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While most reboots of decades-old franchises have earned the scorn of movie fans who sneer at seemingly artless cash-grabs, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed how modern tech could effectively expand on a pre-existing film world. The cutting edge motion-capture animation of WETA combined with the unique acting talents of mo-cap performance master Andy Serkis created an ape like we'd never seen before. Caesar was more than ape but less than an man, and his emotional through line was a major part of what earned the latest Planet of the Apes critical praise and more than $481 million at the box office. It was also what attracted director Matt Reeves to helm Rise's sequel, the forthcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Ahead of his taking to the panel stage at San Diego Comic Con, Reeves spoke with Indie Wire about his in-production adventure, and revealed plenty besides his admiration for Serkis and the character he created. First off, Reeves was a long-time fan of the franchise. As a kid, he was so obsessed with the original movies that he dreamed of being a gorilla. (As it goes, film director is not a bad plan B.) When he had a meeting with producer Emma Watts for Dawn, he was presented with an outline by Rise of the Planet of the Apes' scribes Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. Their concept for the story jumped ahead, far into the apes evolution from the ones seen beginning to evolve in the 2011 film and the ones seen in the Heston-era Apes movies. To Reeves, this leap was too drastic, and leaves behind the key to what made Rise so compelling, namely Caesar's internal struggle.
Instead, Reeves suggested the Dawn pick up much closer to the ending or Rise, following the narrative of Caesar. He explains:
"Where the first movie ends on the precipice of a major shift about to happen in the world, I wanted to come into that story. It's definitely a bigger ape world, but it still centered on Andy Serkis as Caesar, it's his POV….I wanted to make sure that the emotional life of Caesar was the way the story carried forward. You have to make Caesar's movie, you have to think about what matters to him the most."
So, Reeves reworked the script with writer Mark Bomback. Their sequel is set in a world where humans and apes have struck a tenuous peace treaty following a virus that has decimated mankind's population. In this brave new world, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has two portraits of family, one human and one ape. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee play the human family, while Serkis, Judy Greer and Nick Thurston portray Caesar, his partner Cornelia, and their son respectively. Also among the cast is Gary Oldman as a man called Dreyfuss, Toby Kebbel as the scar-faced bonobo Koba, Karin Konoval as the orangutan Maurice, and Terry Notary as the former alpha chimp Rocket.
Some of the cast will be making appearances at Comic Con this weekend. But don't expect to see much footage. With so much of the film dependent on CGI, Reeves admits there is little to show to the Comic Con crowds, and none of it will have apes. But the good news is that Fox has pushed back Dawn's debut to give more time for Reeves to get all his ambitious vfx work—that includes loads of on location motion capture—perfect. And from the passion he shows in this interview—which I recommend you read in full—this could be one of the strongest Planet of the Apes' entries yet.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is now shooting in Louisiana and Vancouver. There's still a lot of Weta work to be done, but Apes will invade theaters on July 18th, 2014.