Planet Of The Apes - 40-Year Evolution Collection Blu-ray Review
PictureAll five entries in the series carry 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfers that deliver each 2.35:1 image in a cleaner, more highly defined and more detailed presentation than ever before, although the resulting upgrade from SD may not be all that remarkable on first impressions.
Edge enhancement appears in all transfers, but is by far more minimal than seen in the previous SD versions. Figures against light backgrounds, some landscape and building features - nothing to get worked-up about and the difference between these transfers and those earlier haloed ones is richly apparent. Grain is also apparent in all, and its texture and integrity looks authentic for the most part, with DNR, if it has been applied, posing no problem whatsoever as far as I am concerned. Print damage is also very pleasingly absent, although there are still instances of minor pops and flecks from time to time.
The original Planet Of The Apes looks very impressive after you've adjusted your expectations. I don't know - perhaps it is just me, but I was really expecting to be immediately wowed by this one. Maybe it is just because the contrast seems to have been raised that colours don't seem as vivid as I thought they would be and the image lacks a certain level of sharpness. Mind you, this is possibly just me griping for the sake of it because, to be honest, for a movie that is now forty years old, this looks very engaging, clean and detailed. Interiors have more polish to them and various objects in the frame - furnishings and props are more pronounced and rewardingly detailed. Visual depth is abundantly better than previously, with the crashed capsule in the lake, the striking views of Ape City and the fantastic desert settings of the Forbidden Zone now providing a more vivid sense of scale and distance. There is even a nice little three-dimensional instance when Tayor takes aim with one of those queer-looking gorilla rifles outside the archaeological site when Zaius and his goons turn up. Colour-wise, the film looks drier than usual, with the arid environment seemingly bleaching the film as well, to a point. But skin-tones are good and realistic even if some of the hues of the ape masks and costumes don't quite look as vibrant as you may have seen them. The swarthy visages and garb of the gorillas offers a terrific contrast against the pale orang-utans and the sandy aesthetic of the Ape buildings and the little instances of red and blue in their eyes and the flashes of pink tongues looks all the more arresting. Some slight banding occurs in the stretches of blue sky, but this is brief and not a serious distraction. Greens and blues, elsewhere, don't exactly lift from the screen, but they do remain consistent.
Beneath The Planet Of The Apes looks very nice too, although there are elements of grain here that tend to fluctuate. The re-used footage from the first film - Taylor encountering the Statue of Liberty, especially - tends to look a little ropey, which is odd considering that it looks much better in its own 1080p incarnation. Blacks are also not as consistent and there are moments when noise bubbles about within them that I found slightly distracting during several of the darker scenes. Detail is good, but the step up from previous SD discs isn't all that great. Having said that, though, there is certainly more detail to be found in the vast cathedral-like set for the mutant domain - the rocks, the steps, the debris and the remnants of the old signs all posses more clarity than I've seen before. Likewise, the foliage and trees topside have moments when they clearly have a more finite degree of separation. But, at other times, the image struggles to make much of an impression, often appearing to be an older film than its predecessor. Fast motion - of which this film has a surprising amount - is handled very well without any trace of dragging or smearing.
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes improves on Beneath, but despite being quite colourful and un-blemished by excessive digital tinkering, still appears a little soft and less striking than its predecessors. Perhaps because of the conventional setting of the film, this looks a little flatter than the other movies, although detail in close-ups - fur, eyes, costumes etc - definitely appears with more boldness and more delineation. The patterns on clothing, especially the traditional chimp attire of Cornelius and Zira has more texture and a good level of saturation with the earthy greens and browns. Again, fine object delineation is pretty impressive, but the TV-style sheen sort of works against the hi-def imagery.
For Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, the palette becomes much more black and white - dark interiors and extensive night-time scenes as opposed to bright, but sterile daylight exteriors. The moody grey pallor of the film is part and parcel of the thematic style, however, even if it does make for a visually far-less engaging experience. The primary-coded jumpsuits of the enslaved apes provide some colour, as do the flames of the riots during the final act. Blood, much more apparent on the uncut version, is splashy and Savini-bright, meaning that it is cartoonic but still pretty vivid. Blacks are quite stable throughout and contrast, although possessive of a “dated” feel is certainly up to the job. Once again, the edge enhancement that stippled the previous edition is very largely removed and, despite the greater black levels there is no indication that any detail has been lost.
Possibly the most colourful and brightest transfer of the bunch is that of Battle For The Planet Of The Apes. The primaries are bold and the welcome return to the wilderness - lush green forests, harsh yellow desolation of the outer territories - is vivid and eye-catching. Detail is very good - there is plenty of information displayed even during the darker sections of the Caesar, MacDonald, Virgil infiltration of the mutant complex. Pipes and machinery in the underground base are well picked-out, although this sharper appearance does tend to make the little stick-on deformities on the mutants' faces look all the more “joke-shoppy” as a result. Plus the joins on the mask-to-wig appliances are a touch more obvious and pronounced thanks to the higher resolution. Again, depth is improved quite considerably, with even the shots of figures and convoys moving against a background matte painting looking quite effective. Again, we have lots of fast action scenes here and the transfer handles them with aplomb. The colours of the flames and the explosions look quite nice, with some degree of orange-red-black separation and shading coming over well. Warm glows within the tree-houses and around the gorilla camp-fire also feed well across the image and contrast smoothly with the surrounding shadows. As with Conquest, the darker elements don't seem to be masking any detail within them.
Thus, detail on ALL the titles is definitely greater than ever before, and the lack of digital mucking-about and removal of most of the edge enhancement is a definite bonus.
There's little to go ape about with these hi-def transfers, then. The full set gets itself a sturdy and respectful 8 out of 10.
SoundAll five films have now been bestowed lossless DTS-MA 5.1 tracks, but there is very little that you should be expecting from such revamped mono sound designs. Although all sound cleaner, crisper and sharper than ever before, there is no tangible use for the surrounds other than to help carry some of the scores and bolster some vague and, thankfully, un-intrusive ambience. There seems little point in discussing the films individually as there are all very, very similar in audio design. We have five films that are still firmly based front and centre - although the stereo spread across the frontal array is actually quite wide and dynamic - that incorporate the rears only very sporadically. Some effects have been singled-out for attention - the odd gunshot here and there and the rocket-boosting engines of the original film, various impacts and grunts, horses' hoofs and the thudding explosions of the final Battle - but there is little real use of surround sound going on to really make any reference to.
But, be this as it may, the DTS-MA tracks still manage to bring the films to life in a way that makes them continually more interesting and exciting. There is a great pitch and disturbing power to the mind-controlling sound effects that the mutants use on Brent when he and Nova go investigating their ruined temple in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. The lapping of the waves and the surf as Taylor sags to his knees in disbelief at the end of the original is hardly going to set the world of home cinema alight, but it does comes across well. The guttural mass rage of the rebelling apes in Conquest and the ranks of M16's and shotguns belching lead at them may not have the finesse and transparency of newer mixes, but still sound better and more pleasingly aggressive than their original mono. I had no problem with dialogue in any of the films at all and the scores - from the maestro, himself, Jerry Goldsmith, and from the alien and distinctive Leonard Rosenman and the hip, pulsating rhythms of Tom Scott - all came across with splendid depth and separation. You do, of course, have them all isolated in full DTS-MA, as well - which is great.
The original mono tracks are, thankfully, included too and these sound quite fine in the scheme of things. I haven't, as yet, listened to these tracks all the way through for any of the titles, merely dipped into them during some crucial-sounding scenes. But, for the steadfast purists, these will certainly keep you happy.
Considering that not much could really be done with these audio mixes without adding totally unnecessary bells and whistles, Fox have actually done a fine job of restoring and cleaning them up and presenting them with enough punch to make them come alive where it counts. Therefore, the full set gets a collective 7 out of 10.
ExtrasImmediately apparent, beautifully illustrated and well-written is the centre-piece item of the Evolution collection, the 200-page 40-Year Evolution: Planet Of The Apes, written by Lee Pfeiffer and David Worrall. This book slides out of the main packaging and is a fantastic chronicle of the franchise. There are more comprehensive tomes on the saga out there, but this comes as an added bonus and, folks, it is well worth it.
The fold-out packaging, also illustrated, even provides us with two possible Timelines of the events that led to, created and happened during the cycle of the movies - which is nice and makes a lot more sense than that ridiculous last-minute “Get Out Of Jail Free” style timeline that was hastily shoved into the pack for Tim Burton's remake in a failed attempt to make sense of its own daft paradox. What isn't so cool about this packaging, however, are the horrible little silicon hubs that the five discs hook onto. Once you've got a disc off the thing, it is incredibly hard to get it back on again. After the debacle of Fox's packaging for The Omen BD boxset, this proves that they still haven't quite got the knack of it just yet.
Five discs and five interesting arrays of special features. Each film has an animated introduction lasting a couple of minutes that presents us with a CG Lawgiver giving us a brief plot-influenced sermon that is sort of like the Pirates Of The Caribbean salty old sea-dog intros. I think it is quite cool and, as a definite advantage, the snippets never outstay their welcome.
Taking their cue from the original film's thirty-fifth anniversary edition (on SD), Fox have supplied Planet Of The Apes with more stuff than you can shake a stick at. Commentaries, retro-documentaries, archival footage and vintage and new featurettes take you deeper into the Ape's culture and the creative minds that put it up there on-screen.
Planet Of The ApesWith three audio commentaries embellishing the film, there is inevitably going to be some slack. The first track, incorporating recorded snippets from Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Natalie Trundy and makeup artist John Chambers is, sadly, not quite what we may have desired. Suffering from long gaps in-between the trivia and a certain lack of spontaneity, this feels disappointingly dry at times. Jerry Goldsmith gets to have his say during the bits when his score isn't playing and he is refreshingly candid about his methods and ideas for such an outlandish and inspiring project. All those interesting and weird percussion instruments and the signature ram's horn are covered as is his working relationship with Schaffner. This is a wonderful track and one that packs in more information, passion and honesty than the group commentary. Then there is another running observational track, but this time, it is in the form of a text commentary from author Eric Greene who liberally uses his book, Planet Of The Apes as American Myth, as the seed-bed for his postulations, theories, social analysis and cultural dissertation.
There is also a nice, brand new Picture-in-Picture track that is unique to the BD edition. Taking the form of a scientific appreciation of the head-scratching elements of the film, this feature does not actually skew too much in the direction of the making of the movie, itself. Called Science Of The Apes, fittingly enough, this very neatly goes into detail on the validity of space and time travel and, interestingly, real ape behaviour. A group of genuine scientists - not actors, producers, directors or stunt-co-ordinators - cover a lot of ground for us here and the feature is nowhere near as dry as it sounds.
The real meat of the matter comes in the form of the vast and impressively entertaining 118-minute documentary, Behind The Planet Of The Apes. Although now ten years old, this is still an excellent, and highly detailed account of how the novel became a movie, the movie became a mega-hit, and the mega-hit became a cultural phenomenon that was THE biggest genre offering on the block until Star Wars came along and busted the block from under it. Marvellously, the doc covers all five movies in the series, the TV show and the enormous merchandising bandwagon that accompanied the meteoric success of the franchise, and, as such, it doesn't just concentrate on the best-known debut. Narrated by Cornelius/Caesar/Galen, himself, Roddy McDowell, this is furnished with great interviews, archival footage and plenty of frank insight. Wonderfully respectful and totally absorbing.
A series of vintage featurettes come next. A Look Behind The Planet Of The Apes (15 mins) from 1972 and hosted by Heston, 1967 NATO Presentation (10 mins) and an Original 1968 promotional Featurette (5 mins) all are essentially just old school EPK stuff, yet rendered quite charming by the different styles of self-promotion. But the definite high-point of this older material is the Raw Footage Archive which lasts for almost an hour and offers up home movies shot by Roddy McDowell that chronicle the make-up and the shooting of the film, the famous make-up test for Edward G. Robinson, who was actually supposed to play Dr. Zaius, some audio-less outtakes and dailies from the production and some brief assemblages from a couple of the sequels in Don Talyor Directs Escape From The Planet Of The Apes and J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, although these don't really give you much more than a very swift appreciation of the fact that the films were actually made.
Then we get some galleries that, together with a short montage of Conceptual Art Sketches and a neat actor-to-ape comparison selection, covers production stills and that all-important marketing - posters and lobby cards - and merchandise that a lot of us had when we were nippers but have, in my case certainly, long since lost. Carrying with the promotional theme, we also get a selection of theatrical trailers for each of the five movies.
The first disc also contains some more bonus gubbins that are fresh to this BD release. Two new featurettes (in HD) look good listed on the pack, but don't really tell us anything we didn't already know, or learn from the rest of the stuff on this disc. We get Impact Of The Apes (11 mins) that just wants to make us aware of the importance of the film and its lasting legacy, and Evolution Of The Apes (23 mins) charts how the whole thing came to be in the first place and how the stories and the franchise, ahem, evolved over time.
A BD-Java game called Beyond The Forbidden Zone is also included, but I haven't even looked at this because I can't stand them. If it's any good, please let me know.
Planet Of The Apes is rounded-off with a spoofy, mocked-up ANSA Public Service Announcement that is just a piece of fluff-filler in the form of a mission report from the film's fictitious Space Administration.
Moving on to the other movies in the collection, the roster of extra features inevitably dwindles, but each contains the moments relevant to themselves that were obviously part of a much larger documentary that dissected all the sequels. Beneath contains the 22 -minute From Alpha To Omega: Building A Sequel; Escape features The Secret Behind Escape (16 mins) and the previously seen Don Taylor Directs Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (7 mins); Conquest has the smart and revealing Riots And Revolutions: Confronting The Times (20mins) that does a fine job of reflecting on the prevailing mood of hostility and violence that steered the narrative of the movie, and takes a look at the two different cuts, and there is also a 13-minute Look Behind The Scenes vintage featurette that does reasonably well at embellishing the saga, and another copy of J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes; Battle contains the nice, though all-too-brief, at 16 minutes, End Of An Epic: The Final Battle, which takes a good look at the ways Thompson got around his lack of budget and how the screenplay changed along the way.
All these discs contain their own Stills Galleries too.
Now, I've been a fan of the Apes' scores seemingly all my life and have them all on disc in complete form - save for Escape, which has only a suite of material existing on Goldsmith's excellent collector's edition for the original film's score - but it is still extremely nice to find that Fox have also acknowledged the power and intensity of these works and equipped each film with a music-only track isolated in full DTS-MA 5.1. In the case of Escape, this is especially rewarding as finally we get the chance to hear the full score as it was intended for the film.
All in all, this is an awesome package, although a few commentaries for the sequels would have been great and I'm a little surprised that this couldn't have been achieved. As it stands, though, fans will be extremely happy that the things they knew and loved from previous editions have all been ported over and then copiously added-to.
VerdictFor roughly seventy quid you get a whole lot o' monkey business with this lavish boxset. All the movies, polished-up and revamped with new sound and packaged with an interesting array of extra features, plus extended cuts of Conquest and Battle that certainly improve their somewhat stingy and mistaken reputations. The series is a belter and even if you can't help thinking that the law of diminishing returns applies to it, you owe it to the franchise, and to yourself to revisit each entry with fresh eyes. These are potent and angry films and each one tackles some heavy issues with exuberance, style, visual wit and invention and the irresistible and surprisingly still-believable atmosphere of hyper-simian evolution.
The reasons for shelling out for this set are numerous. For fans it is an absolute no-brainer and certainly worth the outlay for the upgrades, the book and the uncut versions. For those with a more casual interest, the prospect of so much aping-about may be daunting, but the series is prime(ate) entertainment through and through - different directors, different approaches, battles, themes, philosophies aplenty - and they effectively showcase American society during its most aggressive and establishment-shaking phase since the Civil War better than anything else - film, book or documentary - made during the late sixties and early seventies.
Schaffner's original remains the best and most influential but the repercussions from the follow-ons can still be felt in movie-franchises, makeup effects and racial characterisations and exchanges even now. Perhaps Don Murray's nasty Governor Breck in Conquest sums up our fascination with the topic best of all when he asserts that when we look upon the Apes we are really looking at the dark side of ourselves - the canny thing being we never truly destroy our own primal nature, no matter how much we dress it up with technology an so-called civilisation.
Fox have put together an exemplary set - the complete TV show and cartoon series would have great additions though, wouldn't they - and the packaging is startlingly effective, save for those pesky little disc-hubs. Personally, I love this set and can't help but recommend it whole-heartedly. Officially, this set gets a 9 out of 10 - but, as far as I am concerned, fans can bump that all the way up to the top of evoluntionary scale!
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