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For being movies that most certainly fit within the science-fiction genre, both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are surprisingly grounded movies. While the features do have primates that quickly evolve and learn to talk thanks to a rather miraculous serum, everything else about the movies very much reflect our own world. This interestingly runs in contrast to the history of the Planet of the Apes franchise, which is filled with all kinds of out-there concepts and ideas, and begs a particular question: will the rebooted series ever reach that level of strangeness? For now, it appears the answer to that question is a rather firm "no."
With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes now available on Blu-ray and DVD, I recently had the opportunity to interview director Matt Reeves – who is also helming the upcoming sequel – and during our conversation the filmmaker explained why audiences shouldn’t anticipate the franchise to start moving in more strange sci-fi directions. Specifically citing the bizarreness of 1970’s Beneath The Planet of the Apes - which features human mutants living underground worshiping a nuclear bomb – I asked the filmmaker if he plans on moving the rebooted series in those kinds of directions, and while he acknowledged that aspect of the franchise’s history, he also told me why there are no current plans to head the new movies towards that angle. Said Reeves,
"To me, there’s something very exciting about letting the one aspect of fantasy, the one sort of fantastical element, be the only fantastical element. When you start piling strangeness upon strangeness, the movie can take on a kind of baroque madness, which can be incredibly fun, but it isn’t the most exciting part of the genre, because to me the idea is to use the metaphors of these genres to do movies that otherwise couldn’t be made."
Reeves noted that he has recently went back and watched all of the original Planet of the Apes films – something that he actually didn’t have the chance to do while preparing for work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - and while it did remind him of exactly what he loved about the franchise as a kid, he’s found that the bigger draw to him now making the movies is the idea of creating what he calls an "emotional reality" that allows him to dig into characters and expose who they really are. Said the director,
"We got to do a movie that was essentially a character drama, that was exploring our darker nature and an anatomy of the violence within us and the ways in which we are drawn repeatedly into violence."
While I certainly understand where Matt Reeves is coming from, there is also a part of me that wishes there was a little more wiggle room here - if not only because mainstream "out there" sci-fi movies are so rare nowadays. That being said, it’s also incredibly hard to argue with the results featured in the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is easily one of the best blockbusters to come out this year. This approach seems to be working for now, but I hope that in a few years and after a few more sequels that we may start to see a shift and a bit more experimentation.
What do you think of this direction for the Planet of the Apes franchise? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.