The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Reviewed by Tilde Fredholm.

Director Matt Reeves
Length 130
Certificate 12A
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article The apocalyptical imaginings of the modern world have become increasingly exaggerated as their representation has expanded into a digital realm. Propped up by CGI the imminent demise of humanity has become as real as it has become banal; with the majority of contemporary blockbusters featuring some grand sweep of a destructive panorama. Often technology itself is the immediate cause of the destruction, with human progress as its root, fuelling the paradox that whilst technology makes these kinds of scenarios available it is also the source of a growing unease. Films like the recent Transcendence (Wally Pfister, 2014) are prime examples of how this paradox (still) features in much SF. Technology has for a long time worked alongside the alien as other, both in a narrative and representative sense.

However, this is not the case with Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a film whose digital aesthetic (for lack of a better term) is symptomatic of a trend which is leaving this paradox behind. Here the digital world is an integrated one, nonetheless spectacular yet more fully woven into the fabric of actuality. It is a world away from the Marvel and the Transformers films where CGI is limited to the realm of enhancement and the non-biological, to spectacular effects distinguished by their absolute difference from actuality. Instead, in Dawn the CGI-ed protagonists are life, and the film revels in establishing them as actual and biological entities (in opposition to entities in an actual and biological environment). Whilst not being the first film attempting this, Dawn certainly makes a statement by using these characters as protagonists, and by doing so moving away from a human centre.

Returning 10 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011) left off, Dawn follows the beginnings of ape society and its inevitable clash with human society, which has been severely decimated after an outbreak of simian flu. Chimpanzee Caesar, who was brought up in the earlier film, is now leader of the apes, and stuck with the heavy burden of managing widespread mistrust and hate against humans. This proves to be a difficult task when a group of humans need to restart a power station close to where the apes live.

By focusing on the apes, Dawn avoids many of the clichés common to a post-apocalyptic scenario, making it both intriguing and interesting. It also avoids the overt fatalism that might have come automatically in a precursor to a future most audiences know only too well. Instead of applying a destiny driven narrative it emphasises the contingencies of history and the unavoidability of conflict. This brings a refreshing ‘evolutionary’ perspective to a film genre normally concerned with conserving or mourning the status quo. Humanity is, at least symbolically, done away with, yet other life and worlds continue to thrive.

Yet the digital aesthetic employed here comes with its own set of problems. Aside from its apartness from realism, which seems to be the centre focus of the current debate, very little has been done to conceptualise it precisely as an aesthetic. In many ways Dawn feels definitive, not least in its effortless establishing of this aesthetic. As the image flows (camera and movement here being defunct concepts) out from Caesar’s eyes the real flows from the digital, eroding the last vestiges of a boundary long made irrelevant. But whilst the film apparently moves away from the human with a new ‘real’, is it not also imposing a totality, defined not merely by its digital aspects, but by its humanist?

Alternate Take to follow shortly ...

This review was published on August 17, 2014.

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