‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ imagines post-apocalyptic San Francisco

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A long time has passed since Charlton Heston damned all the apes to hell and repeatedly pummeled a beautiful beach in the first “Planet of the Apes” (1968).

Now, humanity has succumbed to a pandemic. Conquered by illness and defeated by apes, the human race has become extinct. In “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” we are introduced to the primate civilization that surges from the ruins of our world. We are long gone, and our culture is no more than the remnants of an echo. The post-apocalyptic origin of this debacle is unclear in the film, as the narrative barely contemplates, vaguely mentioning an outbreak. Humanity is forced to crumble by a virus. This virus destabilizes the social status quo, and a war breaks out that would obliterate humanity, extinguishing its light. Or so we are led to believe.

The story begins where humanity ends. Apes take control of the land, as nature reclaims the ruins of unfinished skyscrapers, which stand like monuments to humanity’s unsustainable arrogance. The narrative follows a group of apes that have developed a highly functional society in which social conflict doesn’t exist, as they fully submit to one leader, Caesar — a historically uninspired name. The tranquility, balance, togetherness and integrity this group of un-evolved apes has naturally acquired allows the viewer to consider whether the dichotomy we understand to exist between primitive and developed is coherent.

It is not long before problems arise in this cohesive and peaceful colony. These problems are caused by us: humans, again. We are — of course — trespassing on ape territory, and interfering in their affairs. The story is told from the apes’ perspective, and as the audience follows the apes that in turn follow the humans, we discover that humanity still stands, though weak and fragile. Time and the absence of power have reconciled us with nature, as we stand in the jungle-like ruins of San Francisco. However, we are eager to disrupt this nexus between us and nature once again. In order to do so, humans must repair a dam deep in ape territory so that we may restore the electric power supply. This ignites the fire that would awaken the unforgotten conflict between apes and humans, before the near-extinction of the latter.

Aesthetically, the results of the movie are astounding. Computer-generated imagery rules with all the might that $120 million can buy. It shows us that, environmentally speaking, the extinction of humanity is the best thing to ever happen to Earth. Vegetation overflows to expose the crude essence of non-controlled natural growth. Buildings are dormant, and they suffer, consumed, hiding beneath a powerful coat of green. Though the color palette may seem limited and uninventive, as it strictly follows the canon established by previous post-apocalyptic universes, the visuals are beautiful. Every trope is here, from the rusting cars, to the monkeys gesticulating how important “family, home” and “future” are.

The movie achieves what it sets out to do. It entertains. However, there are certain limitations it sets upon itself and as a consequence does not intellectually respect the audience. This streams from two main sources. First, the storyline cradles the viewer, walks him by the hand and feeds him everything he need to know. It does not allow for individual deduction. Second, the apes progressively, and in the same generation — as a matter of fact, in a period of a couple days — start utilizing the English language, almost displacing their own. Also, their speech level appears to vary immensely, as they sometimes struggle to string together a couple words, and sometimes are quite eloquent.

Both are necessary evils. Of course, a movie is supposed to be understandable and not obscure, and the film might become too much of a burden with yellow letters constantly taking up screen space, that would deprive the audience of the beautiful scenery. Even though these purposeful and almost necessary mistakes sometimes force the viewer into cringing, they are easy to overlook, and still permit almost full enjoyment of the wonderful imagery and sound effects.

This film will crown itself as a worthy and dignified prequel to the ground-breaking and trend-setting paradigm that started with the original film.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is playing at UA Berkeley 7 in standard and 3-D.

 

Contact David Socol at [email protected].