Tag Archives: digital

‘Witcher 3,’ ‘Fallout 4’ lead top 10 games of 2015

Associated Press video game critics Lou Kesten and Derrik J. Lang’s favorite titles of the year featured monster hunters, treasure hunters, guardian spirits and murder suspects:

LOU KESTEN

1. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: This role-playing drama from Poland’s CD Projekt Red set a new standard for weirdness when it sent his hero in pursuit of a flying ghost fetus. For all its baroque touches, “Witcher 3” boils down to a domestic drama about a jaded warrior and his impetuous adopted daughter — and it’s quite moving.

2. “Fallout 4”: The latest epic from Bethesda Softworks crams in a bunch of genres — role-playing, first-person shooter, even a civilization-building — and veers from hilarious black comedy to heartbreaking tragedy. It’s most memorable for its haunting vision of humanity somehow surviving after nearly destroying itself.

3. “Super Mario Maker”: Nintendo gives its fans all the tools they need to build two-dimensional challenges starring Mario and his crew. Somewhere out there, kids are learning the ropes on their way to designing the games we’ll be talking about 20 years from now.

4. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This melancholy yet action-packed adventure follows an orphaned spirit creature as it tries to restore life to a devastated woodland. It’s the year’s most beautiful game — and one of its most challenging.

5. “Her Story”: Viva Seifert plays a young wife with a missing husband in this time-hopping mystery that takes place entirely within a police interrogation room. I’m not sure it’s even a “game,” but creator Sam Barlow’s clever plotting and Seifert’s nimble performance combine to deliver a knockout tale.

6. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Chapter two of the franchise reboot finds young Lara Croft searching for the secret to immortality. It’s at its best when the Tomb Raider is, you know, raiding tombs, with clever environmental puzzles that work your brain cells harder than your reflexes.

7. “Pillars of Eternity”: A character cursed with mysterious visions tries to find out why babies are being born without souls in this indie role-playing game from Obsidian Entertainment. Fans of old-school classics like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Planescape: Torment” will feel right at home.

8. “Undertale”: This lo-fi project from Toby Fox turns game conventions upside-down. A human child is trapped underground — but instead of killing all the monsters he encounters, he can negotiate with most of them. It’s a thought-provoking approach, and one I hope more big game publishers will notice.

9. “Rock Band 4”: The ultimate party game returns, inviting you to jam anew with all those fake instruments that have been gathering dust over the last five years. The ability to download songs you purchased for earlier versions is a huge bonus. (“Guitar Hero Live,” which streams its tunes, is pretty good, too.)

10. “Until Dawn”: A bunch of teenagers plan a weekend at a secluded cabin. What could go wrong? This thriller initially looks like dozens of slasher movies, but it twists all the familiar tropes into something perversely original. Throw in a witty performance by TV’s breakout star of the year, Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot,” and you have a nasty little horror gem.

DERRIK J. LANG

1. “Fallout 4”:  Despite its unforgiving density, “Fallout 4” was the year’s most captivating title. I wanted to stop returning to Bethesda Softworks stylish version of a nuclear-ravaged Boston and the staggering array of choices it presented, but I couldn’t stay away from carving out my own destiny in this special role-playing saga.

2. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: From the bonus swag in the box to the gratis downloadable content, the third installment in CD Projekt Red’s sweeping role-playing series is as much of a love letter to fans of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia as it is to the fantasy genre as a whole. This majestic entry should be remembered for years to come.

3. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”: After a stunning 28 years of crafting “Metal Gear” games, Hideo Kojima’s open-world coda brought the walls surrounding protagonist Snake down for the first time. In a year overstuffed with open-world titles, “Phantom Pain” was the most technically flawless of them all.

4. “Her Story”: Sam Barlow’s voyeuristic mystery is a rarity. The game features a provocative performance by actress Viva Seifert and gameplay that almost anyone can engage with because it involves simply searching for words on a screen. If more developers created games like “Her Story,” the medium would be taken more seriously.

5. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Lara Croft is on a roll. After a much-need reboot of the treasure hunting franchise, developer Crystal Dynamics keenly avoids a sophomore slump with a snowy, survival-focused second installment that meticulously builds on what made 2013’s “Tomb Raider” an adventure worthy of the iconic heroine.

6. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This luminescent platformer did something that no “Super Mario Bros.” has ever accomplished. It made me tear up — and that’s not just because it’s so darn difficult. Moon Studios managed to artfully balance intricate riddle solving with an emotional tale about loss and discovery.

7. “Sunset”: While most games tell war stories from behind the barrel of a gun, “Sunset” dared to do so on the other side of a mop handle. Yes, it sounds boring to play as a housekeeper tasked with cleaning — and snooping around — er boss’ penthouse. Belgium developer Tale of Tales made it a strangely evocative interactive experience.

8. “Splatoon”: With an overreliance on a certain bouncy plumber, Nintendo has long been guilty of playing it safe. That totally changed this year with the introduction of the loveable paint-wielding squid kids. A splashy aesthetic and adrenaline-pumping action helped “Splatoon” successfully roll over all other multiplayer shooters.

9. “Batman: Arkham Knight”:  Rocksteady Studios’ apparent swan song  in their incredible “Arkham” series finally unleashed the Dark Knight across all of Gotham — complete with the Batmobile at his disposal — without sacrificing the cerebral storytelling or majestic fluidity of its well-oiled predecessors. Ben Affleck should take note.

10. “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate”:  After last year’s buggy and boring edition set amid the French Revolution in Paris, Ubisoft’s stealth series rebounded in 2015 with a jolly jaunt to old England. A brilliant recreation of Victorian London — right down to the pubs — was a spectacular playground for quirky twin gangsters Jacob and Evie Frye.

‘Harry Potter’ e-books come to life in new Apple edition

You don’t need to be a wizard to see the “Harry Potter” books come to life.

The seven books are getting a makeover with more than 200 new illustrations in enhanced e-books made for Apple devices. More than half of the illustrations are animated or interactive, with such touches as a golden snitch from Quidditch matches flying away as you tap it on the screen. Series creator J.K. Rowling also goes deeper into some of the characters and story lines with a handful of pop-up annotations.

The editions are exclusive to Apple’s iBooks Store and require an Apple Inc. mobile device or a Mac computer to read. For other devices, including Amazon’s Kindle, standard electronic editions are available through Rowling’s Pottermore site.

The makeover offers readers young and old a new way to engage with the story. It also gives Rowling and her publishers an opportunity to resell these best-selling books, the last of which came out eight years ago. It’s akin to Hollywood releasing the same movies in new formats and with bonus materials.

While the illustrations are new and exclusive to the enhanced editions, Rowling’s annotations aren’t necessarily so. Rowling has been regularly posting new essays on Pottermore. She has traced Harry’s roots to a 12th-century wizard and has written about the origins of an invisibility cloak that appears throughout the series. Rowling has also penned supplemental books, including “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” a children’s book that was referenced in the last “Harry Potter” book.

Until recently, the Pottermore site also had a game that took readers through the books chapter by chapter, with riddles and other discoveries along the way. That game incorporated clips from the “Harry Potter” movies. The new e-books do not.

Instead, the new editions offer full-color illustrations and animation from Pottermore artists.

In one animation, you see multiple letters fly in through the fireplace with news of Harry’s acceptance to Hogwarts wizardry school. In another, an owl, a cat and the fog come to life on Platform 9 3/4, where a Hogwarts-bound train awaits. On the train, you see landscape moving by through a window.

In one scene of a feast, you can slide left and right to see the rest of a long table covered with food. It’s not obvious which illustrations are interactive. The idea is to get readers to explore.

There’s no sound, though. When Harry’s friend, Ron, gets an angry audio letter from his mother, you see steam coming out, but you don’t hear her screaming, as you do in the movie.

You can access Rowling’s supplemental materials by tapping a quill icon embedded in the text. For instance, you learn how students arrived at Hogwarts before train service began: Some rode on broomsticks, but that was tough with trunks and pets to bring along.

There aren’t many annotations, though. You get more backstory at the Pottermore site, but you need the e-books for the full text.

The books also get new digital covers to reflect each book’s theme — serpents for the second book, for instance. Artists also designed a new font with each letter incorporating a lightning bolt — the shape of a scar on Harry’s forehead. This font — named Fluffy, for a three-headed dog in the first book — is used for the opening letter of each chapter.

The books cost $10 each, or $70 for the series. There’s no discount if you already own standard electronic editions. English editions are available in the U.S. and 31 other markets right away. Editions in French, German and Spanish are coming Nov. 9.

‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheroes, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — sequel for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing for the most. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (See: “Man of Steel,” or rather, don’t.)

In Sokovia, they encounter duplicitous twins: the quick-footed Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mystical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The real villain, though, is the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human life. Spader plays Ultron who is too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs _ the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters _ are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. The movie’s hefty machinery _ the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut, “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.  

Jimmy Page revels in new Led Zeppelin re-masters

Jimmy Page started the project because he couldn’t believe how bad Led Zeppelin sounded.

The legacy of the band he’d devoted much of his life to was being muddied by the way its classic studio albums sounded when reproduced on the ubiquitous MP3 players that are popular today.

Instead of accepting that future generations would have to hear a cramped, compressed version of Led Zep’s sonic booms, Page has devoted several years to completely re-mastering the band’s extensive catalog in a labor of love — “Physical Graffiti,” which was released on this week.

“This whole re-mastering process is a result of listening to Led Zeppelin on MP3. It almost sounds as if someone has got into the master tapes and done a really horrendous mix of it,” Page said of the MP3 versions in a recent interview. “It just wasn’t representative of what we’d done in the first place. So many textures were missing. The whole beauty of Led Zeppelin, the air of it, these instruments coming in here and here and over here, was just totally destroyed.”

The re-mastering has taken several years, and the new editions include previously unreleased companion disks of outtakes, live performances and alternate versions of many songs. Page listened to hundreds of hours of tapes looking for gems. The 71-year-old guitar master, who wears his long silvery hair in a ponytail, is confident that the new versions will last and be easily adapted for the next round of technological innovation.

“At this point, we’re prepared for whatever may come, as far as high-resolution digital,” he said. “And we have the new versions on high quality vinyl, the CDs and digital. The object of the exercise has been achieved.”

Page is part of a select group of British guitarists — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and a few others — who emerged in the mid-1960s to put a new take on American rock ‘n’ roll. They were for the most part self-taught, Page said, and the technology they relied on was primitive indeed: They would buy singles of American songs designed to be played at 45 rpm and played them instead at 33 rpm, the speed designated for long playing records, not singles.

Page listened to Elvis Presley’s singles this way — to decode the guitar work — and Ricky Nelson, whose session guitarist was the revered James Burton.

“The way we all learned was from records,” he said. “You’d put on the 45, slow it down to 33, and try to work out these solos, note for note. That’s it. Everyone learned that way, as far as I can tell.

“I’d save up my pocket money and get every Ricky Nelson single, because you knew James Burton wasn’t go to let you down, ever,” Page added.

On the Web…

http://www.ledzeppelin.com/

Flashback 2014: Streaming, screening, obsessing

Streaming on Spotify

Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was 2014’s most streamed artist on Spotify, while Eminem topped the list in the United States.

Pharrell Williams’ ubiquitous “Happy” was the most streamed song of the year globally.

In the United States, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” was the most streamed song.

Katy Perry was the most streamed female artist and Coldplay was the most streamed group around the world.

Searching the Web

The No. 1 search topic on Yahoo in 2014: “Ebola.” Followed by “Minecraft,” “Ariana Grande,” “Jennifer Lawrence,” “Kaley Cuoco,” “Kim Kardashian,” “Frozen, “Miley Cyrus,” “iPhone 6” and “Jennifer Aniston.”

Sporting news

The top-searched sports events on Yahoo in 2014 were: No. 1, Brazil falls to Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup; No. 2, San Francisco Giants win a third title in five years in the World Series; No. 3, Seahawks triumph over Broncos in the Super Bowl; No. 4, Sochi plays host to the Winter Olympics; No. 5, NFL rocked by domestic violence cases.

Online obsessions

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge topped the list of most viral campaigns in 2014, according to Yahoo. Flappy Bird came in at No. 2, followed by Frozen, Fifty Shades of Grey, American Ninja Warrior, The Duggars, “All About That Bass,” Katniss Everdeen, Cleanses and Polar Vortex.

Stars without makeup

Searching for stars sans makeup apparently is a popular way of passing time on the Internet. On Yahoo in 2014, surfers most wanted to see Sofia Vergara without makeup, followed by Mila Kunis, Jennifer Lawrence, Joan Rivers, Faith Hill, Marilyn Manson, Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Ariana Grande.

Seeking to sing-along

The top-searched song lyrics in 2014: “Let It Go” from Frozen.

Tops on Tumblr

The most viral blogs on Tumblr in 2014: Taylor Swift, Ghost Photographs, Will It Beard, Literary Starbucks, Crying New York, Jerry Seinfeld Skeleton, Museum of Selfies, Sochi on Tinder, If They Gunned Me Down and B4-16. Check them out before the ball drops on 2015.

AT&T supports stricter standards for police cellphone tracking

AT&T has filed a federal court brief arguing that courts must account for people’s Fourth Amendment rights before authorizing law enforcement to get phone location histories from their cell service companies.

The ACLU characterized this as “a landmark move in the battle over privacy rights and new technologies.”

The company’s filing is a friend-of-the-court brief in the appeal of a criminal case, U.S. v. Davis, in which the government obtained four people’s cellphone location records over a 67-day period for a robbery investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has also filed a brief supporting the defendant, praised AT&T’s entrance into the case.

“We have a right to expect that companies that hold great volumes of our sensitive data will protect our privacy,” said Christopher Soghoian, ACLU principal technologist. “AT&T is doing a real service to its customers by adding its voice to the chorus seeking more robust legal protections for cell phone location information, which can reveal deeply private details of our lives.”

In this case in June, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that police need to get a warrant to get the location information, a first for a federal appeals court. The government has appealed that decision to the full 11th Circuit, and oral argument is scheduled for February 2015.

“Use of mobile devices, as well as other devices or location based services, has become integral to most individuals’ participation in the new digital economy: those devices are a nearly ever-present feature of their most basic social, political, economic, and personal relationships,” AT&T wrote in its brief. “Nothing in [past cases] requires that individuals must choose between participating in the new digital world through use of their mobile devices and retaining the Fourth Amendment’s protections.”

To get the information, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami got what is known as a “D-order” from a federal magistrate judge, named for the applicable section of the federal Stored Communications Act. However, the standard for getting a D-order is that it be “relevant and material” to an investigation, which is lower than the probable cause standard required by the Fourth Amendment. Although getting D-orders for location information has been a common law enforcement practice, the appeals court rejected it.

For one suspect, Quartavious Davis, police got 11,606 location records — an average of one location point every 8 minutes. Davis was convicted based largely on the cellphone location evidence, and he appealed.

Despite the court’s June ruling that the government should have gotten a warrant, the court allowed the conviction to stand because law enforcement had relied in good faith on the decision of the magistrate judge to issue a D-order.

The full 11th Circuit may also consider this “good-faith exception” in the appeal.

A similar case, U.S. v. Graham, is currently awaiting decision in the Fourth Circuit.

‘Enhanced’ e-book of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ out

Oprah Winfrey and Tom Brokaw are among the featured commentators for an “enhanced” e-book of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The e-book was released this week by HarperCollins. It also features a 1964 radio interview with Lee, who rarely speaks to the media. The regular e-book for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee’s only novel, came out in July. She had been one of the last major authors to withhold electronic rights.

HarperCollins spokeswoman Tina Andreadis says the new “Mockingbird” edition had received 6,500 pre-orders, far more than for the usual “enhanced” book. She says the publisher has sold 80,000 copies of the regular e-book, a figure comparable to print sales. Total worldwide sales exceed 30 million copies since the book’s 1960 release.

Both e-book editions are priced at $8.99.

‘Civilization’ shoots for the stars

Our planet isn’t in very good shape. The good news, according to “Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth” (2K Games, for the PC, $49.99), is that we’ll be able to hang around for another 500 years or so. The bad news: After that, we’d better start looking for a new home.

It’s not the freshest sci-fi premise — “Interstellar” has essentially the same setup — but it gives Meier and his Firaxis Games studio a chance to expand the beloved Civilization franchise to entirely new worlds. It’s a mostly successful transplant, though at times I wished its scope was even more cosmic.

You begin by selecting one of eight “sponsors.” The United States, Canada and Mexico are now part of the American Reclamation Corp., for example, while China, Japan and Korea have joined forces in the Pan-Asian Cooperative. Their figureheads lack the charisma of classic Civ leaders like Alexander and Napoleon, and their differences aren’t that substantial in the long run.

You have a few other choices regarding passengers, spacecraft and cargo, each of which accelerates the game’s early stages. Then it’s time to make landfall. Sadly, your new home isn’t entirely welcoming; some areas are drenched with a poisonous miasma, and the native insectoids are all too eager to make a meal out of anyone who ventures away from your colony.

Obviously, we’re well beyond the “dawn of man” setup of earlier Civs, so you don’t have to teach your settlers rudimentary skills like agriculture and writing. Instead, you have an elaborate “tech web” that starts with topics like physics and genetics and levels all the way up to exotic sciences like neural uploading and artificial evolution.

All this new technology is a bit overwhelming, and if you’re not a science fiction fan you may be baffled by terms like nanorobotics and geoscaping. But “Beyond Earth” provides a helpful quest structure that lets you focus on short-term goals while you figure out what it will take to conquer the planet.

The game also lets you invest in four kinds of “virtues”: might, prosperity, knowledge and industry. And you score points in three “affinities”: harmony (adapting to the planet), purity (preserving earthling qualities) and supremacy (evolving beyond human flesh). Those points are essential to your ultimate triumph, which can be achieved several ways. Harmony, for example, can lead to transcendence, defined as the “merging of consciousness of all living things with the latent sentience of the planet.” Heavy.

While you’re juggling all that, you also have to contend with the demands of neighboring factions from Earth, which you can handle diplomatically or aggressively. There are many complicated systems at play, but Firaxis makes them work together smoothly.

Players itching to build a galaxy-spanning empire may be disappointed, because once you’ve landed on your planet, you’re pretty much stuck there. But Civ fans looking for a new world to conquer will be over the moon. Three stars out of four.

Online:

http://www.civilization.com/en/games/civilization-beyond-earth/ 

College tradition: Beloit releases Mindset List for Class of 2018

Each August since 1998, Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, has released the Beloit College Mindset List, offering a look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering their freshman year at colleges and universities.

So this week, the school released the list for the class of 2018 — many in the class were born in 1996, have always had The Daily Show to set them straight, always been able to secure immediate approval and endorsement for their ideas through “likes” on their Facebook page and have rarely heard the term “bi-partisan agreement.”

How old — or how young — is the class of 2018? You can get an idea from this: Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes Ciccone Leon, is a member of the class of 2018 and has enrolled at the University of Michigan, which mom attended.

And the Beloit College Mindset List, assembled by Ron Nief and Tom McBride at Beloit College and posted on the school’s website, includes, in part:

• During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.

• When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.

• “Press pound” on the phone is now translated as “hit hashtag.”

• Celebrity “selfies” are far cooler than autographs.

• Hard liquor has always been advertised on television.

• Ralph Nader has always been running for President of the U.S.

• The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.

• In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.

• Women have always attended the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel.

• Pepsi has always refreshed travelers in outer space.

• Hong Kong has always been part of China.

• Courts have always been overturning bans on same-sex marriages.

• Bosnia and Herzegovina have always been one nation.

• Citizens have always had a constitutional right to a “dignified and humane death.”

• Nicotine has always been recognized as an addictive drug requiring FDA oversight.

• Coning has always been a fact, not science fiction.

• They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz.

• There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.

• The Unabomber has always been behind bars.

• Female referees have always officiated NBA games.

• Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.

• While the number of Americans living with HIV has always been going up, American deaths from AIDS have always been going down.

• They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.

• The rate of diagnosed diabetes has always been shooting up during their lifetime.

• Affirmative Action has always been outlawed in California.

• Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.

The complete list is online at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2018/.

Review: No monkey business in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Digital characters have by now long populated our movies like unwanted house guests. Some of these CGI inventions, like Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” have been pleasant, even precious company. But most have disrupted our movie worlds – and not just as monsters tearing our cities apart, but as awkward distractions to our cinematic realities. The name Jar Jar Binks will forever be followed by solemn head shaking. Never forget.

But in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the tables have turned, and not just because apes now rule a world where all but 1 in 500 humans have been wiped out by a so-called simian flu virus. No, the biggest uprising in the sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is by those digitally created, nonhuman characters which have finally and resoundingly come of age.

Hail Caesar.

That’s the ape played by Andy Serkis, the motion-capture maestro of creatures like Gollum and a much bigger ape, Kong. Serkis played Caesar in “Rise of the Planet Apes,” the surprisingly good origin story of the rebooted “Apes” franchise wherein chimps, injected with a serum meant to cure human brain damage, develop great intelligence.

Caesar was a fine character then, but in “Dawn,” he shifts to center stage.

It’s 10 years after the last film ended and Caesar is now a weary leader and firmly-rooted family man with a wife, a teenage son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a new baby. Who gets credit for Caesar’s deep, troubled eyes, Serkis or the effects by Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon? Does it matter?

Looking for a dam to restore power for a colony of human survivors, a group (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell) stumbles upon the monkeys’ Muir Woods home in the Redwoods outside San Francisco. The encounter sets off panic on both sides, as the firebrands in each community – the ape Koba, played by Toby Kebbell, and his human corollary, Gary Oldman – urge their species toward battle.

To a surprising degree, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” belongs to the monkeys. In the uncommonly sure-handed fusion of computer-generated and live-action images, apes are the more fully realized, expressive characters. Given that the apes communicate in sign language and spurts of English, this may be the biggest summer movie with so many subtitles.

Whereas Pierre Boulle’s original “Planet of the Apes” was satirical, director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) and screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback have given this “Apes” the grandly gloomy “Dark Knight” treatment, complete with an exceptional score by Michael Giacchino.

The movie feeds off a sense that, given the state of the planet, a reordering of the animal kingdom may be due. There’s a pervasive jealousy to the primates in “Apes”: their comfort in nature and simplicity of life. Audiences, in fact, will cheer the animals over the humans. And few will miss the gun control argument shallowly buried throughout the film. What would Charlton Heston have made of that?

But there’s also a question of putting too much gravity on an essentially absurd story. Eventually we have screaming monkeys on horseback firing automatic weapons amid roaring flames. One is tempted to lean forward and whisper, “`Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,’ your camp is showing.”

It’s gotten to be a very familiar ploy in Hollywood to remake previously light, cheesy entertainments with well-crafted, heavy grandiosity. So if there’s a failing of “Apes,” it’s that it feels like yet another manufactured franchise. Talented people like Reeves and Serkis are brought in like HGTV fixer-uppers to restore mossy pop-culture properties.

But, alas, they’re very good at it.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.” Running time: 130 minutes. Three stars out of four.