I have to believe that there’ll come a time when robots are out, about and walking around us. For all I know that time could be now (we never know what the governments of the world are really working on now, do we)? Still, until then, I suppose we’ll have to keep watching movies like this to get some sort of sense as to what “the future” will really be like. When watching the trailer for Chappie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a few films – namely RoboCop (the original) and the mid-80’s classic Short Circuit. More on those later. This got me thinking, though, of the two previous films by Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp. District 9 was an unexpected hit and even four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. This set the stage for his second film, Elysium, which starred Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. While not as highly regarded as its predecessor, I still enjoyed it. And, let’s face it, if you can get Jodie Foster in a movie then you’re doing something right. With Chappie, the same structure is still there, but this time with a different set of rules. Is it all it’s cracked up to be or should Blomkamp have quit while he was ahead (or at least changed direction)?
Set in the very near future the city of Johannesburg, South Africa is in peril. Crime is out of control until the release of the “Scout” program. These robots are police and don’t have the human weaknesses like their flesh and blood counterparts. Crime goes down, the corporation that manufactures the robots is flying high and all is well. Or is it? Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the brains behind the robots, but has an idea to make a sentient version in order to increase efficiency. He’s denied by the CEO (Sigourney Weaver). Throwing caution to the wind, he steals a unit marked for destruction and on the way home is kidnapped by two small-time criminals. Held at gunpoint they force him to program the robot to help them with their heist to steal $200 million. Conversely, Deon’s nemesis, Vincent (Hugh Jackman) is trying to get his own robot line launched, but is summarily denied. Vincent gets wind as to what Deon’s been up to and uses it as an excuse to serve his own needs.
There’s a lot going on in the film, so I didn’t want to be too encompassing. Of note, I think we can all assume that the robot’s name is Chappie and it’s voiced by Sharlto Copely, a Blomkamp regular who held the title role in District 9 and played the antagonist in Elysium. Now I, for one, actually enjoyed the film. It’s gotten mixed reviews mainly since Blomkamp’s previous two films have been so highly-regarded. That and I have to say that it’s nice to see Hugh Jackman take on the role of that antagonist (and sport an amazing-looking mullet). Yes, there are some obvious things that happen in this movie, but one thing I’ve always enjoyed about these films is that the visual effects somehow seem more lifelike than the standard Hollywood faire. There aren’t corny one-liners and the characters seem to have more depth. I’m fairly sure that fans of District 9 and Elysium will feel right at home here so I won’t hesitate to give it a recommendation.
Video: How’s it look?
Being a relatively new movie, Sony wisely gave this the 4K treatment and I was pretty excited to see how it stacked up against it’s Blu-ray counterpart. As I’ve found with most newer Ultra HD/4K titles, there’s really not a night and day difference between this and the Blu-ray format, but right away I was pretty taken with the image. The colors seems a bit more broad (due in no small part to the HDR expanded color range), the image a tad bit sharper and it just seemed to resonate with that 4K quality (if that makes any sense). I guess it’s a weird habit/hobby I have, but whenever I watch a Sony movie I always try and find any reference to a Sony product in the film. We’re treated to a few shots of PS4’s, a Sony TV and the mainstay – a Sony Vaio computer. I mention this because this picture is so crystal clear that it’s easy to pick out little details like this.The 2.40:1 AVC HD image is among the best I’ve seen this year. Everything seems to fluid and pure. The visual effects seem so effortless it’s as if Chappie is a real robot and there are no effects. Does that make sense? Colors are a bit on the muted side, which seems to be a theme in these films. Still, black levels and contrast are solid and the seems to be this visual quality and texture that’s simply not present in other films. This one looks amazing.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Being a 4K title, the DTS HD Master Audio found on the Blu-ray (which is still there, albeit on only the Blu-ray version) has been replaced with a Dolby Atmos track and if you’re not so equipped, a Dolby TrueHD track. As much as I wanted to tell myself that there really wasn’t that much of a difference between the two, it was actually noticeable in more than a few instances. The range is all over the place, it just seems to have more life and energy than the DTS track. Even before the credits popped up, I was fairly certain that I’d be in for a ride. And, sure enough, it delivered. I was watching the movie late at night, so for fear of waking the wife up, I didn’t have it cranked all the way up – still, it delivers. Vocals are rich and pure, the South African accent is noticeable in most of the lead actors and even Chappie the robot sports it. The front stage is active, coupled with the constant support of the surround speakers. The LFE get plenty of time to shine and I’m sure I don’t have to say that things, lots of them, blow up. This isn’t quite as impressive as the audio, but it’s close. This will not leave viewers disappointed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The extras on this Ultra HD/4K title are the exact same that came with the Blu-ray. All of the features can be found on the Blu-ray disc and not the 4K which is a bit of a bummer, but at least they’re there.
Alternate Ending – A bit more extended than the theatrical ending and a bit darker as well. I much preferred the theatrical one.
Extended Scene – Entitled “Very Bad Men” this is a longer and a bit more graphic fight sequence between Chappie and Victor.
Featurettes – Each runs around ten minutes and they cover the history of the film as well as some of the technical aspects in bringing it to the screen.
From Tetra Vaal to Chappie – Blomkamp discusses the origin of his idea for Chappie and bringing some of the elements from his original 2003 work into this film.
Joss: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting – The city of Jozi, South Africa is profiled as it’s used in the film. The real-life crime is prevalent and we’re introduced to some of the various things that made this the perfect setting for the film.
Chappie: The Streetwise Professor – The character of Chappie is profiled, but more to the point is that of Sharlto Copely’s role as Chappie. Using motion capture we can see that all of the actions are his and not just the voice.
We Are Tetravaal – This is essentially a five minute homage to Sigourney Weaver and her role in the film is that she’s so identified with the Science Fiction genre for her role in the Alien films.
Keep it Gangster – The characters of Ninja and Yo-Landi are profiled (who play an exaggerated version of themselves).
Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts and Special Effects – This is pretty self-explanatory as the stunts in the film are dissected as well as the most natural use of the stunt men (i.e. “we can fix it in post production” doesn’t really apply). Blomkamp’s past career as a visual effects artist comes into play here and does explain why the visual effects seem so effortless.
Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots – A look at some of the weapons used in the film (pink uzi’s and yellow machine guns included) as well as some of the more recent trends in the world of robotics and crime-fighting.
Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects – The look and feel of the robots was visualized from the ground up and built almost entirely in the digital world, but had to be created as a real-life working robot as well.
The Reality of Robotics – We get a crash course in robotics as well as the current state as to what they can do. They can learn, though the “free thinking” robot as explored in the film is still a ways off (and that’s probably for the best).
The Art of Chappie: Gallery – Broken down into sections: Chappie, Moose, Yobot, Production Design, Storyboards, Director’s Sketches and Poster art.
Previews – Powers, Fury, Aloha, Air and Predestination.
The Bottom Line
Fans of Blomkamp’s other films will feel right at home here. The film is a bit predictable, but it’s visually-stunning as well as well written and acted. The Ultra HD/4K has the same features as the Blu-ray (also included) and features reference-quality video, superb audio. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this as a blind purchase, those that have even a passing interest in the movie will enjoy this disc.