Rampage (2018) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) keeps people at a distance, but shares an unshakable bond with George; the extraordinarily intelligent, incredibly rare, albino silverback gorilla who has been in his care since he rescued the young orphan from poachers. But, then, a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates this gentle ape into a raging creature of enormous size. To make matters worse, it’s soon discovered there are other, similarly altered animals. As these newly created super creatures tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with discredited geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield; not only to halt a global catastrophe, but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend. (From WB’s official synopsis)
Some movies adaptations are released at the peak of their property’s popularity, hitting the zeitgeist right between the eyes and strengthening the long-term popularity of both the film and the original work. Jaws (1975), The Exorcist (1973), Jurassic Park (1993), and the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series are all good examples of striking the filmic iron while it’s hot. Other adaptations take older properties and find a perfect moment to reintroduce their themes into a modern social climate. The Star Trek franchise, Apocalypse Now (1979), and the Lord of the Rings movies fit this distinction. On average, movies based on video games tend to fail on both accounts. They are rarely recalled for their cultural significance and tend to be made too late after the game in question’s popularity has reached its apex. As a film based on a 1986 video game that failed to break out of its initial arcade success and never had a major resurgence in the years that followed, Brad Peyton’s Rampage (2018) strikes me as a particularly outdated and irrelevant film adaptation that was destined to the scrap heap of game-based cinema, despite its place atop of the subgenre’s box office standings.
Rampage is somewhat unique in the realms of unnecessary movies because it feels trapped between so many eras. The game’s ‘80s roots are apparent, naturally, but its complete lack of interest in the game’s (admittedly modest) storyline reminds me of Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel’s Super Mario Bros. (1993), giving the whole thing a distinctly ‘90s flavor. In addition, the production is chasing the non-video game trend of Hollywood-made kaiju movies (i.e. the Pacific Rim movies, Godzilla 2014, and Kong: Skull Island, 2017) and building the entire thing around the biggest star of the 2010s, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Considering every problem with this method of blockbuster filmmaking, along with Peyton’s complete lack of directing personality, the screenplay’s apparent committee-driven status, and the project’s inherently disposability, it’s safe to assume that Rampage was never going to transcend those roots. Still, despite knowing that I’m going to forget nearly everything about the movie by the time I’m done typing this review, I can verify that it’s sorta entertaining.
Somewhere, deep inside me, an 8-year-old Gabe was enchanted by the fact that they made a giant Hollywood movie about that silly video game I used to waste my allowance on. If you’re willing to look for it (and God knows we’re all busy people), there is still plenty of charm to be found in the film’s insistence on taking everything so seriously. It would’ve been easier to poke fun at the dopiness of the concepts and embrace the game’s tongue-in-cheek B-movie references. Instead, the filmmakers struggle through weighty character arcs, over-explained, kind of boring pseudoscience (Peyton claims that the first draft he read wasn’t scientifically advanced enough for him), and a surprisingly solemn disaster scenes. There’s comic relief, but it’s almost entirely tied to establishing character traits. This approach feels like an attempt at applying the tone (and partial structure) of the revamped Planet of the Apes (as in Rise, Dawn, War) series and this seriousness kind of works for two reasons: 1) Peyton doesn’t necessarily demand that the audience take this all as seriously as the on-screen characters do and, 2) these techniques are far more efficient than we’re used to seeing from expendable sci-fi action franchises. There are zero surprises, but there’s also minimal time wasted on pointless, Transformers-like side plots. Also, when characters inevitably make stupid decisions, those choices at least propel the plot.
On the objectively good side of things, Weta’s special effects work is mostly top-notch (they recycle a number of their Planet of the Apes techniques to great effect) and the action scenes are geographically sound and impactful. The high production quality of the effects and stunts creates an odd dynamic where such sequences feel significantly more expensive than the effects-free expositional breaks (it’s very likely that the budget went entirely into a handful of effects sequences and Johnson’s paycheck). This issue is magnified by the miscasting of Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as villains, leaving their limited interactions somewhere on the level of a ‘90s STV genre piece (I was honestly reminded of James Yukich’s embarrassing 1994 Double Dragon adaptation at these moments, minus the fun of how bad that movie is). Back on the good side of things, Johnson does his action hero thing well, has measurable chemistry with George motion-capture actor Jason Liles, and bounces off the always dependable Jeffrey Dean Morgan with relish. It’s just too bad there wasn’t something more interesting driving these performances.
Rampage was shot using various Arri Alexa digital cameras, including their 65 millimeter ‘equivalent’ model, optimized for IMAX release, and was post-converted into 3D for some theatrical screenings. I don’t know if the aspect ratio changed during those IMAX showings, but this 1080p Blu-ray maintains a constant 2.40:1 AO. Considering the high detail available from the format, Jaron Presant’s almost exclusive use of daylight and the extensive digital effects work, it is not a surprise to say that this is a texturally rich and consistently busy transfer. The deep-set, wide-angle compositions are further complicated by the use of anamorphic lenses, which flavor the proceedings with stylish sunbursts and light leaks. The HD image handles all of this quite well with no notable compression artifacts, minimal digital grain, and clean gradations. The palette is rich, if somewhat muted to create a perpetual overcast look and remains consistent throughout the transfer. Contrast/gamma is evenly distributed without blowing out or crushing important details or element delineations.
This disc comes loaded with three big audio options – Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Given my lack of an Atmos setup and TrueHD’s tendency to soften center channel vocals on my system, I opted to view the majority of the film in DTS-HD MA. The sound design is so continuously aggressive that I doubt there’s much difference between the tracks, anyway, aside from the extra ceiling top channels offered by the Atmos version. Rampage was built to be loud and that’s what you get here. Monsters roar, explosions brust, buildings crumble, the smallest incidental effects are amplified, and composer Andrew Lockington’s (a two-time Peyton collaborator on Journey 2, San Andreas, and Incarnate) score fills any blank space with bombastic percussion and horns. The sound design isn’t particularly clever, but there are a handful of unique elements, such as the space-out sound of a low-volume sonic wave that attracts the monsters to the city.
Not A Game Anymore (6:15, HD) – The cast & crew talk about the original arcade game (apparently Johnson was a huge fan as a child) and the process of bringing it to the big screen.
Gag reel (2:43, HD)
Seven deleted/extended scenes, including two versions of an alternate ending that sets up a sequel (10:12, HD)
Rampage: Actors in Action (10:45, HD) – A behind-the-scenes look at the ins & outs physical effects and stunt work.
Trio of Destruction (10:08, HD) – Concerning the creature design, the real science behind them, and Weta’s digital effects work.
Attack on Chicago (10:23, HD) – The filmmakers explore the challenges of the big final showdown, in which the city of Chicago is demolished by monsters.
Bringing George to Life (11:53, HD) – Footage of actor Jason Liles performing as George and movement coach Terry Notary’s (known for his work as Rocket in Planet of the Apes and Kong in Kong: Skull Island) training regiment.
Trailers for other WB home video releases
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