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Matt Reeves Brings a New 'Dawn' to 'Planet of the Apes'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 4, 2014 at 7:26AM

No "Apes" director has gone through the looking glass to explore the human condition as ambitiously as Matt Reeves. As a result, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the smartest and most compelling kind of summer tentpole, with Andy Serkis delivering his most powerful performance as Caesar, and Weta Digital making a quantum leap in performance capture. We are totally immersed in Caesar's struggle to prevent war with humanity, and forget that we're watching a CG character.
'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

For instance, during an intense moment of anger and sadness, Weta even recreated the redness on the bottom of the eyes when he cries with incredible detail.

"I think there's confusion on both sides," Reeves suggests. "There are people that don't understand how great an actor Andy is, and there are other people on the other side who have no idea what amazing animators the people at Weta are. They never stop pushing. It takes so many levels of translation and performance and commitment to achieve such realism.

Shooting natively in 3-D provided another challenge, particularly since Reeves wanted to emphasize shallower depth of field with long lenses, but the results worked to his aesthetic advantage, and he was heartened by a similar strategy achieved by Ang Lee in "Life of Pi."

"The reason I wanted that aesthetic was that if the story is presented in such a grounded way, the only fantastical element is that you have intelligent apes. But if it could feel real in every other way, it would be an uncanny, emotional, and realistic experience. It was a revelation seeing how the apes were dimensionalized equally with the humans occupying the same space."

While Reeves will direct the next sequel (the battle), he's also intrigued about the possibility of remaking the 1968 original, which is where this saga is headed. "Somebody asked me if it's a bit boring that you already know the end of the story, and I said, no, that's the best part about it. We know what happened but how did it happen? And stories that are about the how and the why are always about character. And the characters in this story are so rich. And how does Caesar go from leading these apes in one incarnation to the apes that we know from 'Planet of the Apes'? That's an amazing journey." 

Indeed, as the apes realize how human they are, we realize how animalistic we are. "And there's this eternal question: Can we resist our darker nature, the struggle for violence within us, and find a way to get along with each other and with ourselves?"

Thus, the timing couldn't be better for a return to the "Planet of the Apes."

This article is related to: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves, VFX, Immersed In Movies

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.