Posted Mon Jul 17, 2017 at 06:28 PM PDT by
Michael S. Palmer
While we'll leave the full review to Phil Brown over on the Bonus View (read his thoughts HERE), I set out to see War for the Planet of the Apes this weekend at one of the 100 Dolby Cinema locations now open worldwide and thought I'd share my thoughts with you all here.
If you don't know what I mean by Dolby Cinema or Dolby Cinema at AMC, please check out THIS ARTICLE where we first demonstrated the premium cinema auditorium. And, for more information on Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos technologies, please click HERE and HERE, respectively.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE AWESOME FRANCHISES
I'm a pretty big fan of this new Apes trilogy despite (or perhaps because of) my limited affinity for the original Apes movies. I'm not saying they're bad, mind you; it's just a franchise I haven't experienced outside of a few casual Saturday afternoons back in the days where you had to watch commercials OR flip channels to find something else to watch.
Still, the new trilogy is special to me because these films are equal parts blockbuster entertainment and character-focused dramas. Also, as far as prequels go, they're uniformly surprising and dramatic where many feel inert and unnecessary. Especially in an era where blockbusters and franchise movies are often overlong and/or dramatically depend on you watching later chapters, the Apes trilogy works equally well as stand-alone chapters or one complete story.
In short, I'm in awe that these new Apes movies exist AND stand up next to modern cable television for having dynamic and complex characters... who just so happen to be CGI-rendered apes.
Where Rise began in our world, showcasing Caesar's childhood and the outbreak of a biological virus that was meant to cure Alzheimer's, Dawn took audiences ten years into the post-apocalypse for the first armed conflict between mankind and ape-kind. Both stories highlighted well-intentioned characters making mistakes while trying to do good things and a whole bunch of tragic outcomes.
War picks up only two years after Dawn, with Caesar trying to protect the apes from The Colonel and his army of soldiers who are hell-bent on hunting down and killing every last ape. Caesar still hopes for peace, sending back human survivors after battles, but The Colonel's definition of mercy is as brutal as his desire to destroy anyone, human or ape, who opposes his tactics.
There's more to the story, of course, but I managed to go into War unaware of the bigger plot-points and, because of this, was genuinely surprised by the story choices the filmmakers made. Effectively, if you're expecting another chapter akin to Dawn, this one goes in a different sub-genre direction.
What I will say is that the movie is grounded in some heartbreaking emotions that layer thematics on top of character arcs. War is very much about whether or not Caesar will lose his soul to avenge and defend his ape family, which is dramatically explored through every choice and consequence Caesar makes and experiences. The filmmakers have also added more of a female presence, which I applaud, and smartly continued to build, through callbacks and payoffs, towards a world that resembles the original franchise.
If you enjoyed Rise and Dawn, War is highly recommended; for everyone else, I would definitely recommend giving this trilogy a try so you can experience its third chapter on a premium, immersive, big screen where it's meant to be seen and heard.
Speaking of which...
As I was watching War for the Planet of the Apes, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. It looked quite good, don't get me wrong. Everything was clear and sharp, and the contrast was very good. Still, when you compare it to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 or The Jungle Book, those movies are so much more aggressively stylized (and colorful) than this gritty blockbuster with its cold and wintry color palette.
In fact, I was considering not writing this article...
Until afterward, when I popped into a conventional digital cinema auditorium, and my jaw dropped. It looked like UTTER GARBAGE by comparison. Graying black levels. Jacked contrast with severe shadow detail crushing. Drab and muted colors, especially the yellow subtitles for when the apes use sign language. And it wasn't as visibly sharp.
Hands down, watching War in Dolby Vision is like getting laser eye surgery after needing glasses for years. You can see all the fur follicles and tree branches and rusted metal fencing. You can see characters and locations in the shadows, even when they're intentionally out of focus. You can see the flickering orange fury of campfires and explosions. Colors are more vibrant and vivid and true. And black levels are actually black. In short, it's a night & day difference, folks. One you might not realize you're missing until it's too late.
Bottom line, and what I take away from this screening, is this: Dolby Vision won't always be show-stopping from an in-your-face color and visual spectacle department, in very much the same way that not all Blu-rays are demo material even when the transfers reproduce the original source materials perfectly. BUT when you go into a Dolby Cinema, or see a movie in Dolby Vision, you're going to get a dramatically more accurate, detailed, and colorful version of whatever film you're seeing. It's like buying an OLED display -- everything looks better even if you're not always obviously-wowed.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: by the way, there are other great premium cinema formats too -- IMAX Laser is extraordinary, for example -- and my intention here is ONLY to compare Dolby Cinema to standard digital cinemas, primarily because they are the only two formats in which I've seen War thus far. In short, if you prefer something else, that's great and feel free to tell us about it in the comments. Cheers!]
War arrives with another outstanding Dolby Atmos mix that, at times, is a touch more subtle than the theatrical mix released with Dawn, but serves its world-building well before becoming outright demo material during the film's climax.
With more of a wintery setting than the previous films, War knows when exactly when to ramp up, ping-ponging sound around the hemisphere, and when to be quiet. In that sense, the film often portrays moments of action and mayhem in a somber, dreamlike quality before returning to more traditional bombast.
This Dolby Atmos mix also excels at expanding the film's locations, where cave chambers echo with falling water and wind whips through snowy mountaintops and fire crackles in an empty hotel lobby. All of these choices uses Atmos' pinpoint precision to extend the movie OFF the screen, thrusting us into its universe.
Still, the mix can seem a little less overt compared to Dawn's theatrical mix, which featured many scenes in rainy forests with plenty of overhead sound placement. Until the climax that is, when War's Dolby Atmos mix becomes absolutely bonkers in a Fury Road kinda way. Precision Chaos is the good way to describe it; where, despite the madness on screen and surrounding us aurally, you can hear every sonic choice amidst the overall bombast. It's a lot of fun.
Overall, War boasts a very good Dolby Atmos mix and here's hoping Fox includes it on (at least) the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray because it's going to make a lot of sound enthusiasts happy.
Regardless of where it ranks in the series and against other modern franchise pictures, War for the Planet of the Apes is extraordinary blockbuster filmmaking that seamlessly blends emotion and character and thematics with a heaping dosage of thrilling action. Dolby Cinema, with its one-two punch of Dolby Vision projection and Dolby Atmos, enhances the whole experience with far more clarity and contrast and color. To be clear, the HDR grading and color palette isn't as in-your-face WOW as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 or The Jungle Book, but the standard SDR grading and performance capabilities of conventional digital cinemas literally pale in comparison.
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Posted Fri Dec 2, 2016 at 04:14 PM PST by
Michael S. Palmer
This week I had the great fortune to do something quite rare in the new-parenting universe. I went to the cinema. Twice! And, during this week's different-day double-feature, I realized a couple things. First, nothing replaces the full experience and scope of going to a movie theatre. More important, though, contrasting experiences underscored how vital it is to seek out a quality auditorium when stepping away from our home theatres.
My first screening was the contained sci-fi drama, 'Arrival', which is wonderful and heartbreaking and smart and everything in between. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Dennis Villeneuve and the rest of the cast and crew made an incredibly moving and suspenseful film. I loved every frame.
But I also loathed every frame.
No, there weren't any focus issues or obvious projector problems. The sound was actually quite good. Cellphones stayed in pockets. And the auditorium itself was a modern and well-maintained Arclight location. But the contrast. Good lord, this purposefully shadowy movie was cast almost entirely in smudged GRAYNESS thanks to certifiably abysmal black levels. And with no black levels -- no contrast -- you lose colors and the overall image seems softer. It's a feedback loop for mediocrity.
I hadn't realized it until this moment, but swapping between my Panasonic Plasma and the VIZIO P-Series and the LG E6 OLED (review next week!) has spoiled my ability to watch content on displays with crap contrast. I almost walked out because it's a bit of an artistic tragedy to watch films this way.
Then came my saving grace.
Then came 'Moana', which is currently heading into its second weekend at a variety of multiplexes, including several Dolby Cinema at AMC premium auditoriums.
If you don't know what I mean by Dolby Cinema, have a read over HERE to catch up. The quick definition is this: Dolby Cinema, or Dolby Cinema at AMC, is a state-of-the-art cinema experience that combines Dolby Vision (a dual 4K laser projection system with a MILLION-TO-ONE contrast ratio) with Dolby Atmos (a fully hemispherical surround sound system that adds more subwoofers, full range and overhead speakers, and individual speaker amplification to standard commercial surround sound), leather recliners, and a massive screen.
Dolby Cinema (along with other competing laser projection systems) is one of THE BEST ways to watch movies. It's on par going out and buying yourself an OLED or Full Array Local Dimming equipped Ultra HD LCD, only the screen is probably taller and wider than your house.
'Moana' is Disney's latest Princess story. Like 'Frozen', it is modern with a fully realized (but flawed) female lead whose story is all her own. In other words, she's not waiting to be saved by a loving prince. Moana is the daughter of a Pacific Islander chief. She dreams of exploring the open ocean, but Dad won't let her leave the protective boundaries of their island's reef. Moana is also special; she has been chosen by the ocean itself to take on a special journey to find and escort the demi-god, Maui, across the sea so he can return the stolen heart of an island. If Moana fails, her island will die along with everyone she knows and loves. It's also a musical with a chicken sidekick and tons of details portraying the Pacific Islander voyager cultures. Much like 'Arrival', I loved every single frame and can't wait to share it with my little girl.
On top of a great story and characters and action, I was fortunate enough to catch 'Moana' at the AMC Del Amo 18, which is home to one of the newest Dolby Cinema at AMC auditoriums. The best way to describe this film's video and audio quality is to say, if it was an Ultra HD Blu-ray with Dolby Atmos sound, it would be one of the best looking and sounding discs in your collection.
'Moana' is pure demo material from start to end.
The Dolby Vision graded imagery was gobsmackingly gorgeous and rendered with a dazzling array of colors. Unlike Pixar productions, Disney Animation Studios productions offer less semi-photo-real surfaces, but that's not a problem at all. Moana's Island is drenched in tropical forest greens and turquoise waters and pink sea shells. Her side-kick chicken bursts with a mix of brown and purple. Moana's manta-ray spiritual guide shimmers in and out of the rolling waters with a neon glow. Maui's tattoos appear handmade in a deep shade of black. Volcano-monsters erupt with red and orange lava. And this one underwater realm of bioluminescent monsters features some of the most vivid colors ever put to film (to digital?). It's all incredible. Textures too are well rendered and bold, from creatures and clothing to the canoe sails to Moana's hair (both dry and wet). Dolby Cinema at AMC typically only plays is 2D, but the Dolby Vision version of 'Moana' is so clear it feels like you're watching glasses-free 3D.
(For what's it's worth, I checked with Dolby and did confirm 'Moana' is in the DCI P3 color space, but I thought maybe that sequence in the underwater land of the monsters was Rec 2020.)
'Moana's Dolby Atmos mix is shut-up-and-take-my-money good. If THIS track doesn't convince Disney's home entertainment division to include the Atmos mix on the Blu-ray, we may never hear a Disney film at home beyond 7.1. Compare this mix to what Marvel's doing with Atmos and it's a clear demonstration of how filmmakers can 1) utilize this technology in vastly different ways and 1) a lesson on how you can build entire aural universes with object-based audio. This mix rockets back and forth between intimate and grand, delivering everything from the subtle nuances of gently lapping waves and pecking chickens to the hemispherical immersion of epic Disney musical numbers to the all out assault of action sequences that are as thrilling as anything in 'Mad Max Fury Road'.
I just can't get over how Dolby Atmos, when done as right as it was here, tears away the sensation of sitting in a darkened room and propels audiences directly into the story. One moment I was a husband and father in his mid-30s, and the next I was a young princess listening to the songs of my ancestors, charging across the tropical seas with voices and orchestras and sound effects cascading all around me. I was also a fan of the mix's aggressive use of overhead sounds and deep rumbling bass. Like I said, demo material... made all the more pleasurable because the movie's also pretty great.
I write about Dolby products a lot. Sometimes because they invite me. Sometimes because I need a story. And sometimes, like today, because I'm simply in awe of what I've just experienced. As such, my goal here is to shout into this universe that QUALITY matters. Quality impacts the emotional experience of going to the cinema. And sure, quality won't save a bad movie, but it certainly adds to the magic of the good ones.Continue Reading
So do yourself a favor. Don't miss the chance to see 'Moana' in a Dolby Cinema before it's too late (click HERE for a list of locations). We may never get another opportunity to see and hear it as the filmmakers intended... on a sixty-plus-foot screen with laser-quality black levels surrounded by several dozen high-end speakers. Cheers.
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