovely and overall satisfying HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, bringing the fight home with an often-stunning picture quality that ultimately defeats the Blu-ray.
Shot on the excellent Arri Alexa 65 camera system, capable of up to 6.5K resolution, the freshly-minted transfer enjoys a great uptick in terms of clarity and detailing. This is particularly true in the close-ups of the amazingly realistic faces of the apes, showing the ultra-fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes while also exposing each individual pockmark, freckle and minute scar. The same can be said of the humans, revealing every negligible blemish and imperfection. The CG hairs of the apes are razor-sharp and seem to move independently of each other while the stitching and threading in the military uniforms are distinct, and every nook and cranny is plain to see inside the Caesar's waterfall hideout or in the Colonel's weapons-depot base.
However, there are several minor instances of poor resolution, evidence of this transfer being an upconversion of a 2K digital intermediate, most notably during nighttime sequences at the base. When Caesar is tied to the large "X"-shaped post and the search light passes by, the hairs and faces of the apes appear a bit noisy and show a tad of aliasing along the sharpest edges of the post and hairs. The many extreme wide shots also sadly look softer and blurrier than other parts and when compared to the Blu-ray.
On the other hand, the real win in this 4K presentation is the spot-on contrast though it doesn't push peak luminance to the limits, staying true to the intentions of the filmmakers where everything looks more dour and somber. So, although whites are not as brilliant as in HD, specular highlights are nonetheless a noteworthy improvement, making the individual crystals in the snow twinkle brighter, the light shining on faces pop more realistic and revealing a bit more detailing in the various light fixtures. Better yet, the 2.40:1 image displays richer, silkier blacks, making the different shades in the hairs of the apes more apparent and showing greater gradational variation in the shadows. Objects remain plainly visible during the many poorly-lit interiors, and details are never at a loss in the darkest portions of the frame, providing the 2160p video with a beautiful cinematic quality that feels as though watching it for the first time.
As with its HD SDR counterpart, the stylized photography is deliberately gloomy and near monochromatic, but in 4K HDR, the palette is surprisingly richer and more varied with primaries that are noticeably more vibrant. The red in blood is of a deeper, crimson shade while the green in the surrounding foliage pops with life, and the blue in the sky and clothing provides a tranquil realism. Secondary hues remain largely limited, but the presentation is now awash with more warmth and a wider selection, as the afternoon skyline shines with an array of golden-amber yellow flawlessly blending into a pink, magenta and darker blue splendor. The flesh tones of all the characters appear more natural with the humans looking a bit peachier and reddish, and the fire from explosions and torches intensely radiate and brighten scenes with a reddish-orange glow.
The apes scream, howl, grunt and loudly chatter towards war with a fantastic, near demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, leaving its DTS-HD counterpart of the Blu-ray to fend for itself.
Unlike what's heard on the BD, the object-based mix makes excellent use of the surrounds and ceiling speakers, doing a splendid job of placing the listener right in the thick of the action. For example, in the opening moments with the soldiers attacking an ape camp, the rustling of leaves fill in the space above the listening area, and the dew from the mist drips down from those trees while the local wildlife is continuously heard in the distance. Other atmospherics are also employed during quieter scenes, such as the sound of rain all around, the echoes inside Caesar's waterfall hideout or the grunts of soldiers training at the Colonel's military base, generating a satisfyingly immersive soundfield. When the action erupts, the entire room becomes a warzone with debris showering down everywhere, the yells and screams of the wounded, bullets whizzing in every direction, and helicopters flying overhead and firing rockets at the military base.
And like before, much of the attention in this character-driven sci-fi drama is placed on the fronts, but the Atmos track features better distinct background activity and convincingly fluid off-screen movement, generating a wider, more spacious soundstage. A good deal of that activity expands into the front heights, creating a highly-engaging, half-dome wall of sound. The mid-range feels warmer and more dynamic, exhibiting remarkable clarity and detailing in the loudest segments. Michael Giacchino's original score benefits tremendously from the extra breathing, enjoying fidelity and distinction with exceptional separation in the orchestration while lightly bleeding into the sides and heights. The dialogue and often-emotional conversations between characters are precise and intelligible at all times. The low-end is also on the quiet side for most of the runtime, but when employed, bass is robust and accurate, providing the music, gunshots and explosions a powerful, rumbling presence.
Audio Commentary: Director and co-writer Matt Reeves rides solo for this surprisingly enlightening discussion, talking mostly on the technical aspects of the production but also sharing his thoughts on the plot, the character and various themes.
All About Caesar (HD, 13 min): As the title suggest, a focused piece on the character, the CGI work, the mo-cap technology used and, of course, Andy Serkis's performance.
Concept Art Gallery (HD).
War for the Planet of the Apes, the third and presumably final installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series, is an exceptional addition to Caesar's ape rebellion mythology and a superb conclusion to a surprisingly good trilogy. Director Matt Reeves explores various themes of vengeance and hate, but the character-driven sci-fi drama promises tears with a focus on the longing for meaningful relationships and bonds, sprinkled with little reminders of the way we treat our ape cousins, other animals and our planet in general. The Ultra HD wages war with a fantastic 4K HDR presentation and a highly-satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, leaving its Blu-ray SDR counterpart behind in battle. With a majority of the supplemental material being exclusive to the HD format, the overall package is highly recommended for fans of the series.
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