A little over a week ago, I attended an early screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that was hosted by The L.A. Times’ Hero Complex blog. The film was spectacular (read my full review here), but the coolest part of the screening was the fact that director Matt Reeves and stars Andy Serkis and Gary Oldman were on hand to talk about the movie in a Q&A session afterwards.
Since the film opens in wide release in theaters tonight, now is a good time to relay some of the most interesting bits of discussion from that Q&A. I transcribed most of their conversation, and to me, the most fascinating element of the night was Reeves talking about how this version of the movie almost never happened. The studio had something totally different in mind when he first met with them about the project. I’ll let him tell the story in his own words:
The movie that they pitched me was not this movie. It started in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, and it wasn’t Caesar’s movie. He was one of the characters, but I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to do this movie.’ And so they said, ‘What would you do?’ And I said, ‘Well, you guys just did something miraculous [with Rise]. You created a hero in Caesar and you found a way to completely reinvent these movies, because this gives you a reason to do them. The idea of that emotional identification with the apes, entering the inner lives of apes, that’s crazy [in a good way] – I think this needs to start with Caesar. I think it should start thinking that the humans might be gone, that we might have destroyed ourselves…I hoped that we could have sequences like that great sequence in Rise where you’re in the habitat for like 15 minutes and it’s almost like a silent film.’ And I figured they’d say, ‘OK, you should leave now.’ What’s so cool with Rise is that it sets you on the beginning of a trajectory toward the ’68 film. That world is nothing like the world of The Planet of the Apes and I thought this was a moment where you could have that moment in time where it could have gone differently. It could have been Planet of the Humans and the Apes. That became the impetus of the story.
That moment of feeling so close to a peaceful world before it descends into chaos is perfectly translated in the movie, and it’s heartbreaking to watch. Another aspect of the discussion I found interesting was Reeves expounding about how the film is supposed to feel like a tragedy. He continued:
We had a battle scene in which you couldn’t root for the apes. I mean, I’m sure some people do, because there’s that sense of ‘Here we go!’ But it’s meant to be a tragedy, and that was a challenge. Here’s the moment that supposedly the audience was waiting for, where the apes are holding machine guns in each arm and riding horses and all this stuff that everybody thinks the big summer movie is supposed to do, and I wanted you to feel sadly about it. I wanted you to feel like it was a nightmare, a fever dream – something terrible. I kept pinching myself that they were letting us make this movie.
He’s exactly right. Before I saw the film, I had the expectation that those scenes in particular were going to be “awesome” in a typical Hollywood studio blockbuster way, but because of the humanity with which Reeves tells this story, and the fact that we legitimately care about what happens to these characters, it doesn’t play like a celebratory moment at all.
And finally, the last part of the night’s discussion I thought was worth sharing was this hilarious bit when Andy Serkis was asked about the iconic image of apes on horseback:
It is interesting seeing animals use other animals as transport. It’s a very strange thing. What other situation do you see that? It doesn’t really happen that often.
He said that with a completely straight face, and something about the way he wistfully and thoughtfully considered the question, as if it were something that regularly occurred in the real world, cracked me up.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens in theaters tonight, and you should definitely check it out.
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