Thoughts on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers in the text of the post about the film known as the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn is a game-changer in terms of animation, the next evolutionary CGI leap, as big a step as Fellowship of the Ring was. And while the movement animations are incredible, the facial animations are incredibly good. Caesar has a clear emotional response in every scene. And while you could refer back to Fellowship and say we had that with Gollum in 2001, Gollum retained human features. Caesar looks realistically like an ape, but is also imbued with a wide range of emotions. He’s a fully realised, fleshed-out character. I could think ‘How would Caesar react to that?’ because that’s how well-developed he is. I realise I’m tying CGI and Andy Serkis’ great acting together, but they’re inextricably linked now.

I watched a film where a character had a touching reunion and subsequent conversation with his son. Both were apes. That’s what CGI can do now, and I struggle to wrap my head around its possibilities. For every time I rolled my eyes at some film’s shoddy animation, I realise that was trial and error in getting CGI to this point.

It would be easy to dismiss Dawn as a Hollywood blockbuster about apes fighting humans and each other, guns and tanks and explosions. But it’s really about the tough decisions Caesar has to make as a leader, how there’s not always a perfect option, how compromise is sometimes necessary, and how some things are inevitable. With all that, and Koba’s attempt to usurp Caesar, Dawn is more like a Mafia tale that a standard action film, Caesar as Tony Soprano, or as Michael in a hairy remake of The Godfather.

Two of my favourite scenes involve the film’s apetagonist (sorry), Koba. In the first he has to play dumb ape to escape two gun-wielding humans. Koba blows raspberries and performs mock-human movements so they’ll laugh and let him go. He’s disgusted with what he has to do to survive.

In the second he returns, performs the same routine, then steals the guns and shoots the two men. Both scenes are hilarious but also loaded with portent, as the viewer knows Koba will soon make these men suffer. The tension of knowing Koba has a dark plan for both is what makes the humour of his antics all the funnier.

In one shot, Koba sits atop a tank as its gun rotates, and all around we see apes attacking the humans’ base. It’s one long shot, as I was distracted from the action as I thought ‘How much did this one shot cost?’.


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