Of the many sequels set for release this summer, Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely ranks among our most highly anticipated titles. Set ten years after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the next chapter in the life of ape revolutionary Caesar (Andy Serkis) finds him leading an established ape colony outside San Francisco, with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and teenage son River (Nick Thurston). That’s teenage in ape years, of course.

Meanwhile, the human population has been devastated by the so-called “Simian flu,” but is still clinging on to survival. A party from a nearby settlement, led by the movie’s new human lead Malcolm (Jason Clarke), reaches out to the apes in an attempt to create peace between the two species, but if the war-painted apes on the posters for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are any indication, this alliance does not go smoothly.

The first prequel to the classic 1968 sci-fi film surprised many moviegoers by being better than expected, and much of the praise was attributed to Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, who had probably the most screen time out of all the characters – human or otherwise. Speaking in an extensive interview with Dread Central, Serkis explained just how far the apes have come since their dramatic escape at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

“To be able to play characters which are apes that are anthropomorphic to the point where we can really see the human condition, and all of its difficulties and complications… It sets up a world where you’re finally in a beautiful, utopian Garden of Eden really, that is suddenly shattered in a violent and dramatic way.

“Caesar ten years on since yesterday, he’s galvanized all these tribes of apes, and it’s succeeding, it’s working. The next generation is becoming educated; the design of their community reflects their intelligence. They are resourceful, they can build aqueducts, they have plentiful food supplies, they respect each other as different species: Gorilla, Orangutan, Chimpanzee can all speak equally and communicate equally. Until the arrival of human beings, who, by the way, are not the villains of the film! They are also a species who are very much suffering from being almost completely wiped out.”

Serkis’ promise that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes presents a balanced story of both the ape and the human sides of the conflict, with both communities having members in favor of war or peace, has certainly rung true in the trailers so far. Characters like Caesar and Malcolm have demonstrated a genuine interest in creating an alliance, but others like Koba (Toby Kebbell) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are less trusting of their cousins.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes certainly had a very revolutionary spirit, from Caesar’s initial confinement to Will Rodman’s house, through to his imprisonment for demonstrating loyalty, his first contact with his ape brethren and his eventual orchestration of their escape. Serkis says that this theme continues in the sequel.

“I think these films were always about civil rights, and I think that metaphor carries through and resonates with audiences worldwide. Why do you think the Apes franchise has endured so long? Because anthropomorphizing is something that we do, even with our pets, and we do that because we have grown further away from animals and are encouraged to see ourselves as an elevated species; when in fact we could learn quite a bit more from animals. And we learn so much more from apes, because they are so close to us genetically.

“I don’t think there’s one specific metaphor; when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, the Arab spring was happening, there were riots in London, there was an attitude of real unrest and people wanting change, and being oppressed, and standing up and saying, “I’ve had enough,” and not knowing what’s going to happen next. And we’re still in the throes of that worldwide. The beginning of this movie is setting up a society, which may or may not work but seems to be working, until something else happens that conflicts with that.”

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was praised for its convincing CGI, including cutting-edge performance capture technology (originally created for Avatar) that allows for detailed preservation of an actor’s performance. The footage is then passed on to a team of animators, who use it as a guideline to bring the apes to life, right down to each individual hair. Because the actors’ original performances have become so crucial, Serkis explains that the motion-capture performances were directed in exactly the same way as the human performances:

“The facial expressions are directed. My children were actually watching last night, and they recognize Caesar totally as me… Because the technology, the fidelity to replicate the nuanced performance choices of the actor is so close now! When you see the side-by-sides, it’s fantastic…

“It’s just acting, it’s just another method of recording an actor’s performance, it’s new technology; it’s exactly the same process on set – you’re being directed, you’re making character decisions, the director is saying, “Yes, we’ve got that in the camera, moving on,” they cut the movie, there is no difference.”

As for his future projects, Serkis intends to stay firmly in the animal kingdom. His company, The Imaginarium, is set to work on an upcoming adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Serkis will also soon direct a new version of The Jungle Book, which he describes as, “[a return] to the Rudyard Kipling, much darker, law of the jungle, much more right of passage.”

It will certainly be interesting to see the motion capture performances for the non-humanoid creatures in The Jungle Book. Hopefully it will be just as entertaining as Benedict Cumberbatch doing performance capture for Smaug.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in theaters on July 11, 2014.

Source: Dread Central