Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

[Author’s Note—Raymond Williams wrote, “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” (87). The etymology of the word began with reference to agricultural growth (the attentive care necessary to produce plants or breed animals, as in cultivation) and religious growth (the spiritual care necessary to promote enlightenment and epiphany, as in cult, which did not always denote negative connotation). The word culture has come to characterize humanistic growth, especially phenomena that represent the complexity of the human condition, collectively or individually, within a generational environment. Of course, even this definition is insufficient. Culture represents our human lives, and we are all immersed within our own individualized versions of culture, whether it involves work, family, money, politics, religion, or entertainment.

We reflectively know that the poems and stories found within the literary canon represent our culture. We know that art, music, the stage, sports, and film represent culture. In our modern environment—though some scholars might be loath to admit it—television, video games, and internet websites also qualify as cultural indicators. We often share with others what we find to be relevant and significant, and the respondents either approve or disapprove. This exchange perpetuates, fundamentally supporting the cultural conversation between individuals for eons, and we retain those cultural items that are agreed to be most worthy of inclusion. These cultural items often are designated as literary.

I am an enthusiastic explorer of popular culture. Three circumstances compel me to focus on pop culture topics for my blog at this time: 1) It’s summertime!!! 2) There has been a disproportionate amount of depressing world events taking place that compel me to look away for a moment, for preservation of good spirit. 3) I will be teaching again, so I’d like to dive right back into academia in the form of literary study! (I know…sounds riveting…this is how I relax and have fun!) I am going to celebrate life by having a cultural weekend, filled with film, stage, and music.

On Sunday afternoon, I attended my local movie theater to see the summer movie I looked forward to the most. Today, I share the final part of a four-part cultural leg of The Maniacal Rant, in which I explore some significance from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes–SG]

Summer movies can be good for generating excitement, but too many times have I been eager to see a summer movie and had my expectations ripped to shreds (X-Men: Days of Future Past comes to mind).

Thank the Good Lord above that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was so satisfying. “Freakin’ awesome!!” in fact, if you’ll allow my inner child a moment to share his reaction after seeing the film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a spectacular sci-fi movie with a solid story that focuses more on the apes than the humans. Of course, many elements of the script are indeed predictable (though, there is one cleverly-written device in the script that was mostly unanticipated), but this is understandable considering this is the umpteenth film that employs the apes-take-over-the-planet mythos. It’s a testament to this film that it is easily the best movie within the whole series, even eclipsing the original Charlton Heston-acted, Rod Serling-written classic.

The special effects for the apes are phenomenal, and an Oscar nomination for visual effects is guaranteed (and they should be the front-runner at this point). For those not in the know, the apes in the film are human actors, using CGI to merge human expression to ape characters in most convincing fashion. I’d wager to say that there has not been a film that has incorporated visual effects so effectively and vitally since Jurassic Park.

Andy Serkis, he of Gollum fame from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays the role of his lifetime as Caesar. It’s downright spooky to recognize Serkis’ countenance so realistically as an ape, and his performance is something to behold. Serkis is receiving comparisons as a modern-day version of Lon Cheney, deservedly. This is a longshot, but Andy Serkis deserves consideration for best actor of the year for his role in this film, if for no other reason that this type of character on film is mostly unprecedented (If Johnny Depp gets an Oscar nomination for playing Keith Richards in a pirate costume, then Andy Serkis definitely deserves some consideration)…and the success of this film in its entirety mostly relies on Serkis’ stoic ape character…

…I say mostly because such lofty consideration should also be given to Toby Kebbel. He plays another ape in the film, Toba, and Kebbel is a revelation. His star is rising, for certain. There is one scene when he is interacting with two militant humans that is magnificent because it depends mostly on Kebbel’s facial expressions as an ape…I’ll leave it at that…the fact that I’m trying my best not to spoil the movie for my reader is indication that I want her to enjoy the full cinematic experience.

As for cultural relevance, most viewers will anticipate commentary on the human condition from the film, as the obvious parallels between human civilization and the evolutionary stages of man can be found. There are easy comparisons to make concerning war and its impetus. Some might see human fallibility in our need for technology primarily, as apes need no such crutch. I read a critic’s review who thought the theme of the film centered specifically on the power of the gun (Spoiler alert: watch the film before clicking on this critic’s review). I’m not sure I buy that obvious of a political interpretation, but there’s no denying that there is a cornucopia of cultural themes to pull from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

My initial stab for the thematic cultural statement of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: the positive characteristics of man, a want for peace and goodness, are inherent when shared with one another, but the negative characteristics, the need for violence and war, are manufactured by selfish individuals who fool the collective into believing that evil is an inherent trait of man.

It was so very satisfying to walk out of the theater after watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I thought it might be the best film of the summer of 2014, and I am happy to confirm that it is. I remember talking with a student about a year ago about this very film. He had enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great deal and predicted Dawn of the Planet of the Apes might be one of the greatest films ever. Well, for my friend Daniel Anderson, I’m happy to say, sir, that you have proven to be correct.

Works Cited

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Dir. Matt Reeves. Perf. Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Toby Kebbel. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2014. Film.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford, 1976. Print.

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Scott C. Guffey
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