The other day I get a message from my sister asking: “Isn’t this how the planet of the apes started?” followed by a screenshot of a news post about a dog flu affecting local pets.
Indeed, according to a monologue in Escape from the Planet of the Apes and the backstory given in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes a flu killed all the dogs and cats so apes became the popular domesticated pet and the end of humanity kinda wrote itself after that. My sister and I started reminiscing about the Planet of the Apes series and she again reminded me that I NEED to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “But make sure you have subtitles,” she reminded me, “for some reason our DVD didn’t and we missed out on a lot of ape dialogue.” I had a free moment so I finally sat down to watch the movie.
WHERE DAWN FITS
It had been awhile since I’d seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I enjoyed the movie (mostly from the moment when Caesar goes to live at the lab and his rise to the top of the ape prison hierarchy feels like an organized crime movie in a prison). I don’t recall though if I accepted it as part of the original Apes canon or if I had acknowledged it as a reboot. Pretty sure I took it as a reboot because the story of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is very different from Rise. By that reasoning it makes it a bit easier to accept Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as its own sequel to a film I enjoyed and not a remake of that awful franchise destroyer Battle for the Planet of the Apes. I’m fine with reboots when they’re done well, and Rise and Dawn were both very well done films.
Canon, however, doesn’t really matter. Just the branding of Planet of the Apes is enough to get my sister and I excited. We watched the series quite a few times and it has a sort of sentimental place for us. Oftentimes when we were younger we would get drunk on our own concoction of Juice Plus (what they called wine in Escape from the Planet of the Apes) and then remind each other that “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape,” usually followed by singing lines from that episode of The Simpsons where they do the Planet of the Apes musical. So we accept these movies, faults and all, because they bring up good memories of happy, carefree times (except for that Tim Burton remake, fuck that movie).
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Critic Todd McCarthy of the The Hollywood Reporter stated that “Dawn is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars – it’s that much better” and I agree with him. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes its time to unfold, eventually leading to an exciting climax. But unlike Rise where you just have to be patient until it gets to the good parts – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes builds a very fascinating story full of interesting thoughts and ideas. In an era of big budget popcorn munchers filling the theaters with thoughtless fun it’s very refreshing to see a Hollywood film that asks its audience to think. The movie has genuine things to say about diplomacy, conflict, law and leadership. The characters (apes AND humans) are both very well fleshed out and believable characters – and not just the primary characters. Everyone from the lowliest ape to the barely supporting cast human has something to contribute to this mosaic. In the end it tells a very humanistic story – told mostly with a non-human cast of characters. If anything it is very reminiscent of Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead in that it deals with two species that need to come to understand each other in order to survive and the individuals on either side striving to achieve that understanding.
The same way that The Empire Strikes Back offered an epic level of granduer and tragedy in comparison to its exciting predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offers something almost Shakesperean. There is a lot of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes in Caeser the ape – bits of Othello, King Lear, Hamlet and his namesake Julius Caeser are all present in Andy Serkis’ performance. The Empire Strikes Back sticks out significantly in the Star Wars franchise as the one with the least amount of action but the greatest amount of care taken with its powerful drama and storytelling. Dawn is the same way – not a lot of action but a lot of interesting things going on. Not to say that the other Apes films were void of social commentary – glaring and heavy-handed statements about racism and prejudice mostly. Dawn is much more subtle about it, presenting ideas to the viewer and allowing them to think of its significance on their own.
One interesting tidbit of trivia to bring up… The movie takes place in San Francisco but was shot between New Orleans and the forests of Vancouver. Those places look nothing like San Francisco – but you don’t really notice that in the film which I guess speaks a lot towards its good production value.