Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the latest adaptation of the 1963 French science fiction novel La Planète des singes, is much more than just a summer blockbuster.
It is predicted to make $70 million over its first weekend despite being pitted against the World Cup finals. Dawn has a talented cast that includes Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Andy Serkis — best known for his green screen motion-capture work in The Lord of the Rings films. Here, Serkis is featured as major ape protagonist Caesar for the second time in a story of fathers and sons, peaceful co-existence in a world with scarce resources, and the prejudices which can divide and conquer. It feels like Steven Spielberg got together with Francis Ford Coppola, dug out an unknown Shakespearean drama, and cast it with apes.
Director Matt Reeves is just that good and the critics are impressed.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sounds like the perfect summer fare and it just might be. As pointed out by io9.com reviewers, it has a few moments of clumsy editing and stilted dialogue, under-used actors, and background plot holes, but don’t let that dissuade you. As some science fiction writers will say, a plot hole isn’t a plot hole, it’s a thread for further exploration. If the story doesn’t make you ask: “what if?” and ‘what about?’, then it hasn’t done its job.
Eight movies. Two television series. One videogame. A surprising number of comics.
One novel — the place where it all began.
The premise of the newest installation to this popular franchise sounds deceptively simple. Ten years after the events in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, humanity is nearly extinct from a pandemic outbreak of simian flu, an experiment gone wrong, and survival for the species requires a peaceful coexistence with the genetically evolved super-apes who now hold almost all the figurative cards. But in Dawn, peace is not easily found; prejudice is difficult to overcome. Both sides have warmongers as well as peacekeepers.
The movie’s ideological story could be a re-telling of any armed conflict occurring in the world today, with its political and social injustice themes.
Breaking the mold for the usual summer blockbuster film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has most of the characters wearing grey hats, their intentions neither good or evil. Both sides have good reasons for their darker actions, reasons you can understand and sympathize with.
The concept is a science fiction staple — one of the oldest: a dystopia is created by mankind’s need to control and manipulate their environment through science or technology and how that can have terrible results and unexpected consequences. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Think Stephen King’s The Stand.
But the Ape movies, a film franchise with a 46-year history, rarely resemble the book from which they derive both their titles and the most basic plot point, that of evolved apes against suppressed humans.
Dawn takes its origins from La Planète des singes, a French science fiction novel by Pierre Boulle, published in 1963. It is the story of three explorers from Earth who travel to a planet in the Betelgeuse star system where apes are the civilized, intelligent species, engaged in all the same sorts of human-like behaviors which we see on our own world. On Soror, apes have evolved to fill the dominant species niche and humans are savage, non-verbal, and often captured for laboratory experiments in studying primate evolution, a subject considered by most apes to be wrong-headed.
A sociological science fiction, the story is told through the eyes of journalist Ulysse Mérou, one of the three Earth humans who have arrived on this world where apes smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, use straws, wear clothes, and live in a society that looks a lot like Earth in the mid-20th century. There are aggressive gorilla soldiers, pedantically conservative orangutans working as administrators, and chimpanzee intellectuals and researchers who are liberal enough to suggest that humans are important and can tell the ape society about their own origins.
As the story proceeds, a chimpanzee archaeologist, and his fiancée, who works in human psychological research, discover that humans once ruled the planet and lost it in a cataclysm. Apes, until the fall of human civilization, were slaves. Ulysse, given help to leave Soror by the chimpanzee researchers who have befriended him, returns to Earth with his mate and their precocious son, only to be greeted at the air field by a gorilla field officer in a Jeep.
Dawn, like all the films in the Apes franchise, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that we can recognize as our own through its symbology, whether it’s the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate bridge. Each movie uses some small part of the novel, character names or plot points, and pays homage to La Planète des singes, but only one of the adaptations (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes; 2001) has placed the story outside of Earth.
It seems we prefer our evolved super-apes to live on Earth. Keeping Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in a human framework we can recognize serves to drive the impact made by the depths approached by its storyline. Critics are claiming this is the most human version of the tale yet, with its ape emphasis. This could be one of those rare blockbusters that rips at your heartstrings even as it tantalizes your nerves.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in theaters now.
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