Great Debate: Who Should Direct Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes?

By Katey Rich and Sean O'Connell 2012-09-26 10:20:26discussion comments
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Great Debate: Who Should Direct Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes? image
Though we've known for a while that Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt would not be back to direct the film's sequel, currently called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there were still a lot of surprises in the story that broke last night about who might replace him. Wyatt was an unknown before he took on Rise, and shepherded what looked like a folly of a project to massive box office and critical success; in bailing on the project, he reportedly said the studio wasn't giving him enough time to make the film to his liking and also meet the May 23, 2014 release date already scheduled by the studio.

So you'd think Fox would turn to another unknown for the sequel, right? Not at all. The recently revealed shortlist includes names as huge as Guillermo del Toro (currently at work on Pacific Rim) and Rian Johnson (of this weekend's Looper), along with indie darlings like Take Shelter's Jeff Nichols. Every single one of the directors has made at least one outstanding feature-- but even if you like all of these directors, imagining them taking the reins of a massive movie like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes requires some adjusting.

We have no say in who will get the job, of course, but that doesn't mean we won't chime in anyway. Below Sean and I discuss who we think ought to get the Rise job, whether the studio's rush will doom the film regardless, and whether we're interested in seeing another Apes film without Wyatt on board. Take a look at our conversation, then vote in the poll to let us know what you think should happen.

KATEY: Sean, the shortlist revealed last night for directors meeting Fox about directing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is pretty insane. Whereas Rupert Wyatt was basically an unknown when he took on the first film, the new shortlist is pretty much a who's who of people making fascinating small-scale films who might be ready for a leap up to a huge budget (Plus Guillermo del Toro, who seems like a total outlier and I can't imagine taking the job).

For me, at least, it's no question that I want to see all of these guys have great careers. But I'm kind of stopping short imagining any of them on this particular job. How about you?

SEAN: Well, a few names jumped off of that short list as excellent contenders. The inclusion of del Toro seems like the only real reach. There's no way I see him doing an Apes sequel (though to be honest, he would do an outstanding job). Looking at the last Apes movie, the one that rebooted this series and set it down its current path, it's clear that Fox needs to hire a director who is comfortable with heavy special effects work but is also interested in characterization and dramatic progression. Rise of the Planet of the Apes boasted outstanding digital work, but anyone hired can hand that baton to WETA. We need someone with an eye for outstanding visuals, but also someone who can manage actors and coax emotional performances out of them, like Wyatt did with Franco and the mo-capped Andy Serkis. For me, there's one name on the shortlist that jumps out, and it's J.A. Bayona.

KATEY: I assume that's because you've seen The Impossible and sobbed like a baby and want Bayona to make you feel that way forever?

SEAN: Exactly! If I had not seen The Impossible, and only knew Bayona from The Orphanage, I'm not sure I'd see him as a candidate for an Apes sequel. The Orphanage was a chilling ghost story with a few very effective scenes. But The Impossible showed that this guy is capable of so much more. My complaint might be that an Apes sequel is too limiting for him, and I'd almost like to see him strike out in an original direction. That being said, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has the potential to think very big (with action on a grand scale), so Bayona's "audition reel" that is The Impossible might be what gets him the job. Do you disagree?

KATEY: No, I think Bayona is also a great choice-- especially since, unlike Rian Johnson (Looper) or Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), he's yet to make a big Hollywood movie that fully establishes him as a big deal. But here's the thing that worries me about this Apes movie. Rupert Wyatt bailed on the project because he didn't think he had enough time to do it right-- and with a release date set for May of 2014, I think he's probably right. Do you trust Fox to hire one of these guys we really like and then help them make a good movie? Or are they just rushing to the finish line and hiring someone who's lesser known and therefore can be bossed around more?

SEAN: It sounds like the latter. This is becoming an extremely disturbing trend, movies that come with built-in release dates. I understand that studios need their tent-pole features. They are the bread-and-butter of a studio's overall budget. But picking a release date for a movie before it has a director is crazy talk. You are exactly right that Fox will end up hiring a director who is willing to "play ball" just to get a shot to work on a bigger-budget, higher-exposure studio sequel.

Without Wyatt, who on the shortlist honestly will come at this project with any passion for the next step in the story? I'm guessing none of them will. And even if Reeves (who'd be a good choice) or Rian Johnson (who'd be a mediocre cjoice) were to get excited about the toys in the Apes tool chest, they wouldn't have the proper time to put their own stamp on the material because the studio has painted them into a near-impossible creative corner. It's deadly for the health of a franchise, and it's going to cut the Apes series off at the knees if they stick hard and fast to the release date that they have.

KATEY: And I think Bayona, unlike Johnson or Reeves or even Jeff Nichols (who would be a REALLY weird choice), is enough of a newcomer-- having made his two previous films in Spain-- that so long as Dawn turns out OK, he'll get credit for what happened right and not get slammed for whatever goes wrong.

SEAN: The bottom line is that we have no idea what direction the sequel needs to go. Will it be more of a character-driven story, like Rise actually ended up being? Or will it be a full-blow Man versus Apes action thriller that will require a lot of post-apocalyptic carnage? Because yes, Nichols would be a strange choice, but not if the screenplay has strange components to it that speak to his skill set.
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