The summer’s next big blockbuster has arrived with the cinematic release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Matt Reeves, who directed this entry, has essentially completed the impossible; Dawn is absolutely magnificent, and is one of the finest sequels ever made.
Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a pleasant surprise when released three years earlier. Rise showcased groundbreaking motion-capture (mocap), backed by the inspired performance of Andy Serkis. The film was a runaway success, garnering massive critical acclaim and a hefty $481 million box office haul.
It was by no surprise, 20th Century Fox would pursue a sequel to the revitalized franchise. “People really got behind Caesar and were excited about it. We felt like we should start thinking about a sequel, because there is so much going on in the Apes mythology and there is so much more to tell of Caesar,” says the film’s producer, Dylan Clark (86). Matt Reeves, known for his work on Cloverfield, was tapped to direct the follow-up. Reeves sought the help of Mark Bomback to facilitate a script deeply rooted within an ape civilization. “It’s about Caesar trying to maintain his victory that was so hard won at the end of Rise,” Bomback writes of the process. “It’s about, ‘How do I preserve this vision that I’ve been fighting for, this real future for apes…'” (86).
Next, Reeves would recruit Andy Serkis to reprise his role as Caesar. Serkis’ emotional performance in Rise had fans calling for an Academy Award nomination. Andy relished at the opportunity to continue Caesar’s saga. Another important reprisal was Terry Notary, the de facto expert on ape movement. Notary plays Rocket in both films, and had been responsible for recruiting and training the ape actors. Serkis calls him one of the unsung heroes of the franchise (56).
While the performances are nothing short of brilliant, a lot of credit is due to Weta Digital, the performance capture and CGI animators that brought these films to life. The visual effects team revolutionized the industry through new approaches combining mocap ape actors, with the on-set human cast. Traditionally, the two are separate, with live performers interacting with tennis balls. The Weta team used facial expression capture techniques they developed through their work on James Cameron’s Avatar, to bring true-to-life emotion to the apes. These innovations in motion-capture have allowed actors to focus on the performance, rather than the technology.
The Art of the Films: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a truly magnificent coffee table book for any fan of this franchise, or anyone interested in visual design. The latter of which is this book’s forte. This beautiful hardbound book contains 176 pages of gorgeous behind-the-scenes photography, production artwork, and insight from the cast and crew of the film.
The book is separated into two chapters, each representing one of the films. The chapters are broken down into sections representing a particular setting or plot point along the corresponding timeline. The flow of topics provide for an intelligently organized and easy-to-read affair. Expect to have this book completed in an afternoon while gawking at the wonderful imagery.
The opening pages take a look at GenSys, the bio-research facility responsible for producing ALZ-112 and ultimately, the world-ending Simian Flu. The usage of long glass walls for adding depth were key design elements according to production designer Claude Paré (18). The sleek laboratory was in stark contrast to Will’s (James Franco) claustrophobic home and the distressed ape compound. The ape compound section is of particular interest as it uncovers the thought process behind separating the communal sanctuary, from the ape cages. Parts of this chapter also comprise mocap technique, as well as the viral campaign tasked at re-launching the Apes franchise.
Having just come off a fresh viewing of Dawn, I found the second chapter of the book the most appealing. I think it is important to note, while the book does break down the film into specific acts, it in no way spoils any surprises. Readers who have not seen Dawn can rest assured, this book is a field-guide to enhance the experience.
The second chapter once again breaks down key movie scenes into their own sections. I found the ape and human civilization coverage, along with Maurice’s classroom (as I’ve come to call it), the most intriguing entries. Admittedly, I am fascinated with post-apocolyptic dystopian science-fiction. Dawn fits that bill perfectly. Matt Reeves claims he did not include easter eggs in this film, but the book tells a different story. From the symbolic use of Caesars attic window, down to the dilapidated cable car from Rise, this book is a cheat sheet for easter egg hunters. Maurice’s classroom was of particular interest. The filmmakers and production designers went so far as telling the story of Caesar’s ape liberation in the form of hieroglyphic-like drawings along the compound walls. Maurice teaches the younger apes about their history as well as the “apes shall not kill apes” maxim.
Overall, I cannot praise the book enough. It is a fantastic companion to the movie, as well as a conversation piece around the coffee table. The book is available now at local book stores and on-line marketplaces.
All images courtesy of Titan Books
Film Obsession is excited to offer our readers a shot at winning Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: The Official Movie Novelization. Please note, this is not the same book as reviewed above.
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