‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Accessible, technically dazzling franchise entry with a trifle more on offer than your standard sci-fi sequel.

It’s probably better for everyone involved – film makers, audiences, critics alike to take each film on its merits ; observe it as though in isolation, and know that, yes – while it’s in all likelihood that we’re going to get a more insightful measure of a single contribution to the history and evolution of cinema by going to something at MIFF, you’re going to have a good time at the movies if you see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (DOTPOTA). This big ticket tentpole item is widely accessible, technically marvellous and quite literally awesome. Like that massive step forward made when Pixar released Toy Story and audiences said “Cartoon characters can act!”, the same can be said for the amazing work done by the Weta Digital people with the creation of the apes in this sequel to the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Through the staggeringly photo-realistic digital effects work to render the ape characters, you can see performance; you can see emotion; you can see acting. It’s really quite remarkable.

DOTPOTA has a difficult high wire act to juggle. On the surface, it’s a big popcorn film. But its messages and content are pretty danged serious. Which is a prevailing mood, an essential feeling of grimness that finds its way though the proceedings from start to finish. I thought about this a lot. On one hand, you have the silly premise of the super-intelligent apes and their taking over a post-apocalyptic world. But then again you have the idea that the characters within the narrative – it’s their lives, its their reality. You have characters in peril who spend half the time winking at the camera, you don’t have relatable drama – you have Pirates of the Caribbean. So there’s a leap you have to make, not only past the idea of talking apes, but that the characters within the drama – they’re going to be unhappy campers.

Full credit to director Matt Reeves, who handles the largesse of it all with professionalism and aplomb; another fine piece of work from the director of the great found footage monster epic Cloverfield. It’s believable (for the lack of a better term), very well written, well structured, edited and designed. Andy Serkis is again utterly superb and committed as Caesar the alpha ape; Serkis seems to have gotten to the pinnacle of motion capture acting. His work here, like in King Kong, Tintin and the Lord of the Rings films shows him as someone who will most likely be heralded as the pioneer of the form in years to come.

David Thompson writes in his book The Big Screen that there are three types of people (when it comes to film), and you can distinguish them by how they speak of it. ‘Cinema’ is for those who think of history, culture, criticism, canons, auteur theory; invariably they’re the film festival types who tend to not enjoy themselves. Then there’s the ‘film’ crowd – the ones who think of it in terms of the craft; the physical mechanics of it. Then there’s those people who go to the ‘movies’.
To be entertained.

Go and see this Apes and you’re in for a good time at the movies, and perhaps enjoy it as a film too. Cinema…? Not so much here.

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