Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Jul 11, 2014

Planet of the Apes has come a long way in the 46 years since Charlton Heston’s astronaut crew first landed in a futuristic world dominated by intelligent talking primates.

The apes encountered by Heston’s Taylor were fairly obviously humans in gorilla, orang-utan and chimpanzee masks and suits, with the stark post-apocalyptic setting and cinematography reflective of the pre-CGI era.

The story (based on a 1963 French novel) was chilling, nonetheless, and so successful it spawned a franchise, with American actor Roddy McDowall famous for his recurring role as the sympathetic archaeologist chimp Cornelius.

Fast-forward to the latest film in the franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and digital technology has shot the original concept into a whole other stratosphere.

The result is gripping, action-packed and, at times, truly frightening.

Directed by Matt Reeves, the new movie establishes a dark and sinister mood from the opening scenes, which feature armed apes on horseback hunting deer in the misty Redwoods outside San Francisco. Set 10 years after 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it sees Andy Serkis reprising his role as Caesar, the chimpanzee previously rescued from a laboratory who now leads of a colony of genetically evolved intelligent apes.

San Francisco lies in ruins and the apes believe the humans have all been killed by “Simian flu” – until they encounter a small group of survivors trekking through the forest. Caesar and human protagonist Malcolm (Australian actor Jason Clarke, from Dark Zero Thirty and The Great Gatsby) try to maintain peace between the two species, but simmering anger, fear and mistrust on both sides make war inevitable.

Reeves builds the tension well and the fight scenes, when they come, are edge-of-the-seat stuff. Cinematography and visual effects are stunning.

The apes steal the show and are impressively realistic – especially Serkis’s heroic Caesar, who conveys a gamut of powerful emotions, and the heavily scarred rogue chimpanzee Koba (Toby Kebbell), whose vengeance-fuelled aggression is chilling. Gary Oldman adds weight to the cast as Dreyfus, leader of the surviving human colony, while the less-well-known Clarke was an excellent choice to play the more measured and empathetic Malcolm.

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Long-time Planet fans (yes, I admit I’m one) will always nurture a nostalgic love of the original films, but this latest incarnation should find favour with a wide audience. While the effects are far more sophisticated, the themes remain largely the same and the dark tone that underlies the tale is the antithesis of most Hollywood fare.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, in my view, a more exciting film experience than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And it’s certainly far superior to Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes re-make, which should really be lost in space.


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