“Animal Farm/Forest of the Apes.”
Over the last few years I have become a fan of audio books. This has given me the ability to listen to books I have read before, and also books that had been on the back burner for some time. I had read 1984 by George Orwell some years back and greatly enjoyed it. I had always intended to read Animal Farm, also by Orwell, but had never got around to it. It’s a short book so last week I purchased the audio version and listened to it at work.
For those unfamiliar with Animal Farm, it is a satire of the Russian Revolution of the early twentieth century, and particularly of Joseph Stalin and his flunkies. Animal Farm replaces the communist leaders with pigs and the Russian people as various other farm animals. The book, much the same as 1984, is one that actually lives up to its reputation. Even as it nears the 75 year mark the book hasn’t lost any of its bite. If you haven’t read it then get on it.
So what does Animal Farm have to do with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Maybe it’s just the fact that they are both fresh on my mind but they do share certain similarities. Both deal with animals that have formed societies on their own and both question the nature of animal/human relations. I couldn’t help but wonder while watching the movie if the screenwriters, Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, were fans of Animal Farm. Of course the three also have over forty years of history with Planet of the Apes to fall back on so Animal farm might play no conscious part in it. Either way, the movie is fantastic and it does a very good job of getting across points about humanity and animals that might be hard for some to acknowledge. Just like Animal Farm.
“Science Fiction as Allegory/Apes Together Strong.”
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes starts a decade after Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The simian virus has wiped out virtually the entire human race, so much so that the apes we meet at the beginning of the movie haven’t seen a person in two winters. The apes have built a society all their own in the woods outside San Francisco. Caesar, played again via motion capture by Andy Serkis, is the leader of the apes with loyal orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and second in command, Rocket (Terry Notary) by his side. Koba (Toby Kebell), an ape who was experimented on by humans, is also one of Caesar’s confidants. Caesar has a family now, a teenage son known as Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), a newborn son, and his wife Corneila (Judy Greer). The apes are living in relative peace and seem to be getting on just fine until Alvarez from OZ (Kirk Acevedo) decides to shoot Blue Eyes best friend Ash (Doc Shaw) for no real reason. It’s Alvarez. We all know he’s an idiot.
And so begins the chimpocalypse. The apes surround Alvarez (Carver is his name in the movie) and his other human companions. The apes in no uncertain terms tell them to leave. The expedition team, led by a guy named Malcolm (Jason Clarke), gets to steppin’ back to San Fran. After a night of deliberation and argument amongst the apes, Caesar leads the apes down to the city and tells the humans to never come back to the woods or else the apes won’t be so nice next time. This is a problem for the humans, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), due to the fact that the expedition was trying to get access to an old hydro plant to try to restore power to the city. Malcolm determines that he can convince the apes to let him go back if they are informed of the reason. Dreyfus agrees to give Malcolm and his team three days to try to make this happen. After that he feels that force will be necessary. I’m not going to spoil the movie since a lot of people might not have watched it yet, but I’ll just say that Dreyfus never has to make that call.
The expedition goes back into the woods and convinces Caesar, against the wishes of Kona and many of the other apes, to let them find the plant and see if they can get it operational again. Caesar, along with Blue Eyes and a few other apes, escort the team to the plant. While this is going on Kona is busy trying to determine what the humans in the city are doing. He finds that they have a stockpile of weaponry and comes to the conclusion that their plan is to attack the apes if they don’t get what they want. True or not, there is plenty of reason to accept that this might be the case. This is one of the things the movie does so well; it allows the audience to understand both the ape’s viewpoint and the human viewpoint while never really siding with either. That is until the theoretical line in the sand is drawn when power is restored to the city. After one specific action that is taken there is no gray area left for the apes.
“The Good, the Bad, and the Koba.”
The third act of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the antithesis of most other modern tent pole summer movies; it makes sense logically, and it makes sense onscreen. Compared to the train wreck awfulness of the Transformer franchise or the utter lifeless gray of Man of Steel, Dawn harkens back to Jaws or Indiana Jones in its set pieces. The last forty-five minutes is mostly an action scene but it never loses focus or momentum, the audience knows what is at stake and the action is clear, which proves that director Matt Reeves has come a long way since Cloverfield. This is big-budget movie making done right, it’s smart and swift and gives me hope not just for sci-fi, but genre movies in general. I’m not going to get into spoiler territory here but just know that Dawn has a very strong ending that leaves the door wide open for a lot of interesting possibilities.
The biggest strength of Dawn, and Rise before it, is that these movies don’t think their audience is stupid. I harp on the Transformers movies a lot, but it’s due to the fact that they insult the audience at every turn and no one seems to care. The Apes movies don’t do that. Yes they are genre movies, but they have heavy themes behind them; the nature of humanity, the pros and cons of scientific research, how easy it would truly be to unleash a horrifying virus on an unsuspecting world. And it also has a damn ape riding a horse shooting not one, but two machine guns. What more can you ask from a movie?
Although not perfect, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (along with Godzilla which I love equally) is my favorite movie so far this year. It is a great remedy for all the superhero movies that seem to never go away during the summer. It has great action, great drama, and honestly some of the best special effects ever put on screen. Andy Serkis really does deserve an Oscar and Caesar is one hell of a creation all around. So if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting on? Go!
Did I mention the ape riding a horse shooting two machine guns?