Box Office Democracy: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could have easily fallen in to the trap that many genre movies fall into of simply being competent. They scarcely have particularly original or surprising stories (and Dawn is no exception on this front) but they usually get by through skillful execution. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does a masterful job of being a good tense thriller but what elevates it to something special is Andy Serkis as Caesar. He takes a mediocre script and turns it in to Shakespeare without having to actually be on the screen.
I had never quite bought in to the hype around Andy Serkis before this weekend. I appreciated him in the Tolkien movies but thought the Oscar talk was completely overblown. He was doing good work but I wasn’t entirely sure he was doing a job that couldn’t be done by someone who was actually going to be on screen. Perhaps the technology wasn’t quite there but I always knew I was looking at a particularly good effect and not a person acting and I think that’s worth something. If Frank Oz couldn’t win for Empire Strikes Back or Robin Williams for Aladdin I wasn’t ready to break that barrier for Serkis.
While this isn’t the movie that will be remembered when Oscars come around, I’m coming around on the motion capture technology. Serkis’s Ceasar commands ever scene he’s in and there’s a rich subtlety to the way the character moves and expresses emotions often outclasses some of his co-stars that are actually on the screen. With slight concern that I’m giving too much away the movie closes on a shot of Caesar’s face that slowly zooms in his eyes and while I had no idea if it was an effect or Serkis’s real eyes it didn’t matter because the film was communicating the emotion and that’s all movies need to do.
It’s not a thrilling script. If there were an intermission halfway through the film where the lights up were brought up and the audience was asked to workshop the rest of the film I bet most of the movie houses in America would hit most of the upcoming events. It’s not a terminal flaw by any means, most stories have already been told, but it creates this strange interplay between some good moment-to-moment tension with a heavy feeling of overall inevitability.
Is the plan with these Apes prequels to eventually remake Planet of the Apes again or do they intend to just keep telling more stories about fights between apes and humans? This is a franchise that would probably benefit greatly from that kind of overall direction. There are only so many plausible increments to get here and still tell believable stories. Humans seem just about broken at this point but they could keep introducing new and different settlements but eventually they either have to stop or make the movie where the humans are wiped out and that’s probably a much harder sell than the kind of feel-good peace-is-the-way movies they’re making now.