CINEMA by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
, August 2, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (rated MA15+), is reviewed by Symeon J. Thompson.
Blockbusters with heart are an interesting breed. They can be mawkishly sentimental, overtly political or downright simplistic.
Films that aim for commercial success and intelligence deserve, at the very least, serious consideration. This has long been the remit of science-fiction, based as it is on “what if” scenarios:– What if extraterrestrials made contact? What if our machines became more intelligent? What if the apes were the dominant species on the planet and humans were animalistic?
This is the premise of the classic film, Planet of the Apes (1968), starring Charlton Heston, itself based on the French novel, La Planète des Singes (1963), by Pierre Boulle.
The film led to a franchise involving more movies, a television series and even a video game. It was remade in 2001 by Tim Burton to not much acclaim.
That then led to the 2011 reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco as Dr Will Rodman, the man who triggers their rise, while researching an Alzheimer’s treatment. This film was the first in a series of movies that aims to track the circumstances that lead to dominance of the apes over mankind.
That movie was quite affecting as it showed man’s cruelty and hubris as he fails in his duty of stewardship over creation, plays God and refuses to take responsibility for his actions, preferring fear and greed to virtue.
The current instalment is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — yes, the naming is a bit screwy, but there are worse problems than names. The year is 2018. The simian flu set off by the genetic engineering in the first film has wiped out most of Earth’s population. Those that remain live a life of survival in isolated communities based in the ruins of the major cities.
The apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have retreated to the mountains. They haven’t seen human beings for some time and assume that they’re all dead. They’ve built a simple tribal community that hunts to survive, and they seek to build a world where “Ape will not kill ape”.
This begins to change when a human expedition looking to restart a hydroelectric dam comes across the apes. One man, Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a trigger-happy hater, shoots the son of one of Caesar’s advisers. This sets the stage for a confrontation between the two civilisations, as factions develop within each one.
There are those who favour peace and working together, including Caesar, who has seen enough bloodshed and has fond memories of the scientist who looked after him; and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) the leader of the human expedition, who is only seeking a means for survival for himself and his loved ones.
And there are those who do not trust the other, such as Koba (Toby Kebbell) Caesar’s second-in-command, an ape who was cruelly treated by humans and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), leader of the human community and a man who will do what is necessary, or what he thinks is necessary, for the survival of the species.
This movie is in 3D. But the really significant special effect is the astonishing computer-generated imagery (CGI) that provides the rich expressiveness of the apes, making them easy to identify and empathise with.
The soundtrack is reminiscent of that of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), specifically Kubrick’s use of György Ligeti’s work, which underscores the early “Dawn of Man” scenes where the ape-like hominids learn to use tools, and thus weapons, and murder is poetically born.
The Apes series has been informed by the race relations and caste politics of the 20th century, but this is not solely what it is about. The series is an exploration of difference and identity and how groups treat those that are “other”.
It shows that by creating a radical split between “us” and “them” we can blind ourselves to the dangers present on our own side and among our own allies, as well as showing that the “other’s” motivations are not as simple as they may appear.
These films encourage us to reflect and to maintain honourable principles so that we don’t undermine the very things we are working for.
At the same time, however, the series is depressingly realistic in its depiction of the brokenness that pervades society, that the wounds caused by hatred and betrayal run deep, and that it is tragically easy for things to go very, very wrong.
The films do not present a solution to the problem of violence, but they are endowed with the hope that there is more to life than violence and that individuals can transcend their past.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining film and one that reinforces old, true thoughts, if not necessarily provoking new and radical ones.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).