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Chappie: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Chappie (2015) movie poster Chappie

Theatrical Release: March 6, 2015 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Neill Blomkamp / Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Cast: Sharlto Copley (Chappie), Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Ninja (Ninja), ¥o-Landi Vi$$er (Yo-Landi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Yankie/Amerika), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley), Brandon Auret (Hippo), Johnny K. Selema (Pitbull), Anderson Cooper (Himself)

Buy Chappie from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HDDVDInstant VideoBlomkamp³ Limited Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD Collection

In 2009, Neill Blomkamp took the world by surprise with District 9. Made for a relatively modest $30 million, the feature debut of the young South African writer-director earned rave reviews and performed spectacularly at the box office
given that its only famous name belonged to producer Peter Jackson. It went on to become the rare science fiction film to elicit an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Heralded by many as a filmmaker to watch, Blomkamp took his time to make a second movie. Elysium arrived in 2013 with much more star power and a significantly bigger budget. Though still favorable, the reviews were not nearly as flattering and ticket sales were also down somewhat despite a wider opening.

Even if you enjoyed Elysium almost as much as District 9 (I did and thus included it in my Top 100 of the Half-Decade list), you had to acknowledge that Blomkamp's first two features were remarkably similar. Not only were both R-rated sci-fi action flicks, but they each also wielded social commentary, slum settings, and a final act that relied a bit too heavily on action. Those who called Blomkamp a one-trick pony seem to have pegged him correctly. His third film, Chappie, fills the exact same mold as its two predecessors, revealing Blomkamp to be in possession of cinema's most narrow playbook.

Ninja (Ninja) and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) teach sentient police robot Chappie how to be a gangster.

Chappie returns Blomkamp to Johannesburg,
where he was born and raised and where District 9 was set and partially shot. In the very near future, South Africa has devised the use of robotic police officers, an invention that has proved effective on combating crime while generating lots of profit for the technology company that manufactures them.

We open with a couple of low-level gangsters in a bind. The absurdly fashioned Ninja and Yo-Landi (Watkin Tudor Jones and ¥o-Landi Vi$$er of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, playing criminal versions of themselves) find themselves owing a formidable kingpin (Brandon Auret, who is oddly and unnecessarily subtitled) "20 million." Their plan to erase that debt involves abducting Deon Wilson (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel), the inventor of the robo-cops.

Turns out Ninja, Yo-Landi, and their American pal "Amerika" (Jose Pablo Cantillo) pick the right moment to nab Deon. They catch him in a company van along with a damaged robot that was scheduled to be destroyed. After being rejected by his boss (Sigourney Weaver, still enjoying the perks of being a sci-fi icon) over "red tape" concerns, Deon takes it upon himself to use this robot to test out the artificial intelligence program he has been tirelessly working on at home. After "consciousness.dat" is uploaded, the former police robot becomes a sentient newborn, with a capacity for speedy learning far beyond mankind's.

Yo-Landi names him Chappie, as her maternal instincts emerge in full force. The less patient, gun-toting, grill-toothed Ninja is eager to teach Chappie (who is voiced, robotically, and motion capture performed by Blomkamp's good luck charm Sharlto Copley) how to be bad, something he'll need to know to get the thugs the money they owe. Ninja fits Chappie with gold chains and tattoos, then teaches him how to overcome his innate aversion to harming others, duping him into stealing cars and even hurting the defenseless.

Meanwhile, another individual with terrible hair -- Deon's Australian workmate Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) -- discovers Deon's secret extracurricular activity with Chappie and sees it as an opportunity to test out the flight-capable military robot he's been developing to some resistance.

As Tetravaal's militaristic villain Vincent Moore, Hugh Jackman sports an unfortunate mullet.

It is bizarre and painful to observe how in a span of six years and just three films, Blomkamp has devolved from a deserving Best Picture nominee to a film that feels unworthy of theatrical release all the while sticking with the same themes, tone, and texture. The director flirts with the cinéma vérité of District 9 at the beginning, with documentary and news show footage (partly hosted by Anderson Cooper) functioning as pre-requisite exposition. That format is soon set aside for another gritty, explosive slum tale with obvious allegorical value. Actually, as allegory,
Chappie fails. District 9 turned alien-human relations into a metaphor for Apartheid racial prejudices. Elysium used a utopia to contemplate inequality in wealth and health care. Compared to those, Chappie comes up lacking, offering nothing more significant than some fleeting, incomplete thoughts on human nature.

The human characters of the film are universally unappealing. The titular hero, who is introduced much later than you'd like him to be, doesn't fare all that much better, his puppy-like unveiling soon giving way to an emulation of Ninja complete with swagger and nose rubs. I gather we are supposed to sympathize with Ninja and Yo-Landi, outcast outlaws driven by desperation. But there isn't much to sell us on this childish couple Chappie calls "Mommy" and "Daddy." Mommy at least reads the robot a bedtime story and tells him about souls and the afterlife. Daddy just wants him to jack cars, get money, and be "Robot Gangster Number One." Deon, "Maker" to Chappie, drifts in and out of the picture, his intentions seemingly noble and his haircut not cringe-worthy. The plot is too muddled and meandering to hook us on his angle either. His adversary, Vincent, is as poorly motivated as screen villains get. Certain story developments recall last year's much-bemoaned Transcendence (a film much better than this one).

Facets that were mildly concerning on Blomkamp's first two films have become downright problematic here. The director has always summoned more excitement for action and violence than he is able to generate for the viewer. When teemed with the originality of District 9, I hardly minded. On Elysium, it was a little more disappointing that the movie kind of fell apart at its end with overlong battles. Here on Chappie, there is no greater good to grab your attention, so the various flaws are glaring. Another shortcoming is the sheer lack of subtlety to Blomkamp's social commentary. With each film, his grip of understatement has loosened. It'd be tempting to credit co-writer Terri Tatchell for District 9's grace, but after merely receiving special thanks on Elysium, she shares script credit (and, therefore, blame) with the director, her husband. Repeatedly, their latest effort abandons realism, logic, and coherency to make cheap, fruitless plays for sympathy.

While this may seem like overreaction to a single misfire following two highly praised films, Chappie is a big enough disappointment for me to express lament over the progression of Blomkamp's career. That fresh, unique voice who emerged six years ago is proving to not have all that much to say. For now at least, he just seems to be saying the same things again and again with minor differences.

Chappie discovers he's not the only robot around...just the only one with true consciousness.

District 9 was his calling card, a display of what he could do with some money and his imagination. Elysium was his follow-up, a demonstration that he could make a similarly pleasing but no more commercially sound movie with a lot more money and American actors of renown. Chappie, whose budget is less than half of Elysium's, strikes me as his Lady in the Water, a movie that frustrates and gets people to turn on him. I may be wrong, but I can't see anyone, from sci-fi buffs to action junkies to tech geeks, really getting on board with this overly familiar outing that borders on self-parody.

The problems of a limited palette and tiresome, regurgitative writing may not resurface in Blomkamp's next film: a thus-untitled fifth Alien movie due in 2017 that will reunite him with Weaver. There are reasons to fear that revival, including the fact that it follows a twenty-year hiatus and that even acclaimed directors like David Fincher and Amélie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet were, early in their careers, unable to live up to the enjoyable first two films helmed by Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Pre-Chappie, I'd have been excited for Blomkamp to land the gig. Post-Chappie, I fear I may never again love or look forward to another Neill Blomkamp film.

Performing poorly enough in North America to marginalize a near-respectable foreign gross of $70.9 million, Chappie further undermined Blomkamp's commercial allure. Even with its mid-sized budget and slightly conservative theater count, Chappie cannot be considered anything but a flop in light of its extremely weak $31.6 million domestic take. Now on DVD and Blu-ray, it has another chance to discover an audience and to potentially repair the damage that Blomkamp's trajectory has inflicted on his reputation.

Chappie: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS-HD MA (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English DVS, French DVS, Spanish, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Spanish, and Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, English SDH, Chinese, Spanish, Thai
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP), Amazon Instant Video and in Blomkamp³ Limited Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD Collection ($55.99 SRP) with District 9 and Elysium


Sony Blu-rays consistently impress and no amount of dramatic faults can keep Chappie from looking good in high definition. The 2.40:1 presentation shows off great detail and an element as clean and sharp as any new film's. The default 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also satisfies thoroughly. Hans Zimmer's electronic score flirts with effectiveness and is complemented by crisp vulgar dialogue and the occasional groan-worthy Die Antwoord song. Even if you find the movie subpar, you should find its lively sound mix suitably engaging.

Chappie's workplace beatdown of "Very Bad Man" Vincent Moore is slightly different in this deleted scene. "Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting" looks at the film's unique filming locations.


A sticker on the packaging promises over an hour of extras and Chappie easily provides that much on Blu-ray.

The all-HD bonuses begin with an alternate ending (5:16) that is not substantially different from the film's actual conclusion,
although it goes a little further with societal ramifications.

Next, the extended scene "Very Bad Man" (1:30) elongates Hugh Jackman's character's workplace comeuppance courtesy of Chappie.

The bulk of the bonuses fall under the heading Featurettes. This more than one hour of content can be viewed as one giant documentary with the "Play All" option, though you might be just as well to pick and choose from these topical pieces.

"From Tetra Vaal to Chappie" (7:30) traces the film's origins back to 2003 when Neill Blomkamp, then a computer animator, made a commercial for a robot manufacturing company.

After that exploration of themes, "Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting" (15:03) reflects on the perks and challenges of shooting and setting Chappie in Blomkamp's native Johannesburg.

"Chappie: The Streetwise Professor" shows us how the title character looked on set (played by Sharlto Copley in motion capture suit) versus how he looked in the finished film. ¥o-Landi Vi$$er surveys a table of props with which she can decorate her character's slum home in "Keep It Gangster."

"Chappie: The Streetwise Professor" (9:31) considers the titular character's design and nature, as well as actor Sharlto Copley's motion capture performance of the role.

"We Are Tetravaal" (5:53), apparently the only bonus that also makes it to the DVD version, focuses on the casting and characterizations of Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman.

"Keep It Gangster" (7:07) looks at the use of Die Antwoord and the style they brought to the film's gangsters in terms of clothing and tattoos.

"Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts and Special Effects" (14:21) provides behind-the-scenes of explosions and action sequences.

"Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots" (6:25) looks at the movie's guns as a reflection of characters as well as the design of Chappie and other robots.

"Bringing 'Chappie' to Life" delves into the film's visual effects. This Art of Chappie gallery still shows off ten head designs considered for Chappie.

"Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects" (8:01) delves into the animation with which Copley's costumed performance was replaced and the mix of digital and practical techniques used.

The section comes to a close with "The Reality of Robotics" (5:34), which contemplates the film's depiction of artificial intelligence and its timeliness.

Nicely scored and navigable in every way imaginable, The Art of Chappie Gallery showcases 269 images as follows: Chappie (95 design sketches), Moose (43 design sketches), miscellaneous Robot (44 sketches),
Production Design (26 sketches), Storyboards (38 images), Director's Sketches (18 images), and Poster Art (27 designs, mostly unused). This rare touch is appropriate on such a visuals-driven movie. It is kind of a wonder why more don't take advantage of Blu-ray's superior gallery technology.

Finally, "Previews" repeats the six ads with which the disc opens, for Digital HD UltraViolet, "Powers" (which you might not even recognize as a TV series, let alone a streaming one), Fury, Aloha, Air, and Predestination. Unfortunately, Chappie's trailers aren't among these, as Sony's main branches typically do not include those on new films.

The disc uses a static, scored menu which gains creativity points for animating cursor movement like Chappie's display. As always, Sony authors the Blu-ray to both support bookmarking and resume playback of all features.

The side-snapped blue keepcase, whose only insert supplies your Digital HD with UltraViolet/Sony Rewards code, is topped by a nicely-textured slipcover.

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is delighted to see some fruits from his years of secret, after-hours home labor in the form of sentient robot Chappie.


Chappie is remarkably similar yet inferior to Neill Blomkamp's first two movies. As a big fan of those, you might think I'd remain under the director's spell, but that just isn't close to true. With originality out of the equation, we're left to notice the many faults, from heavy-handed social commentary to an overreliance on action as the story crumbles amidst a sea of unlikable characters. Blomkamp desperately needs to reinvent himself to prove he's not merely a one-trick pony with slum sci-fi the only weapon in his filmmaking arsenal.

Sony's Blu-ray of course delivers a dynamic feature presentation. On top of that, it provides a lot of substantial bonus features. Those who both like the movie and making-of featurettes should find great joy in this release. Everyone else, no matter how fond of Blomkamp's previous efforts, may wish to spare themselves the frustration and disappointment of this inane retread.

Buy Chappie from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video / Blomkamp³ Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp: District 9Elysium
Hugh Jackman: Real SteelPrisonersThe Prestige | Sharlto Copley: Maleficent
Dev Patel: The Newsroom: Season 1 | Sigourney Weaver: The Cabin in the WoodsGalaxy QuestAvatarThe Village
Robots and Sci-Fi: AutomataWALL•ETranscendence2001: A Space OdysseyThe Black Hole

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Reviewed July 5, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Sony, Columbia Pictures, Media Rights Capital, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.