Monday, July 14, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) : A Review and Reflection
Before I get to the film let me make a couple of comments about the cinematic experience. I am amazed at how the price of going ton the movies has escalated over the past few years. I had my own 3 D glasses and it still cost $21 to go to the movies. My kids didn't want to come along this time, but the movie theatres need to realise they are pricing themselves out of the regular family entertainment market for large portions of society. While they push reward schemes for regular movie goers, they do not help themselves in the fight against other mediums for watching films and movies. HD TV, and increased low cost Internet access are changing the way people legally and yes illegally access movies and theatres need to realise that they can't simply make their advantage, actually going to the movies, a luxury item.
And before I get to the movie, I must comment on the fact that I sat in the cinema and watched twenty minutes of adverts before the film actually started. If I had been disorganised and running late or been stuck in a long queue as the movie theatre kept costs down by cutting staff numbers I would have been pleased, but despite the fact that some of them were trailers for up coming attractions that again the theatres were trying to ring every ounce of revenue they could from advertising and again impacting on the cinematic moment in a detrimental way. If I wanted to wade through twenty minutes of ads I'd wait and watch the movie on free to air.
Anyway after venting about all that now to the movie... Wow! what a great movie. Gripping and challenging, both hopeful even in the face of post apocalyptic circumstances and at the same time stark and dark.
The movie starts off where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes finished' with the escape of the Apes from San Francisco over shadowed by the spread of the simian flu, which wipes out vast percentages of the worlds population. In the space of a few minutes told through a plague map which turns into a globe where the lights are going out and new casts fading to silence we see the spread of the disease and the demise of humanity. We then meet the Ape population in Southern California which over that same time frame has grown numerically and in terms of social structure.
Without wanting to ad spoilers the two species now meet again. As people from the remaining colony in San Francisco head up into the hills to find power from a hydro electric dam. The needs of man and ape seem to clash as we find Apes now living off the resources in this area, it is their hunting grounds and home. The meeting does not go well, a nervous human fires his gun, and we meet once again Caesar, the leaders of the Apes, now a father, who shocks the humans by telling them to 'Go'.
The film develops from there with both sides offering aid and reconciliatory acts of kindness to each other, and expressing anger and mistrust as well. We are invited in the juxtaposition of the two peoples to see that both are very much alike despite their differences. Both are concerned about the survival of their species, both value family and friendships, both have strong moral and ethical understandings that underpin who they are, both have wise and compassionate leaders, both also have influential members of their groupings who are broken and scared buy their pasts and unable to forgive or be reconciled with the possibility of living alongside each other in peace.
Without giving the plot away the main characters of the story both Ape and human are able to go beyond the conflict to genuinely care and be concerned and help each other but in the end the pull of the storyline and the already determined outcome of the film series, means that both sides are swept into conflict.
The movie is gripping as it draws you along on a story that oscillates between glimmers of hope and possibility and the darkness of hatred mistrust and despair. Amidst the crumbling infrastructure of the western world groups that have so much in common but at the same time are so different cannot seem to make living in peaceful co existence work. Their world views are so different, their is a history of mistrust and hatred and wrongdoing. I couldn't wonder if this wasn't so sort of premature epitaph for the western world multicultural experiment we are working through at the moment. A cautionary tale for humanity as we find ourselves wrestling with less and less resource and living now in a global village.
Anyway before I get to some of those kinds of reflections I want to make some brief mention of the artistry of this movie. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is again a quantum step forward for the use of live capture animation. The artistry of that technique matures in this movie. It is prevalent and dominates screen time, without drawing attention to itself in a way that distracts from the story. Once again Andy Serkis shows his brilliance as an actor and his mastery of the live capture animation genre. He deserves an Oscar nomination for performance and if he does not win one he deserves a honorary Oscar or life time achievement one for his pioneering of this new art form. I've seen him in so many movies and admired the role he has played and actually only really seen him in one movie. Toby Kebbell equally deserves a mention for his wonderful portrayal of the dark Koba. The actor not working behind the live action animation also do a great job. Keri Russell is able to portray both strength of conviction and also deep compassion. Jason Clarke acts as a great foil for Caesar in terms of leadership, showing compassion and openness as well as carrying in his appearance the stress and in the end brokenness of heart that goes with leadership, and Garry Oldman is a great foil for Koba.
The whole colouring, lighting and production value of the film works well and paints the darkness of the story which unfolds. The revisiting of Caesar's childhood home pick up both the possibility of hope and a different outcome but also the brokenness of the world that was, that just maybe such ideas of hope and co existence are a thing of the past that like this haven have crumbled.
When I look at this movie a couple of theological reflections come to mind. The first is that the movie is an awakening in both human and ape that creation is broken. Yes they are both capable of acts of kindness and compassion, love and care, both for those like themselves and the other. But as Caesar discovers there is not just bad humans and good apes but the possibility and reality of both good and evil in both. Caesar wrestles with those extremes in himself and within the genetically modified apes we see the impact of evil and hatred. Sadly in the end it seems that there is no way for the two species to coexist as equals.
The other is the really the idea of living with hope in a fixed and determined universe, or rather in a broken and determined universe. The filmic reality is caught really in that the end is known before the story is told, we are drawn into the storyline because we find ourselves asking the question how could this happen? and we are told how it did happen, despite the writers giving us glimpses of a possible alternative universe, we are set for humans at least on a grim path to decline and slavery. Apes and Humans are set for a climatic clash that will initiate the future and that future is about to dawn and be (if they stick to the same titles as the original movie series without the original story details) to a battle for the planet of the apes. The Christian faith calls us to live in the hope that a new world and a new creation will emerge or in actual fact has been inaugurated in the coming of Christ into the timeline of our world and its history. That a better age and the reign of peace and Justice is possible, and we are called even in the face of what seems a determined and often dark world to be people who live with the glimpse of hope of the possibility of a different world. Cesar does not have that hope he can only see the need for the survival of his people, in a separate path for development. We are called even in the face of darkness to trust in Christ and to work and look for a way forward, to be people of trust and compassion.
I don't believe in a fixed and determined universe, but I do believe in a determined God. In the end (not a spoiler) Caesar faces the future path he has chosen, his eyes steely set on that future, he walks forward into his people... My hope is in walking forward with eyes fixed on Christ... Who for the joy set before him endured the cross. Caesar welcomes the hands held out in servitude to him, I hope to hold my hand out in peace and friendship and openness.