Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

By Di Golding

Mailed on July 12, 2014

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Dear Charlton Heston
Actor and Former President of the NRA

Dear Charlton,

You were the star of the film that started it all. In the 1969 version of Planet of the Apes, you played an astronaut who landed on a planet where apes were the dominant species and humans were enslaved. Your intelligent captors named you Bright Eyes, and when you finally spoke, you screamed a line that has become a classic: "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!" In your second career as president of the National Rifle Association, you popularized a phrase that although iconic, is perhaps one of the most divisive you ever uttered, "From my cold, dead hands."

It's almost a blessing that you didn't live to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I can imagine it would be bittersweet for you to now see the apes with guns.

When you passed away in 2008, the Hollywood model of rebooting franchises from origin stories was hitting its stride, reaching a high-point with this film's direct predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011. In Dawn, a decade has passed and the man-made "simian flu" has wiped out most of humanity. Caesar, a super-intelligent chimp, lives a peaceful existence with other advanced primates in the Muir woods outside San Francisco. Now the father to an adult male and a newborn son, Caesar governs his society with compassion and fairness.

The first human that comes in contact with the apes shoots one of them, claiming it was self-defense. I guess you would call that 'standing your ground', even though he had invaded the ape's territory. The ape wasn't fatally wounded, but his father, Koba, who was tortured by humans and rescued by Caesar, wants revenge. In order to avoid all-out war, Caesar grants a small group of humans permission to restore power to a hydro dam that borders ape territory. But the humans must first surrender their guns to the apes to be destroyed.

That rumble I just felt must be you spinning in your grave.

Don't worry, since we're dealing with humans in America, there is a stockpile of weapons. An armory, in fact. Koba overtakes the armory, and turns against Caesar. The most important tenet of ape society is 'ape shall not kill ape', like those prop commandment tablets you held up in your role as Moses. You know, the 'thou shalt not kill', one (which doesn't really jibe with the whole NRA thing, but I guess that's why you were such a great "actor"). Rest assured that your dogma is adhered to even once the apes are armed and on the attack, because guns don't kill people, apes do.

Bad acting, as you know, can also kill movies. In your later years, you became a master of scenery chewing. Heston the legend usurped Heston the actor. It's ironic, then that this film's lead, Andy Serkis, is renowned for literally disappearing into his remarkably nuanced motion captured performances. As the deeply conflicted Caesar, Serkis delivers such profound emotion to his role that even the best available CGI could never imitate. In fact, all of the simian performances are so gripping in their realism that - despite the film's masterful art direction, understated special effects and strong human characters - it's their authentic interaction that rescues this movie. Instead of being restricted to the confines of being just another franchise potboiler, those hairy primates elevate Dawn to the type of storytelling that transcends genre.

You're no stranger to Dawn's theme of competing ideologies. Above all, you were a man who saw issues as very black and white. But it's the moral grey areas of this film that make it so compelling. There are no good guys or bad guys, nor is it obvious who we should root for. Indeed, as the apes become more like humans, they struggle with this very notion. Dreyfuss, the leader of the human compound, nearly steals a line right from your cold, dead mouth: "They may have their hands on our guns but that does not make them men."

For the sake of ape-kind, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Rest in peace,


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