Saturday, April 07, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Monster Squad (1976): "The Astrologer"



In “The Astrologer,” The Monster Squad is shocked when an often-wrong prognosticator (Jonathan Harris) predicts that an Earthquake will strike the West Coast in less than twenty-four hours, separating California permanently from the body of the United States.

(Fred Grandy) and the monsters investigate, only to learn that the Astrologer is determined to make this prediction come true.  In fact, he is taking steps to assure its accuracy!  To that end, the super villain has stolen a thirty-year old atomic bomb, and deposited it in a well at just the right point of sensitive fault line…



Of all Monster Squad episodes thus far, “The Astrologer” just may be the worst, though “Music Man” remains in contention. 

All the familiar elements from Batman are recycled mercilessly here, and the late Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith on Lost in Space [1965 – 1968]) – in garish eye-make-up -- simply bellows all of his lines at the top of his lungs.

Harris’s poorly-modulated performance reveals the nasty pitfall of the high camp approach.  At some point, all the actors simply go so big that they can’t resist the temptation to out-shout one another.  He who shouts loudest is the funniest, I suppose.  Though “funniest” should be in air-quotes, because the material is amazingly unfunny, and proves even less funny when shouted at extreme volume.



The props and costumes look especially thread-bare this week, with the worst example being the Astrologer’s giant clam, Carlo, which attempts to eat the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. The clam looks like it is made of poster board.

And perhaps I’m missing something, but what, precisely, does a clam have to do with astrology?

About the only amusing joke of the segment is Walt’s use of a reference book: How to Difuse [sic] a 30 Year Old Atom Bomb, the text by which he instructs Drac how to negate the threat of the week.




At the end of the episode, Walt reveals that the stolen atom bomb was actually a “dud,” and the same could be said of “The Astrologer,” a shrill, loud half-hour of Monster Squad that had the effect of making my wife leave the room while I was watching it.

This one is just dreadful.

Next week: “Ultra Witch.”

Friday, April 06, 2018

Planet of the Apes 50th Anniversary: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)



(Spoiler Warning: Details of this film are extensively described below).

It is a welcome surprise to report that the new Planet of the Apes franchise has gone three-for-three in terms of quality.

This saga -- consisting of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and War on the Planet of the Apes (2017) -- has proven to be a dramatic high-point of modern, reboot cinema.

In short, all three of these science fiction films are better, merely as stand-alones, than we have any right to expect, given Hollywood norms. 

But the most delightful thing about the trilogy, as proven firmly by War, is that the series also coheres beautifully as overall tale, or large-scale narrative.

War for the Planet of the Apes not only dramatizes a satisfying and emotional story about Caesar, with resonant, and powerful characters all around, it also weaves the whole saga together in a successful, artistic manner.

And then, finally -- with laser-like focus -- it aims that saga straight on course for the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, which is set in a future 2000 years hence.

But here’s the thing of import:

I did not hope or expect for War for the Planet of the Apes to fit so ably into or establish the continuity of the original Apes franchise.

I did not even know, at this point, that I wanted such a thing. 

I suppose that I am jaded or cynical enough about Hollywood, at this point, to have given up on that particular dream of an Apes continuation.

Yet War for the Planet of the Apes succeeds in forging that link, and it does so in ways that appear unforced, effortless, and smooth.

So War for the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable standalone adventure, a brilliant apex for the reboot trilogy, and, finally, the “perfect” bridge between the 1960’s and 1970’s Apes chronology, and this 21st century one.

To complete and contextualize the Gospel of Caesar -- which is really what the three films amount to -- War for the Planet of the Apes relies on antecedents such as the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, and the film, Apocalypse Now (1979). 

But what truly makes this 2017 film remarkable, I believe, is not the “origin story” of the Caesar’s apes arriving at their home (a Garden of Eden beyond the Forbidden Zone-like desert), but rather the film’s sad, haunting commentary about the way that man loses his supremacy of the planet.

We live in an age of so much shouting, don’t we?

So much blind, stupid rage, and hateful yelling. It is an age not merely of hatred, then but loud, noisy hatred. 

In War for the Planet of the Apes -- as though punished by God for his wicked, savage tongue -- mankind irrevocably, permanently goes silent.

This is apt punishment, given the nature of the film’s humans, particularly the villain played by Woody Harrelson.

I found this "fate" to be a terrifying but appropriate justice for man; for so foolish and self-destructive species.

With this film, the war is over, and man goes into that good night without even a whimper of protest. 

We did it, finally, to ourselves.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best franchise film of the summer of 2017, and one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year. It is the origin story of a people (the future apes of the Schaffner ’68 film) and simultaneously a poignant elegy for the human race.


“There are times when it is necessary to abandon humanity to save humanity.”

Following Koba’s attack on humans, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes find themselves plunged into a vicious war with human soldiers.  

These heavily armed soldiers are led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his rogue "Alpha/Omega" outfit, and they work with enslaved apes they derisively call “donkeys.”

The war hits Caesar too close to home when the Colonel launches a decapitation strike, but succeeds only in killing his eldest son, and wife.  

Enraged, Caesar determines to go on the war path.  He sends the majority of the apes on a pilgrimage to a new, hopefully safe land, far away, and takes Maurice (Karin Konovol) and a few others to hunt down the Colonel at a northern border.

En route, Caesar, Maurice and the others befriend a mute girl that Maurice names Nova (Amiah Miller), and then, a solitary chimp, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who possesses knowledge of the Colonel, and his brutal work camp.

Soon, Caesar learns that his people have been captured on their pilgrimage, and made slaves at the camp. 

He must attempt to free them, and his only son, Cornelius.  

The Colonel takes special delight in humiliating Caesar, but also tells him of a strange side-effect of the Simian Flu (which all humans carry). Man is becoming mute, and may even be losing his capacity to reason.

Caesar must now set his people free, find his apes a new home, far from warring humanity, and also reconcile his feelings of rage and hatred with his more fair-minded, judicious nature.



“Make sure my son knows who his father was.”

From 2011 to 2017, movie-goers have witnessed the Gospel of Caesar, but War for the Planet of the Apes in particular utilizes religious (scriptural) symbolism to help us understand the religious nature of the story. 

Consider that the film depicts Caesar’s crucifixion, at the hands of the Colonel and his men. The tale even provides a Judas in the form of Winter: an albino gorilla who betrays Caesar and his people to the humans.

The crucifixion in the work camp is only the most apparent religious symbol. Consider, as well, the matter of Caesar’s fatal wound at the end of the picture. He is shot in the side with an arrow. That arrow comes from one of the Colonel’s soldiers. The position of the wound, and the nature of the weapon knowingly mirrors Jesus’s wound from the lance of Longinus. Longinus was a Roman centurion, who stabbed Christ. Again, the parallels between Christ and Caesar are telling: a fatal wound in the same place, both given by an enemy soldier.

Maurice, of course, is the franchise's version of Paul. He is Caesar’s greatest apostle, and it is clear from the film’s final scenes that he will grow into an early teacher o Caesar’s “lessons” to ape culture. This was also Paul’s role. Specifically, Maurice promises to teach Caesar’s surviving son, Cornelius, about his life, and his nature. We can extrapolate that other apes will also be taught about the sacrifices and morality of Caesar. We now know his humble origins (as the child of an ape, but not, actually, only an ape), his life of toils and pain, and ultimately, with this film, his fate.

If readers prefer to be reminded of Old Testament comparisons, Caesar, in this film, acts as a Moses-type figure. He leads his “tribe” to the Promised Land away from human subjugation and war. Caesar doesn’t part the Red Sea, but he does survive nature’s dangers. His people begin their quest, importantly, by surviving an avalanche which buries, for eternity, the surviving human military, and their weapons. The Colonel’s corrupt kingdom is Egypt in this metaphor, and Caesar and his people are the Israelites, seeking a home. Instead of parting the red sea, Caesar and his apes go above the treacherous avalanche by climbing trees. This image is also a beautiful call-back to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), and young Caesar's exercise regimen in Muir Woods

None of this symbolism is over-bearing or heavy-handed. One can absolutely enjoy the film without making comparisons to Christianity. However, the specific nature of Caesar’s quest, and his death, suggest -- importantly--  that in the future history of the planet Earth, his people will revere him as something akin to a God among apes.

At least that’s a possibility, and we have the “sign posts” (the imagery) to cue us in about Caesar's extraordinary -- or even “divine” --` nature.


Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) is clearly also an influential text in this work of art too. In the film, we see graffiti that reads “Ape-pocalypse Now,” and Harrelson’s Colonel shares a rank with Marlon Brando’s character, Kurtz. 

Both men/characters have also gone “rogue” from the chain of command, and are worshiped by their people as demi-gods. They are cult-leaders as much as military officers.  


Going back to Conrad’s Kurtz in Heart of Darkness (the source for the Coppola film’s character), he was a man who is remembered for having said “exterminate the brutes.” He was referring to intelligent human beings in the Free Congo. Harrelson’s Colonel in this film similarly launches a pogrom of extermination against Caesar’s apes, aware that their survival will doom the human race. 

If the character of the Colonel boasts any antecedent, in particular, in the classic film franchise, it is likely Otto Hasslein, from Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Both men believe that fate or destiny can be averted by taking violent, murderous action in the present.  They both commit fully, and mercilessly to this course.

So how does this sage connect, specifically, to the old franchise?  

You may recall a throwaway image or two in Rise of the Planet of the Apes discussing the launch and fate -- lost in space! -- of Taylor’s spaceship, the Icarus. 



In this continuity, the flight occurs in 2011, not the early 1970’s but the name of the ship is the same, as is the fact that the ship seems, to denizens of Earth, to disappear. It is, as we realize, really traveling into the future, on a course that will day return it home.

So that spaceship is out there, destined to return to Earth in the 3900’s.  

In War for the Planet of the Apes, some of the other pieces that set-up the 1968 film are locked into the puzzle. 

Caesar’s people leave the West Coast, travel through a desert (the future Forbidden Zone, presumably), and find a beautiful green glade, on the banks of a thriving river. This is the location, we can infer, in New York (or at least on the East Coast) of Ape City in Planet of the Apes (1968). So this film's final moments get Caesar’s people to the right coast (and in proximity of the Statue of Liberty!), to set up Taylor's experience there.


Finally, Maurice takes on his role as an apostle, as a speaker of Ape History, and, perhaps, becomes the future Lawgiver. 

Consider that Maurice is, like the Lawgiver, an orangutan, and that he has been tasked with the job of teaching the Gospel of Caesar.  It is very likely that one day, he will take on the title of the most revered ape, The Lawgiver.



What proves so interesting about this development is that, in the Ape Future of the original film, Caesar’s name is never spoken. The legend of the Lawgiver (and his written word: the Sacred Scrolls) thus comes to supersede Caesar as the messiah/divinity figure of ape culture.  

So if you wonder what the next ape trilogy might concern, I have an idea the role of Maurice, and his fall from grace or innocence. 

At some point he must stop trying to make peace with humans, and start to write of humanity as a “the beast, man.”  It is also entirely possible that in the generations between Maurice and the 3900’s, his gentle philosophies and beliefs will be perverted or misinterpreted by ambitious, man-hating apes.

What might happen between the events of War and the 1968 film? 

I suppose the final piece may be a nuclear war. A group of humans, offshoots of the Colonel’s Alpha and Omega group (a callback to Beneath the Planet of the Apes [1970]), perhaps, will detonate a bomb near Ape City, or perhaps, on a global scale, decimating whole swaths of the planet. The destruction of the environment, a useless, bitter gesture, given man’s fall could be the very thing that turns Maurice from an advocate for peace into a hater of mankind.

And, of course, most importantly, War for the Planet of the Apes sets in motion that final fall of mankind. 

Man will go down into history as a foolish, self-destructive being, who can’t even argue his own case for supremacy, because he has lost his capacity to speak. As the movie dramatizes, the Simian Flu mutates so as to rob humanity of his ability to speak. It is not entirely clear, but the Colonel also believes the virus robs humanity of his ability to reason; to think logically.  If this is the case, then the Sacred Scrolls of the first film are, in a sense, truer than we ever realized.  Man of the future world is a dumb brute, unable to reason, or think. He is a blind consumer of resources, an animal.

As I wrote in my introduction, to see man lose his voice in this film is haunting, and breathtaking. Not just because the loss connects to the details of the 1968 film, but because of the world we live in now, in 2017. 

Cable TV is a bastion of bitter taunts, hate speech, and gotcha politics. Look at how we’ve chosen to use Twitter and other social media: as opportunities to troll others, to hate others, to spread lies, to forward , even, conspiracy theories and racist memes.

What War for the Planet of the Apes implies, in some sense, is God’s disappointment, and punishment of man for using his intellect in this manner. 

Not only will mankind die, but he will be robbed even, of the power to speak, to argue, to debate. He has squandered that great gift of voice, and now his fall will not even be accompanied by screams, or crying. 

He will go silently into that good night, unthinking, un-speaking, unable to mourn aloud his fall from favor.

I confess that this aspect of the film was incredibly impact-ful to me. I vacillate between dreaming of a Star Trek-kian future utopia, and fearing a Planet of the Apes-style apocalypse. Our fall from grace in this film seems especially appropriate, given how we have chosen to use our “voices” in the public square, and on the net.

It is a timely and artistic choice for the makers of this saga to make man mute, at this juncture, at this time in our culture. It plays as more powerful today, than it did in earlier generations. Today, everyone has the power to contribute their voice to the community. But what we have seen is not a community lifting its voice to help others. Instead, we have seen a rebirth and broadcast of hate, racism, sexism, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. We have seen the rise of extreme narcissism, the dawn of widespread propaganda, and a war to obfuscate facts, and to hold onto the tenets of science.  

When people discuss -- seriously -- in 2017, a new flat Earth theory, the fall of man, the de-evolution of man, seems only years away. Perhaps we reached our pinnacle as a species when we landed on the Moon. Perhaps our fall from grace has already begun.

War for the Planet of the Apes thus captures beautifully, if tragically, the real terror and fear of our times; the idea that we can't stop sniping at each other long enough to take care of the species, let alone the planet.

Lastly, I would be hard-pressed to name a better film trilogy of the 21sts century than this one. 

I know The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sagas have their champions, and for good reason, but the amazing gift of this new Planet of the Apes saga is that it does so much so smoothly, and with so much discipline. None of these films feel over long, or retreads of old material. They all work, in tandem, as original stories, and as pieces of a grand, overarching saga. 

And now, as this trilogy ends, we can see a grand plan to connect to the original franchise (or some version of the original franchise). The ambition was there all along, but the filmmakers demonstrated patience, and laid their bread crumbs, without drawing over attention to them.

I have to write, too often, about the creative failings of remakes and reboots (see: Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes). It is therefore a pleasure and a privilege to behold the wonders and victories of this reboot series. The “new” Planet of the Apes series pays homage to what came before, honors the spirit of social commentary those old films championed, and it breaks new ground at the same time.

Like the best science fiction films, War of the Planet of the Apes makes us see ourselves more fully, more completely.  The scary thing about the film is that as much as it frightened me, I also thirsted for the humans to fall, to be, finally, silent. For the hatred to end.  This feeling made me think of Armando's (Ricardo Montalban) words in Escape:  "If it is man's destiny one day to be dominated, then oh, please God, let him be dominated by such as you."

It's a special genre motion picture, indeed, that has the audience rooting against its own kind.

Finally, I hope that Andy Serkis, and the film itself are remembered at Oscar time next year. Serkis’s work as Caesar is extraordinary.  Roddy McDowall created Caesar more than forty years ago, but Serkis has honored that work and carried it several steps forward. He has made the character his own in a remarkable, and dare I say -- human --fashion.

Planet of the Apes 50th Anniversary: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)


Near the end of Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Caesar (Roddy McDowall) vanquishes the insurrectionist, Aldo (Claude Akin) and simultaneously reinforces Ape Law, paradoxically the edict that “ape shall not kill ape.” 

Meanwhile, Caesar’s human adviser, MacDonald (Austin Stoker) notes that by confronting the notion that laws must occasionally be bent and values re-examined, the apes have irrevocably joined “the human race.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) is a vibrant, moving, beautifully-dramatized series entry that very much concerns the same reckoning. 

The film revolves around Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) fall from grace or innocence, and the lesson that apes are not superior to man merely because of their nature. The world is not always a case of us vs. them, good vs. bad.  Caesar learns this in the film, though with great difficulty.

In addition to being a rock-solid remake of (and improvement over…) Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the new film -- in the best tradition of the long-lived franchise -- features a powerful subtext and social critique. 

In this case, much of the new film revolves around the very quality that is damaging our nation so grievously today: tribalism

And in gazing at the pitfalls of tribalism, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes asks explicitly (in its very dialogue) about something else. 

It asks about strength, and what that word truly means.

Does strength stem from superior numbers? From family?  From racial unity?  From the barrel of a gun?  

Does strength come from an irrational refusal to compromise with those who don’t see the world precisely as you do?  

When faced with facts that disprove your world-view, do you double-down anyway, in hopes of being seen as "resolute?" Or do you adjust to facts and go a different way?

Instead of these answers, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes suggests another definition of strength. Strength can, perhaps, emerge from an understanding that your tribe has made a mistake. Strength, in some cases, is all about having the guts to do something about an injustice you have played a role in creating.

In terms of the film, this is the chaotic terrain that Caesar must navigate, and there are no easy answers, and no guarantees that his answers are the right ones, either.  The humans and apes by-and-large double down on hatred and distrust, and the film's climax reveals exactly where that kind of thinking leads.  This is not an empty lesson in America of today, where we have become divided by labels like liberal and conservative that, in the final analysis, don't even adequately describe our beliefs.

A serious-minded, carefully-structured morality play, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also daringly eschews all the bells-and-whistles we have come to expect from modern summer blockbusters. For instance, there are no action scenes in the film that exist just to wow us or bowl us over. 

Furthermore, there is no gimmicky “surprise” final shot in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that attempts to up-stage the famous Statue of Liberty ending of the 1968 original.  The film ends as it begins, with extreme close-ups of a leader’s intelligent eyes as he carries the weight of his people, and the future, on his shoulders.  These book-end images place emphasis exactly where it should be: on Caesar’s learning curve as a rational leader, family man (or ape), and guardian of moral values in an uncertain world.

Most delightfully, there is no fan service to speak of in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, no moments that make us reckon with the existence of a larger franchise, or franchise history. Not a soul jokingly quotes famous Charlton Heston dialogue or plays with Statue of Liberty toys.   

Instead, director Matt Reeves lands us smack-dab in the planet of the apes, and tells us a great, involving, heart-wrenching story while we are there.

In the process, he’s given audiences the best Apes movie in a generation.


“Who the hell else am I going to blame?”

Ten years after the Simian Flu wipes out most of humanity, Caesar (Serkis) leads a society of intelligent apes in the safety and beauty of Muir Woods.  A father to a new-born son and a teen, Blue Eyes, Caesar and his friends, including Koba, Rocket and  Maurice, have established new laws to guide the primates, including the edict that ape shall not kill ape.

One day, in the woods, Blue Eyes and another ape, Ash, encounter a human, Carver.  The human immediately draws a gun and shoots Ash, though the ape survives.  Caesar orders Carver and his human cohorts, including Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Malcolm’s boy, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to return to their home, and never to return to the forest, the realm of the apes.

But the incident has already set in motion a series of events that can’t be undone.  Distrustful of humans, Koba begins to form an insurrection against Caesar, recruiting even the leader’s own son, Blue Eyes.

And back in San Francisco, the leader of the human colony, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) prepares for war with the apes.  His people need to generate electricity using a dam in ape territory, and rather than see humanity fall back into the Dark Ages, Dreyfus is willing to kill to keep the lights on.

Malcolm and Caesar work together to help the human city maintain its power, but dark forces on both sides of the tribal divide plot to break the fragile peace.



“War has begun.”

Firstly, there can be no doubt that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a remake of Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).  Events and some specific characters are different, it is true, but in terms of spirit and intent, the two films boast many connections.

Both films, for example, reveal Caesar’s Ape civilization at an early stage of existence in the middle of a picturesque forest.  

In the Ape worlds of both Dawn and Battle the apes are depicted learning written language on the equivalent of chalk boards. More than that, they are learning a new law, which in both films is that, explicitly, “ape shall not kill ape.”



Similarly, both Battle and Dawn involve the march of the generations. 

In both films, we see that Caesar is a husband and a father. In Battle, his son is murdered by an insurrectionist, Aldo, and that is nearly the case, as well, in Dawn. Uniquely, the son of Caesar character is also visually associated with guns in both pictures.  

In Battle, we see young Cornelius playing a childhood game with a stick.  He pretends it is a gun, and make-believe “shoots” a human opponent.  

In Dawn, Caesar’s boy, Blue Eyes, picks up a real gun, and goes to war, though ultimately he regrets his actions.



Significantly, both films also find Caesar returning to the ruins of an old (human) city and unearthing there the wisdom of his father.  

In Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar sees film-reel footage of Cornelius, who warns him that the world will end in bloodshed if the militarism and anti-human beliefs of ape culture are not put down.  

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar returns to the San Francisco home we saw in the previous film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and watches recorded images from his own childhood.  He sees that Will Rodman (James Franco) loved him…and gave him a home.  This footage reminds him of a fact he once knew: not all humans are bad.

In both cases, the (dead) father provides the wisdom that Caesar needs to help him choose sides, and avoid unnecessary blood-shed. 



Many of the story beats in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also follow those featured in Battle. 

For example, in both stories there is an inter-species war (ape vs. man) that “good” apes (like Caesar, Virgil, and Maurice and Rocket) don’t wish to undertake.  Apes and humans fight, but the war is expressly against the will of this group, who argue instead for peace.

Secondly, both films also feature an insurrection in the fragile, protean ape culture, led by a war-like ape that steals machine guns from an armory. 

In Battle, that ape was a gorilla, Aldo.  In Dawn, it’s Koba.  

In Battle, Aldo steals from the Ape armory, which is guarded by Caesar’s "conscience," a kindly old ape named Mandemus (Lew Ayres).  

In Dawn, Koba robs from the humans and takes their guns.



In terms of specific set pieces and theme, both films also end with a literal fall, one visually representing a fall from innocence. Aldo falls to his death from a high tree branch in Battle, after combating Caesar. Koba falls to his death from a high skyscraper scaffold after combating Caesar in Dawn. 

The setting has changed subtly in the battle, but the nature of the setting -- the highest branch that apes always seek out, so-to-speak -- and the conclusion (a fall from grace…) serve as the metaphorical and physical climax of both Ape pictures.



The fall from grace plays out in another way too. 

In both films, Caesar is forced to kill an ape that he trusted, in direct contravention of the law that ape shall not kill ape.  Yet he does so, ironically, to assure the continuance of ape culture and ape law. Thus his people -- in both films -- must reckon with a complicated nuance or shade of gray. The law must sometimes be bent or broken to save it for future generations. Values must periodically be hauled out and re-examined. In this case -- and only sometimes -- to save civilization, an ape must kill an ape, alas.

The notion of tribalism overwhelming reason is a consistent leitmotif in the film.

For example, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and his human cohorts risk everything for...electricity. They have decided, at some point, that electricity equates to civilization in their eyes, and they are not willing to step-down from that belief.  

No matter what. 

The humans could use torches or fires to light the night-time of San Francisco, but instead they cling to a delusion. They want things exactly the way they used to be....even though the Old World is now completely dead. They thus cling to a convention or tradition not because it makes sense in the present, but because it made sense in the past. They can't adjust to the present, and rather than do so, will kill to preserve a tradition that they cherish.

The same humans then double-down over this need for electricity. When faced with a challenge in acquiring it, they don't re-examine their beliefs. Instead, they decide it is valid to start a war and take it by force, killing many innocents on both sides in the process.  

Similarly, humans like Carver blame the apes for Simian Flu, successfully marginalizing them as enemies of humanity when that isn't precisely the case. When Carver is pointed to the facts by Ellie: that the apes were experimented on by humans, and that humans created the Simian Flu, Carver -- like others -- doubles-down on his ignorance and refuses to acknowledge the unpleasant truth.

Importantly, Koba also doubles-down on hatred and false beliefs. Even though situations have changed dramatically in ten years, he can see humans only as the monsters who tortured and abused him. He is now free of that captivity and safe, and human civilization has fallen to ruin, but he doesn't let such facts interfere with his consuming hatred for an "enemy."

In reckoning with such notions, Dawn operates on a plateau of moral and storytelling complexity well beyond its impressive predecessor. In Rise, it is easy for Caesar and his ape army to hate humans, for they have come to know humans only as sadistic and cruel. 

Caesar’s learning curve is much more difficult in Dawn, as he deals with the fact that it is an ape, not a human, who endangers the future of ape society. Life is rarely so simple as tribalism makes it out to be. There are villains and heroes among "us" and among "them."

If Rise is about Caesar taking control of his life, Dawn is about Caesar realizing that life is far more complex than he had understood. But he is ultimately a strong leader (and a great character) because he takes responsibility for his actions and mistakes, specifically for trusting Koba instead of realizing that apes too can "double down" on violent tendencies and beliefs.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes examines the tribal mind-set well, without ever seeming preachy. Koba gains adherents by suggesting, explicitly, that Caesar loves humans more than he loves apes. This is not even close to being a true statement, and yet when apes see Caesar cooperating with humans, Koba’s words gain a certain level of surface legitimacy. 

In point of fact, Caesar is merely attempting to prevent bloodshed, because he knows how it will ultimately end: with many deaths among “us” and “them.”  But to some apes, he has become weak. Why give aid and comfort to the enemy?

On the flip-side, why not help someone who could one day be a trusted friend?

Ultimately, we see that it is Koba who is the weaker individual, because he cannot look past his own grievances and stereotyped views of humans to see that the men around him --Malcolm, Ellie and Alexander -- want only what the apes want: to survive.  Instead, he looks at them as being part of a tribe that he hates, and so writes them off without a second look.

Again, the message is one worth repeating.  Liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist, straight or gay, black or white, male or female, ape or man, we all love our children and all want to live happy lives in freedom. Why do we have to demonize each other when we have in common such important traits?

One nice aspect of the film is that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes treats human beings and apes as, essentially, mirror images, and no one side emerges as more villainous, thus making a point about tribalism that transcends partisan politics. 

Dreyfus cannot see the apes as anything more than mere animals, and so, like Koba, bases his decisions on faulty, out-dated information. In some way, then, the film suggests that the worst tribal instincts occur when we believe things of other people that perhaps once were true, but may no longer be so. We must examine such "truth" for ourselves, and see if it holds up. We must constantly adapt to reality, instead of trying to construct reality out of old, mistaken precepts.

In both cases, intelligent beings resort to tribal identities and loyalties rather than to reading the facts, and the results are disastrous for a planet already in dire straits. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also reveals what happens when toxic tribalism meets gun-ownership...and the results aren’t pretty.  


At the risk of wading into controversy, it’s difficult to deny the fact that the carnage in this film would have been much less significant without all the fire-arms. In this case, guns only make a tense situation that much more horrible and bloody. Guns don’t really protect anybody in the film, or make a single outcome more positive. Contrarily, they render every confrontation more dangerous by a multiplicative factor. When both sides are acting irrationally and with extreme violence, how, precisely, do you discern who the "good guy with a gun" happens to be?

What you're really doing in a situation like this is basing your judgment on a biased pre-conceived notion, choosing the side of someone who happens to dress or otherwise look like you do. And that too is a resort to tribalism instead of rationality and reason.



On another subject entirely, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes I worried some about the plot device of Simian Flu wiping out humanity, instead of humanity wiping out himself in a nuclear war, as was the case in the original 1968 film.  

How could apes hate man so much after 2000 years unless man had acted in such a rash, horrible, planet-destroying way?

To my delight, Dawn provides the answer. 

It suggests that even in an end-of-the-world scenario, apes and man can’t put down their tribalism long enough to talk, to logically reason out a lasting peace for both.  Generations may pass, but hatred lives on.

Since we are long out of the Cold War at this juncture in our history, and the kind of irrational tribalism featured in the film is getting scary and murderous in real life right now, I appreciate the re-boot saga’s focus on that problem. 

In 2014, we can readily extrapolate a post-apocalyptic future whereinn tribalism is all that's left of civilization. Separate tribes, huddled in fear, lashing out at anything different or new, the person with the biggest cache of guns dictating what is defined as strength, and what is seen as weakness.


Finally, I must note  that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is beautifully-shot, but I was especially impressed by the moments in the last act, wherein the titular orange dawn arrives at last. Caesar braces for a war he doesn’t want against people he doesn’t hate, with soldiers he doesn't want to see die. Malcolm, behind him, seems to recede into shadow...until he disappears into blackness.  

This is the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes indeed, but visually, it is also the Total Eclipse of Mankind.  Malcolm -- the good man -- disappears into shadow, darkness, and history as a new force, a new tribe rises.

What happens when a leader less wise than Caesar takes the reigns of ape culture?  What will that "new" tribe be like then?

I suspect we will learn the answer to such questions in future Ape movies, and I very much like the notion that this version of the story exists in the same universe as the first five films. This tale could be interpreted as the rise of the apes before the time travel interference of Milo, Zira and Cornelius, and their son, who “becomes” Caesar in that time line.  

This is how the ape revolution began the first time, and Rise and Dawn depict the events that led to the world Taylor found in the original 1968 film. His ship then returned to the present (in Escape) and altered that history, changing everything. 

What we are seeing, then, in Rise and Dawn plays like “unaltered” ape history, a chronology in which man causes his own downfall (through irresponsible science first, and then tribalism), and apes rise. 

Perhaps, even at some point, desperate humans will launch nukes in a last-ditch effort to prove their "strength" in the face of an ape culture on the rise, thus creating the Forbidden Zone. Who knows?  A clever writer can square the circle in any number of ways and get us right back to Chuck Heston paddling for shore on that picturesque dead lake.

But in the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose, how Dawn of the Planet of the Apes fits in with a fifty-year old continuity. What matters instead is that this film speaks powerfully to us in the here and now as cogently as the 1968 original did to audiences of its day.

Back then, we thought we would blow each other up in a nuclear war. Today, our contentious tribalism is the danger looming on on the horizon, threatening to tear down what so many have worked so long and hard to build and protect.

And if that happens, says Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, our own worst human instincts will have made monkeys out of all of us.