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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Entry updated 7 February 2022. Tagged: Film.

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Film (2014). Twentieth Century Fox in association with TSG Entertainment. Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Jaffa & Silver. Cast includes Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konoval, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Nick Thurston. 130 minutes. Colour, 3D.

Ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), humanity has been driven to the edge of extinction by the human-engineered "simian flu" virus which boosted ape intelligence. Caesar's Utopian ape colony in Muir Woods, California, lives untroubled until a band of human survivors from San Francisco arrives to negotiate the revival of a hydroelectric plant on ape territory, whereupon a series of suspicions and betrayals escalate to the brink of war.

A quite different film from the one its producers intended and probably a more interesting, this second instalment of the franchise's third incarnation emerged from a creative crisis in mid-production when original director Rupert Wyatt quit a week after Bomback had been hired to polish a script by Jaffa and Silver set much later in the human/ape conflict. Emergency substitute Reeves (see Cloverfield) discarded that script for an entirely new one written by Bomback solo, restoring Serkis's Caesar to the centre of the story and focusing on the eve of war between apes and humans, with the ape perspective favoured dramatically (fifteen minutes pass before humans even enter the film). A technical milestone was the extensive use of performance capture on location, with the additional complication of native 3D camera rigs and largely in the rain; only about 10% of the film was shot in the studio, mostly for the skyscraper scenes at the climax.

Though Pierre Boulle's original novel has been bumped from the credits, the film returns from the animal-rights drama of Rise to the wider moral and societal mirroring that drove Boulle's satire of Apes as Human, with a specific focus here on the origins of violence. Spectacular action set pieces notwithstanding, the pace is adventurously languid, the cast mostly B-list, and the thematic trajectory as bleak in its way as that of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): the film presents the corruption of the apes' condition of innocence by the arrival of human Technology, and specifically of Weapons, as an inexorable fall from grace, and the breakdown of trust between well-intentioned apes and humans as intrinsic to First Contact narratives. Like its predecessor, but more pointedly, it quotes from the original cycle – in this case Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and its ill-fated precept "Ape shall never kill ape" – and plays darkly to its audience's awareness of the canonical long-term arc of humanity's ultimate supersession – though the ambitions to universal Anthropological insight are undermined by stencil-cut characters with off-the-shelf motivation and a parochial preoccupation with firearms. A final scene disambiguating the immediate sequel was used on posters but cut shortly before release, as Bomback and Reeves were re-engaged for the next instalment, the latter with a first-look sweetener deal on other projects.

The novelization is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) by Alex Irvine. [NL]

see also: Tarzan Films.

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