Planet Of The Apes: The Evolution

Planet Of The Apes: The Evolution (2000)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell
Extras: Theatrical Trailers, Photo Galleries, Web Links

Just little more than year ago the thought of getting to see the entire "Planets Of The Apes" quintology on DVD appeared to be nothing but wishful thinking. Until one day during a visit at <$THX, THX>’s offices in Burbank I managed to catch a glimpse of "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" flickering over one of the screens. For almost one year, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has been preparing the release of these highly acclaimed and beloved science fiction films to present them in this 6-disc box set collection. While this is a very commendable effort there is a minor downside to it and I can already here people complain about it – literally. This extensive project was started before 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment made its commitment to support all DVD releases with <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfers, which had a lot to do with the studio’s internal policies. As a result none of the films in this box set contains <$16x9,anamorphic> transfers, although all films are presented in THX-certified <$PS,widescreen> presentations.

The first film in the set is the original movie "Planet Of The Apes" with Charlton Heston in the lead as an astronaut who ends up in a strange world in which Apes dominate the planet, while humans are hunted, abused, violated and used for experiments the way we commonly treat animals. The parable of the story was easily visible for everyone and with its political commentary "Planet Of The Apes" made a very strong social point that burnt itself indelibly into viewers’ minds. Not much has changed in the way the film works its magic and for very good reason, this first film in the series is still considered the very best science fiction movie of its kind and time. Its influences can be felt in many films that followed inside and outside of the "Planet Of The Apes" series.

The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Although the picture is generally clean and clear, occasional defects in the source print and registration problems are evident. The slightest signs of grain are visible sporadically, but it is never distracting from the actual experience of the film. The film’s colors are nicely reproduced with its slightly subdued sand colors and pastel tones, which were an important part of the film’s post-apocalyptic look and feel. Slight signs of edge-enhancement are visible almost throughout the film and although not necessarily distracting, the resulting ringing artifacts are noticeable on occasion. The compression has been very well handled and not a hint of compression artifacting is evident anywhere in the presentation.

"Planet Of The Apes" features a newly remixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that has been created from the film’s original sound elements. Due to the limitations of recording technologies in 1967 however, when the film was shot, even after the remix the film has a rather harsh sound quality with a limited frequency response and limited dynamic range. The surround mix introduces a good, unaggressive spatial integration that uses surrounds only sparingly and the bass extension, although present, does not have the presence you may expect. Still, the audio presentation is clean, without noise or distortion and makes this a very pleasant experience.

Two years after the original came "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes," a sequel that was worthy and very well done. After astronaut Taylor and his crew went missing in the first film, this sequel tells the story of a rescue mission sent to space to search for their whereabouts. Also stranded on the "Planet Of The Apes" this film takes the social commentary one step further and explores the idiosyncrasies of the Ape culture deeper, with direct comparisons between our own society and that of the Apes. Especially the issue of military presence and warfare become central themes of the movie until the final climactic battle between the species.

Also coming as a 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> presentation, "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" has an equally clean and stable image as the first part in the series. Colors are nicely reproduced, once again maintaining the subdued color schemes of the series while rendering skin tones very naturally. Slight grain is visible on occasion as well as signs of edge enhancement, accompanied by ringing artifacts, which are especially noticeable in outdoor scenes. Without any compression artifacts however, the presentation of the film captivates through its clean and sharp rendering of the movie.

This disc features a <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track that is well produced. Although surrounds are used rather infrequently, the integration of the front stereo field is very good, lending a lot of dimension to the film and giving it a very active feel. The track does not suffer from the technical limitations as much as the original one and manages to create a much more natural sounding presentation. Frequency response and bass extension, while still limited, never interfere with the experience itself, making this disc a very pleasant experience.

The third film in the series is "Escape From The Planet Of The Apes," in which the tables are turned. Cornelius and Zira, two Apes from the planet, travel through space to present day Earth. As expected curiosity among Earth’s citizens is soon overtaken by the fear of the unknown, greed and selfishness. Although the two are first treated like royalties, in the background plots and schemes are forged that put their lives in danger and culminate when Zira gives birth to her baby Milo, a Simian that could threaten mankind’s world domination. By many considered the best sequel in the entire series, this film focuses mainly on the humanitarian aspect of our society and man’s constant fear of inferiority, that is frequently responded to with hostility. Especially the "courtroom" scenes are impressive in their poignant observation of human stereotypes.

Like the previous films, "Escape" is presented in its 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The film shows some signs of age and a number of registration problems cause the image to waver on occasion. It is comparable in quality to the other films, maintaining the movie’s subdued look and colors, although a slight over-emphasis of red tones is evident. Slight edge-enhancement is once again visible, especially in outdoor scenes. The compression is without flaws and does not show any compression artifacts, leaving all the details in the transfer fully intact.

The disc contains the movie’s original mono audio track. The frequency response is rather good, although dialogues appear harsh at times. The lack of any directionality of the monaural track creates an audio experience that is sufficient, albeit unimpressive. The audio is clear and dialogues are always understandable.

The next film in the collection is "Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes" a film, which takes the entire scenario to new extremes. Apes have replaced dogs and cats as man’s favorite pets in the world. Also used as servants, society is boiling under the surface. Deplorable state of affairs and mistreatment create a current of anarchy within the Ape population on Earth and soon a large-scale revolt is at hand. With massive riot scenes and mass violence, "Conquest" is the darkest, and most thrilling films in the series and is a sobering reminder who fragile societies are despite the illusion of safety and order maintained.

"Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes" comes in its 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Interestingly the transfer of the film on this DVD is quite grainy and signs of edge enhancement and the resulting ringing artifacts are evident practically throughout the movie’s presentation. Colors are well reproduced but don’t appear as clear and well defined as in the previous installments of the series. Compression has once again been handled very well without the introduction of compression artifacts.

This DVD contains a Dolby surround track that is clear and makes good use of the front stereo field. Surrounds are rather sparse, but especially during the mass scenes of the film you will notice a good integration in the surrounds to create a bustling and energetic atmosphere. The frequency response of the track is improved to that of the previous films and creates a more natural sounding sonic experience that is not as harsh sounding as the other films.

The final episode in the "Planet Of The Apes" quintology is "Battle For The Planet Of The Apes" and by most considered the weakest of all films. While I personally do not consider the film to be bad in any way, there are obviously only so many statements you can make about the state of society within the context of these films – and most of that social commentary had been exhaustively and effectively explored in the previous films. As such the film lives on the merits of its story alone and has little to add to the political sensibilities of the series. Suddenly a common threat appears in the world of the humans and the Apes in the form of a militant Gorilla. While on one side the Apes try to live in peace with the humans, this threat of civil war brings out the worst in both sides once again, culminating in an apocalyptic war that puts a climactic end to the saga.

The film is presented in its 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is mostly free of defects. Some grain and noise is evident in selected scenes and colors appear muted and grayish. It may have been a creative decision by the filmmakers, but somehow the film lacks the clarity and definition I would have expected. Although much of the film is playing outdoors, there are hardly signs of edge-enhancement in the transfer, giving the transfer a natural appearance. The compression is once again without flaws and entirely without distracting artifacts.

"Battle For The Planet Of The Apes" features a Dolby Surround audio track that is well produced and has a good frequency response. With natural sounding lows and a clear high end, the audio track also feels lively and active, although aggressive use of the surround channels is rather restricted and engaged only on occasion. Dialogues are always understandable and well integrated in the overall mix.

Each of the discs contains English and Spanish subtitles, as well as English and French audio tracks. You can also find web links and theatrical trailers for all the movies, combined with a cross promotion trailer, on all discs. Additionally to these features, the DVDs for "Planet Of The Apes" and "Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" also contains interesting photo galleries from the production.

The bonus highlight of the collection comes on a separate sixth disc, called "Behind The Planet Of The Apes." It contains a 2-hour documentary on the entire series that is hosted by late actor Roddy McDowall who played Simians in almost all five films. The documentary is presented in a full screen presentation and although generally clean, the image material sometimes leaves a bit to be desired as it appears soft and fuzzy, lacking definition, seemingly as a result of the compression. In this case however, it is the content that counts and the content of this documentary as superb. Covering all aspects of the films, from the creators, to the effects, the stories, pre-production, the actors, the TV series and everything else "Ape" related, the documentary is as exciting as the films itself. With rare archival footage and behind-the-scenes photos, as well as interviews, the material presented on this disc is a mesmerizing addition to the collection that gives fans of the series a chance to own a complete treatise of the series in one place, while also giving viewers the chance for renewed respect and appreciation for the work and commitment that resulted in these films.

Since none of the films from this "Planet Of The Apes" collection is sold separately, it is obvious that this box set is directly targeted at the true fans of the series, who understand that in order to fully comprehend the scope of the films and the stories, you have to watch all films or none at all. While one film by itself may be entertaining, it just can not do justice to the ambitious exploration of human society over the course of all five movies, and as such I find 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s decision to make the films available together rather commendable. It is too bad that work on these DVDs had begun before 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s stellar change in attitude towards DVD. The transfers, while good in overall quality, would undoubtedly have turned out spectacularly with new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfers and Fox’s new-found expertise in the DVD field. The limitations of these rather old transfers is noticeable and I am sure for many it may be distracting at times, but while not perfect, at least this collection gives fans of the series the chance to see all the movies in good and clean presentations without having to revert to artifact riddled VHS tapes or laserdiscs. The DVD versions are clean, sharp and detailed, making it a real fun experience to revisit "The Planet Of The Apes."