First things first: I LOVE Planet Of The Apes.
My passion for the simian film series began when I was about 12 and chanced across the original first film, starring Charlton Heston. That led my brother and I to the other four movies, plus the TV show (!) and the computer game (!!), which came complete with truncheon-wielding gorillas and endless opportunities for the character to get frozen mid-jump as three baboons give chase as well as to earn randomly-scattered medikits. (Gotta love an old-school PC game.)
So for obvious reasons, I was very excited to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I loved 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which sets the scene for Dawn of. The film opens in 2016, a dystopian not-so-far future where the bulk of humanity has been wiped out by the simian flu that began to spread in the closing moments of the previous movie. The survivors live a desperate, miserable existence; everyone has lost loved ones to the virus, and it is decided that those who remain do so simply because of a genetic resistance.
Meanwhile, the monkeys who were tested on in Rise of the Planet of the Apes have set up their home in San Francisco’s Muir Woods; they have created a sophisticated, safe environment for themselves under the leadership of the eloquent Caesar (the monkey tutored by James Franco in the previous movie). But when the humans stumble into the woods in a bid for survival, life as both groups know it ends forever…
Yes, I’ll keep it cryptic and vague. I don’t want to give away too much as it’s one of those movies where you come away in awe of the special effects but wondering what, exactly, the plot was. I mean, yes, there was an obvious storyline but by the end of the film, it felt as if it had only reached a mid-point. I suppose we’ll have to wait for the next movie to find out what happened next. (Unless, like me, you’ve watched the originals. *smug face*)
As already mentioned, the special effects were astounding (Andy Serkis as Caesea was, as per, amazing); the emotion conveyed by the monkeys was breathtaking and the attention to detail could not be faulted. There was never a moment, I my opinion, that felt as if it shouldn’t be there – a double negative, I know, and basically a long-way of saying that every second of the film counted. Another pleasing detail was the plinky-plonky soundtrack; a modernised version of the score that accompanied the original films.
One thing that bugged me – why, I don’t know – was the random naming of the key characters. Okay, Caesar I get, yes, whilst Blue Eyes (Caesar’s son) is no doubt a reference to Zira’s nickname for Chalton Heston’s character (‘Bright Eyes’) in the original (told you I was a POTA geek). But did the only named orangutan have to be called Maurice when the main (human) protagonist was called Malcolm? I mean, really…
Whilst I’m on that note – why do movie baddies never have normal names? In this instance, the bad guy (bad chimp…) was called Koba. Obviously a character called ‘Koba’ was never going to be one of the good’uns and yep, lo and behold it was Koba who killed humans, wielded machine guns with gay abandon and tried to assassinate the un-assassinable Caesar.
Obviously any film that involves talking apes and a wipe-out of mankind requires a certain amount of belief suspension – but lingering at the forefront of any viewer’s mind will be the fact that the movie is unnervingly close to the surface of real-life. Director Matt Reeves also leaves you questioning whose side you are on, equalling the playing field across both humans and monkeys and leaving viewers almost uncomfortably unsure as to who has the genuine motive within the film.
The tie-in with animal testing is a far more convincing parallel than the original, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (which saw monkeys enter the human home as household pets after a similar flu-style virus wiped out the world’s dogs and cats); the apes talk to each other about what they endured at the hands of scientists and many of them bare horrendous scars. Further poignancy is added via the recognisable elements of life today – an all-too obvious reminder of how ‘real’ the premise of the film is – including a cracked iPad. Because even in the face of simian flu, Apple will prevail.
In cinemas now
PS Spare a thought for the horses. In every conflict-themed film of a certain genre there are endless horses who take one (or two, or three) for the team – in this case, the monkeys were riding them straight into the gunfire of the humans. My idea? Planet of the Horses, a field-based parody where foals and fillies can graze in peace and quiet for 90 minutes.