Dig Baton Rouge

From Apes to CineMagi

By Bill Arceneaux

It’s hard to get rid of long held perceptions and notions, especially when it comes to cinema. All you have to do is look at the trailer of Ridley Scott’s latest “epic” Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tells the story of Moses and Ramses… by way of casting white actors. In this day and age, it should be silly for a Hollywood production to do such a thing, and even sillier for an audience to buy this, but I have a feeling that most people – outside of critics – feel comfortable with this. Remember how not too long ago people were offended by a painting of a Black Jesus? Some things that are wrong feel right, mostly because we’ve been taught to feel comfortable around it, and anything else is wrong and just won’t work.

Best Picture winner The Artist understood this, and chose to break a few patterns of the silent film genre because the general audience doesn’t have the patience or understanding to sit through it, were the presentation straight. It’s sad but true. These notions and perceptions of anything stylistically out of the ordinary make it difficult for major studios to want to invest in exciting material and even more difficult for moviegoers to embrace them and buy tickets.

Who knew that mold could be broken with a rebooted/prequel franchise sequel? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is absolutely amazing in both its storytelling and daringness.

The story of Caesar, the ape who, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we got to see develop from a simple animal to a heroic figure of independence, continues several years down the line. When we are reintroduced, he has formed a colony of fellow apes that now has school, basic medicine, hunting parties, language, etc. Compared to the humans, who have lost populations, contact, energy and more, the upper hand lies with Caesar and his crew. We do follow some humans now and then, but the true emotional connection – and what makes the movie truly compelling – is made with these CGI creatures that have been placed on top of motion captured actors. I very briefly mentioned the silent film formula above, but didn’t expand on it. Allow me to do so here.

Often, I’ll compare silent cinema to professional wrestling. As funny as that may look, it’s pretty accurate. Both mediums depend heavily on body language – something that is universally understood. This is why, when watching Mexican wrestling, you can still follow the action and determine who should and shouldn’t be rooted for. Pro wrestling has spoken play by play announcing, silent film has speech text, but both techniques are pretty supplementary. If the match or movie is good enough, it needs neither.

In Dawn, the apes do speak on occasion, but in brief and broken sentences. Short, sweet, to the point and for the benefit of the human characters and human audience. Some subtitles appear as well when hand gestures are used, but again, the real power comes from the expressive emotiveness of their bodies – their computer-generated, actor-helmed bodies. It’s almost like watching the original King Kong and feeling for this completely animated figure who is unable to “properly” communicate with us, but we are able to fully understand anyways.

Who knew such humanity could be drawn some such a non-human source? That itself is both an accurate statement to make in regards to Dawn and an ignorant notion to have. In reality, the source is very human, coming both from skilled actors and strongly written characters. The whole thing is a technological marvel, sure, but more importantly is a captivating powerhouse depicting the struggle to survive and maintain family. Of course, that intensity wouldn’t be as pronounced as it is if the technical side of the effects and storytelling weren’t so simple, effective and progressive. Will it be enough to change hearts and open minds of audiences and studios alike? I have an optimistic perception.

Best Moment – The mere existence of this film.
Worst Moment – When you start questioning the Avatar franchise.
Advice – You might want to bring Kleenex to dry your tears of joy.


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