Friday, July 11, 2014

Jaw-dropping effects add to superb ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

By Steve Crum
It has been years, maybe decades, since a movie has mesmerized me to the extent of not even once squirming in my theater seat from the opening sequence to the end credits. Such is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. What a terrific film, what a technical achievement. If you were impressed three years ago with the special effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and surely you were, prepare to be blown away with this sequel. 
Director Matt Reeves’ previous work, Cloverfield (2008), remains on my all-time unfavorites list (all that hand-held camera nonsense!). A big however, however, is due since he has redeemed his reputation first with 2010’s Let Me In and now this Apes sequel. More good news: Reeves is set to make the next Apes chapter.
Of course, Reeves is not alone in deserving plaudits. Screenwriters Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver have fashioned a story line full of believable characters (including the apes), plot twists, and suspense. Acting is way above par, especially for a sci-fi production, but then again the script is packed with intelligent, telling dialogue. Michael Giacchino’s evocative score deserves recognition as well. 
The incredible Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, a chimpanzee who leads his ape colony that includes elder orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and the ruthless Koba (Toby Kebbell). 
Notable humans are played by Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Without exposing specific plot details, be aware the story is set 10 years after the last film, wherein a pandemic due to the ALZ-113 virus has supposedly wiped out every human on earth. Again, supposedly. Cut to a forrest shot in an undisclosed location as simian hunters led by Caesar down a deer but have to fight a ferocious grizzly bear to claim their prize. Throughout the jaw-dropping action, it appears an honest to goodness trained bear was used. Permit me to reveal that not only is the bear digitalized, but so is the deer. Add to that the ape actors (via “motion capture”), and the effect is awesomely accomplished.  These apes are not humans merely wearing monkey fur and face masks, as in 1968’s Charlton Heston starrer, Planet of the Apes...as well as the string of Planet of the Apes films carrying that phase of the franchise into the 1970's.
Updating to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it turns out, as shown in previews, there are still humans alive, one large pocket of them living in the ruins of San Francisco. (Didn’t you see what’s left of the Golden Gate Bridge in the trailer?) It is inevitable the humans and apes meet, and so goes the storyline. Thanks to human experimentation on many of the apes 10 years before, Caesar and his crew have near-human intelligence, including speaking ability. Incidentally, the virus did not affect these apes. 
Distrust and disloyalty fester among both humans and apes, even though positive strides are taken to live and work together in peace. As in real life, peace rarely lasts, so a good deal of the film deals with explosive war. Amidst the bloodshed, however, is underlying humanity and desire to end the fighting. The human effort is led by Malcolm (Clarke), who befriends Caesar and his family early on, gaining trust and respect. Malcom’s wife Ellie (Russell) and teen son Alexander (Smit-McPhee) work with him to achieve camaraderie with the ape village. 
Working against them, out of vengeance, is fellow human Dreyfus (Oldman). Caesar’s nemesis, Koba, is dangerously hateful against humans as well as his own leader, Caesar. It makes for a complex, compelling story that is greatly enhanced by the jaw-dropping digital effects. Seeing it in 3-D is frosting.  
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is all about survival and trust, and superbly told. This is not only the best picture of the summer, so far, but the best picture of the year, so far. Very likely one can say the same at the close of 2014. 
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GRADE on A-F Scale: A+
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The official trailer of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpSaTrW4leg

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