Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
Screenplay by Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback, Scott Z. Burns
Music by Michael Giacchino
Andy Serkis as Caesar
Gary Oldman as Dreyfus
Jason Clarke as Malcolm
Keri Russell as Ellie
Toby Kebell as Koba
I loved the original 1968 Planet of The Apes. I had no idea of the ending and muttered “Oh, wow!” when the Statue of Liberty appeared round the bend on the beach. I loved Beneath The Planet of The Apes with its weird hippy religious sect of the nuclear doomsday weapon. Obviously it went rapidly downhill from there, but I saw all of them in the cinema: Escape From The Planet of The Apes which had an interesting circularity in the plot, Conquest of The Planet of The Apes, Battle for The Planet of The Apes. OK, the last two were beyond belief awful. Still, I bought a VHS set and watched them, then years later a DVD set and watched them. This is REALLY guilty pleasures stuff.
So I was a bit snotty about the 2001 Tim Burton remake, Planet of The Apes, though I applauded Helena Bonham-Carter portrayal of Ari … no, this is getting silly. Ari is an empathetic ape, replacing Kim Hunyer’s Zira from 1968. Though Mark Wahlberg is a well-muscled lad, remember that Charlton Heston had played God and got away with it. And I’m sure many a lad fantasized about starting the human race again with the scantily-clad Linda Harrison as Nova. I know I did. I did buy the 2001 film on DVD, but I think I’ve only watched it once on DVD.
They left it ten years to 2011’s Rise of The Planet of The Apes. I saw that just once, drowsily on a plane over the Atlantic. Big action films really don’t stand a chance on that little screen with a tray of inedible crap and a plastic tumbler of wine. Andy Serkis had the role of the ape, Caesar. It must be weird to have starred in such many films and be unrecogonizable.
The humans run into the apes for the first time. Jason Clarke (Malcolm) in blue.
I went to Dawn with low expectations. The clincher was having been told that The Weight by The Band featured in it. It does. It marks the return of electricity to the planet, hence, very briefly, a return of civilization. What a brilliant choice, especially as the film is set in and around San Francisco, scene of The Band’s first and last gigs. All the other music is orchestral score, and used very well indeed … I liked two big shoot-em-up scenes losing the rattle of gunfire to be replaced by orchestral music. Take a look at Full Cast & Crew on IMDB – it scrolls along forever and ever.
Gary Oldman as Dreyfus
I liked the film. it was a return to strong and (reasonably) coherent narrative. Let’s not pick too many holes … it’s a film about talking chimps who have decided they can communicate with and form a community with ape species they can’t interbreed with … Orang-Utangs and Gorillas and such. Maurice the education-minded Orangutang looks like a Star Wars character rather than an orange ape and is twice the size he should be. I think the chimps have grown conveniently a lot bigger than reality too. We don’t know anything about inter-species conversation, so we’ll have to go along with it. And see it as a beacon for world peace. Though I have a sneaking suspicion the surviving humans would have been best off to slaughter all the chimps at first sight. Only the nasty guy thinks this, and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus (the human leader) is a bit undecided. Malcolm, the good guy, and Caesar bond. Both are after peaceful co-existence. There are some yukky cute bits.
Calling apes “monkeys” is supposedly as insultingly ignorant as calling Native-Americans “Indians”, or Scotsmen “Scotch Men”. But I’ve never heard a chimp object, and the original Pierre Boulle novel was called Monkey Planet in English.
A moment of human-ape empathy, but it’s about to go horribly wrong …
They use subtitles to translate the very basic sign language the apes use to get across quite complex ideas. Judging by some of the audience when we saw it, these subtitles might stretch reading ability unduly. If you couldn’t read fast the plot would probably be somewhat convoluted. Apes do look a lot alike to us humans, so an important early plot point sees Caesar’s son getting comprehensively scarred up by a grizzly bear. Very good plotting because we need to know which one he is, though his name escapes me. He has huge scratch scars.
Post-apocalypse San Francisco is rendered very well. I recognized a lot of it. So is the area around the hydro-electric dam where the apes have built their town, believing humans wiped out. Wrongly. There’s a lot of underlying message about peace and harmony and warmongering. Googling for images, they’ve avoided showing San Francisco. Odd. They have lots of pictures of apes.
You cannot, or should not, start picking holes in logic as the initial premise is so bizarre, but the best science-fiction changes ONE fact then the rest makes sense. It’s too tempting not top pick a few. So they want power from the dam. They say it “supplies Northern California” and they have been working to divert the power, but the dam is in clear sight of San Francisco when the lights go on. So if it’s that near San Francisco, why was it never linked to the grid there? If it’s that near, why didn’t the apes know they were there? As there was a line of sight, why did neither lot notice the other’s smoke in ten years? I know San Francisco is foggy, but not all the time. The whole “Let’s get the dam generating again” bit smacks somewhat of Scotty descending to correct the warp drive of the Starship Enterprise armed only with a screwdriver. The apes live by hunting for meat, although gorillas are vegetarian, and chimps only eat meat very seldom indeed (and then small monkeys or each other). But then again, Pacific coast evergreen forest is hardly laden with fruit. Why didn’t they shift east into the valley, where fruit trees would have survived? How do the human survivors live? They’re all huddled in one crowded building in the city, and don’t seem to have any agriculture or hunting set up. Hunting would surely have them out of the city, so running into the apes. When will all the tinned food run out? And on and on.
Do we have to discuss characterization? This is embarrassing. Andy Serkis as Caesar is a heroic monkey. Koba is a vicious tyrannical murdering monkey, brilliantly played by … did I just write that? He’s a special effect. But someone had to be the base for it, Toby Kebell. The baby chimp is cute. And I guess an SFX too.
It’s a bit long. You could take out fifteen minutes easily, but it’s not as gratuitous as most action films designed for a teen audience, and the violence is commendably restrained. But those four star reviews are fair. That’s about right. I think it’s the best of the Pierre Boulle-based franchise since the first two in the 1960s series, and that’s down to plot too. I do know that the 60s ones look naff nowadays and can’t compere. But story is story. Charlton Heston is Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison is the stuff of dreams.
Major minus: there should be a twist at the end which is really worrying to the viewer: The Statue of Liberty in 1968, the circularity of taking intelligent apes to Earth through a time-warp, the Lincoln Memorial in 2001. There isn’t a twist, and we haven’t really advanced the “how apes took over the Earth” story at all.
There’s another one in the pipeline already.