I am and have been a big fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise for many years, ever since I saw the original television series when I was a young lad. I didn’t actually see the movies at the cinema, (contrary to rumours – I am not that old), and actually saw it on television many years after the TV series. It was therefore with great relish that I found the review discs for this set sitting on my doorstep.
There are five movies in the series, and this box set includes them all. First off there is a 40th anniversary edition of Planet of The Apes, the theatrical versions of Escape from The Planet of the Apes, Beneath The Planet of the Apes, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (including a longer unrated version) and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes.
Chronologically these films tell the whole story, slipping into the future, then jumping back to fill in the background story and explain just how humans and apes swapped roles. It’s a good story line, and the discs help with plenty of features to keep you occupied. My only gripe is the introduction by the animated ape, an orangutan called Lawgiver. It would have worked much better if they could have included a live actor, using similar makeup to the originals.
However, this one gripe aside, the conversion of these movies to Blu-ray format is fantastic. The best has to be the original movie, which offers stunningly crisp views and a fantastic lossless 5.1 channel sound stage – much better than the mono original. This has obviously survived the test of time better than the majority of the sequels, which although are good conversions, suffer from the limits imposed by their plot lines and their lower budgets. However, all of the previous comments aside, the quality is still much higher than the DVD versions.
The big star in the sound department is the first move, and offers a very clear and precise 5.1 channel sound field. The difference between lossless sound and standard DVD Dolby Digital is very pronounced on my Pioneer surround system, with a richer and broader width to the sound field. The first sequel is of a similar quality, with the remaining three only dropping a little behind the first two. Subjectively speaking, this might have as much to do with the original subject matter as it does the source tapes. There is more significant hiss throughout the last three movies, and the placing of objects in the sound field sometimes alters, but all are still as good as a decent DVD mix.
Looking at the extras there is loads to plough through. As well as the usual features, such as commentaries and behind the scenes information, there are some specially made additions that fill in the background – such as an ANSA infomercial. There are also commentaries from Jerry Goldsmith, some of the actors and one of the makeup artists, in depth features on the background to the movies and a featurette called The Science of the Planet of the Apes. All of which are very informative, and which are available using either the bonus view feature or as individual features that can be called up off of the menu. In fact, to put it in context, there are so many features on all of the discs that you could easily spend twice as long viewing them as the movies themselves.
Talking about the movies, I thought it might be interesting to compare them both visually and by sound quality. Without getting too technical, the first film is one of the best conversions to hi definition that I have seen for a long while. Without going too far into detail, the 1080p conversion is superb – about as good as you could get with the source material that is supplied. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and is framed in a letterbox format. If your TV supports it, you can expand this out without too many issues. The quality of the transfer suffers only slightly from being sourced from film, with the odd artefact showing up, but is still very good. However, I am surprised that given the conversion to a HD format, there was no digital touch up on the affected frames. However, it all adds to the feel of the movie.
The immediate sequels, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Escape from the Planet of the Apes are not quite so good. I think they suffer a little because of the original film quality, with more artefacts and speckles appearing throughout, but again this is not bothersome. Quality of landscapes and facial details is superb and like the Planet of the Apes original, you see more from these conversions than you might possibly see on the DVD versions. Textures on costumes and backgrounds are superb, and don’t suffer at all when they are shot indoors. What is interesting is that minor problems with the facial makeup are more visible on these later films than the original. Altogether, though, the first three movies offer a superb conversion that offers excellent visual quality.
The last two films in the series offer adequate but not stunning visuals. In places, darker scenes show artefacts and there is inconsistency in the transfer. Colours offer stunning visuals one second, but sometimes fall flat or go grainy in the following scenes. Reds are bright one second and then go flat the next. Personally, there is very little to differentiate the two films with regard to quality, and on my 32” screen I would not honestly be able to tell you which one is the better. However, although the quality is lower than the previous versions, it is still better than the DVD conversions that I have seen, and benefits from the HD transfer.
Finally, we’ll concentrate on the box and the other items that are included with it. As well as the Blu-ray versions of the movies, there is a 200 page book and a lovely looking hardback album that contains the discs themselves. This same album has a timeline printed upon it that doesn’t quite match with the date shown on the ship in the first movie, but matches up with the rest. Altogether, a delicious package.
You’ll note that I have said very little about the plot with regard to these movies. That is mainly due to the fact that most people will be buying these movies because they are already fans or want to upgrade from the DVD versions. The plot line is stronger over the first movie than its sequels, but as a whole you get a strong story that has survived the test of time.
Altogether, as a package, this is a stunning box set. I have not yet come across one that offers as extensive a list of extras, and for between £60 and £80, (depending where you purchase it), you get a fully rounded package that should be on every ape fans shopping list.
Thank god they didn’t include the remake.
Planet Of The Apes Evolution is out now.
30 December 2008