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In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force.  But, now, the people are fighting back.  When one police droid, CHAPPiE, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.  As powerful, destructive forces start to see CHAPPiE as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that CHAPPiE is the last of his kind. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 CHAPPiE
When computer animator-turned-director Neil Blomkamp made his feature debut, it was a minor miracle. Culled from his celebrated short, Alive in Joburg, and the dregs of a failed adaptation of the Halo videogame, District 9 was a fresh take on familiar science fiction themes. That freshness, as well as its fantastic energy, helped to propel it beyond some ungainly supporting characters and clumsy plotting. The social subtext, if you can even consider it subtext, was aggressive, but fit the 2009 political landscape. Blomkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, was a textbook sophomore slump – too much of the same with only a bigger budget and ineffective celebrity appearances to cover the amplification of old problems. It wasn’t a disaster, but its shortcomings did make District 9’s strengths seem a little less special.

Blomkamp’s latest, CHAPPiE, continues the thread with an even more familiar story, that of a robot that learns what it means to be human. He and co-writer/partner/collaborator Terri Tatchell developed this film as an extension of another one of the director’s shorts, Tetra Vaal, and have borrowed oft-used elements from classic sci-fi literature. Most audiences will recognize these themes from Paul Verhoven’s Robocop and, sigh, Kenneth Johnson’s Short Circuit 2. The first and last acts have an incredible number of oddly specific things in common with Robocop (the ‘evil’ warbot looks like ED-209 and the non-CHAPPiE robot voice even sounds like Peter Weller), while the middle act re-contextualizes the basic beats of the two Short Circuit movies. So, the narrative is more predictable than either of the director’s previous movies, but it can be engaging with tempered expectations. The bigger problems are the too on-the-nose dialogue (which doesn’t even leave room for satire) and the fact that all of the best stuff is relegated to the end, leaving behind a bland core that reminds us too much of other movies.

 CHAPPiE
More of the same is disappointing, but it doesn’t always signify the end of a promising career. Most filmmakers obsess over the same themes and plenty of others – Dario Argento, Wes Anderson,  Ishiro   H o n d a, et cetera – have successfully remade a movie over and over again. If we assume Blomkamp is out of new ideas and that he’ll keep making variations on a theme, it’s probably better to approach his movies in terms of structural and technical growth. Those of us that are still enjoying his output will also have to dig deeper to discover what makes it special. In my case, it is Blomkamp’s adolescent side that continues to appeal to me. Like his friend and mentor Peter Jackson, Blomkamp’s is kind of a sap. He likes tear-jerking moments and sickeningly bittersweet endings – neither of which usually fit the R-rated action mode. CHAPPiE follows the pattern, but has a bigger hurdle to surmount in terms of its cutesiness. Happily, the precious streak (much of which Blomkamp credits to Tatchell in the special features) isn’t nearly as grating as the trailers implied, because it usually fits alongside the equally graceless hardships that surround CHAPPiE’s life lessons. It’s sort of a case of two wrongs making a right, assuming that the viewer can accept the ridiculous emotional extremes (which fits thematically, considering the title character’s exaggerated emotional state).

Also, like Jackson, Blomkamp’s childishness rears its head with gross-out gore gags. Here, CHAPPiE fails to meet my expectations of nastiness, serving up only a single sloppy death. Still, despite the relative lack of blood & guts, the action scenes are very well-executed. Blomkamp falls back on familiar imagery (I swear that the first big shoot-out takes place on the exact same location used during the first big shoot-out in Elysium), while also building on previous visual achievements. The action (which is, unfortunately, relegated mostly to the final act) successfully blends two currently overused conventions – shaky-cam, cinéma vérité chaos, and extreme (sometimes unmotivated) slow-motion. It’s easily savored and much more dynamic than the uncharacteristically stifled action of the more budget-endowed Elysium.

 CHAPPiE
Blomkamp’s affection for truly weird characters is similarly admirable, though it is a mixed blessing in this case. The ‘star’ human cast, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman, are all surprisingly comfortable with the awkward exposition and single-facet characters. Jackman in particular gets a load of mileage out of being the consistently angry, mulleted main villain. Copley’s fleshy presence is missed (especially after he was the best thing about Elysium), but he proves to be confident in the motion-capture suit. The ‘heart’ of the cast are Ninja and ¥o-landi Vi$$er of the hyper-obnoxious ‘Zef’ hip-hop group Die Antwoord. Though they’re better actors than their horrible music would imply (note that Eminem was the first choice as lead for Elysium), the fact that so much of the film’s character is built around their personas is pretty off-putting. However, they’re also one of the only unique elements of the film and the Zef culture makes CHAPPiE a distinctly South African crime story, so their annoying presence often feels justified in the bigger picture. It also helps that Die Antwoord are presented as sort of terrible criminals.

 CHAPPiE

Video


CHAPPiE was shot mostly using Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p video on this Blu-ray release. It is also part of Sony’s ‘Mastered in 4K’ collection, which doesn’t really mean a lot, since it is compressed to 1920 x 1080 pixels, but at least verifies it was mastered from a really nice source. The image quality is basically as close to perfection as we can expect from the format. Blomkamp and his usual cinematographic collaborator Trent Opaloch revisit the basic visual style of their previous films, including a lot of high-contrast photography with loads of visual information. This leads to oodles of hard edges, intricate details, and deep blacks. The ‘Mastered in 4K’ line promises ‘expanded colour’ qualities and the results are hard to argue here. Despite the generally washed-out, bright desert look, the palette is vivid and quite eclectic. Darkened interiors, which tend to be lit with neon, are especially impressive. There is some digital noise in the harsher gradations, but this should be expected, even from a format as high in resolution as Red (i.e. there are a few outdoor establishing shots recoded with different camera rigs and they feature a lot more digital artefacts).

 CHAPPiE

Audio


This Blu-ray includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. There’s a lot of noise moving throughout the channels, even during the expositional sequences. Between Hans Zimmer’s continuous music, whirring machinery, and accentuated incidental effects, the surround environment is well-engaged. The action scenes are, of course, the highlights and include big crowd noise, directionally-enhanced gunfire, and a number of punchy explosions. Zimmer’s frenetic score doesn’t sound particularly ‘Zimmer-esque,’ but perhaps that’s for the best, considering the years of being inundated with the composer’s trademark sound. The action cues are a fantastic meeting of choral and techno sensibilities. The soundtrack is peppered a handful of Die Antwoord’s original tunes, all of which offer heavy LFE support.

 CHAPPiE

Extras


  • Alternate ending (5:20, HD) – A more satisfying conclusion, with incomplete special effects.
  • Extended Scene: A Very Bad Man (1:30, HD)
  • From Tetra Vaal to Chappie (7:30, HD) – Blomkamp, Tatchell, producer Simon Kinberg, and the cast discuss the themes and images carried over from the Tetra Vaal short and how they were expanded for the film.
  • Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting (15:00, HD) – A look at the real-world locations around Johannesburg, including more cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Chappie: The Streetwise Professor (9:30, HD) – Concerning both the characterization of CHAPPiE and Copley’s motion-capture performance. It includes before and after comparisons of Copley in the mo-cap pajamas and the finished shot.
  • We Are Tetravaal (5:50, HD) – On casting Weaver, Patel, and Jackman.
  • Keep It Gangster (7:10, HD) – On casting Die Antwoord and the other criminal characters.
  • Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts & Special Effects (14:20, HD) – I suppose the title describes this featurette pretty accurately.
  • Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots (6:30, HD) – A look at the robot and weapon designs as well as their real-life counterparts.
  • Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects (8:00, HD) – Another title that sort of speaks for itself.
  • The Reality of Robotics (5:30, HD) – A discussion with robotics professor Dr. Wolfgang Fink about present-day robotics capabilities and next-generation artificial intelligence.
  • The Art of Chappie photo galleries
  • Trailers


 CHAPPiE

Overall


I expected to dislike CHAPPiE, but, once I stifled my expectations, I actually enjoyed the sum of its charmingly rickety parts. Neil Blomkamp is certainly guilty of exploring familiar themes, not to mention recycling plot points from other, more popular movies, and the presence of Die Antwoord can be reallydistracting, but there’s still a lot here to enjoy. The Blu-ray is pretty fantastic, too, including a brilliant HD image, a lively DTS-HD MA soundtrack, a superior alternate ending, and a solid collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 CHAPPiE
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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