Fortunately, he had a unique, ape-centric vision for the film, making Caesar (Andy Serkis) the main character who must weigh the safety of his own ape community with the needs of the desperate few humans left alive. Can they work together? As Reeves pointed out, "We know it's not going to end well," but in "Dawn," he explores the possibility that apes and humans might have been able to co-exist.
The director talked his love of all things apes and where he sees the franchise headed.
Moviefone: How intimidating was it coming into an established franchise?
Matt Reeves: I have been a fan of "Planet of the Apes" since I was a kid. My love of this world started form such a young age. When I saw "Rise," what really blew me away about it was the way you have an emotional connection with Caesar that was beyond your identification with any other characters. The most human character in that story was an ape. I thought that was amazing, so when they approached me about doing it, was a little skeptical. I thought, "Well, wait a minute, Rupert Wyatt did an amazing job. I think that movie's terrific." It turned out that he didn't want to continue, he had other thing she wanted to do and they'd reached some kind of impasse about something. Apparently, he's made this really wonderful movie called "The Gambler."
So, how were you persuaded to sign on?
I asked the producers what they wanted to do and I said, "Oh, I don't think I'm the right guy for this, because this isn't the story I would do." They had a story that started in the city with the humans. The apes were much more articulate than they were in the film. I said, "If you were asking me what I would do, I would make it Caesar's story. Because of what you guys did was, you created a hero in Caesar that is what this whole series is now about. As a kid, I always wanted to be an ape and I loved that John Chambers makeup, but here you've done it in a way never unexpected. You've done it emotionally. You've turned us all into apes by watching the movie. And that's what has to continue. Andy Serkis is amazing and Weta is amazing. You've got to make that what it is. Instead of a movie that starts with the humans, you should start in the ape world."
I had seen the post-apocalyptic movies and if it started there, it would already feel familiar. What I haven't seen is an ape world creation. I haven't seen the dawn of a tribal community. I felt just as in the way that "2001" started with dawn of man, I thought this should be the dawn of apes. And then once we were connected to Caesar, you could see this community that was, essentially, a very large family of apes that he was the head of, almost like Don Corleone or something. Then we find a group of humans who are attempting to heal themselves and the question becomes: Can they co-exist? And that was my pitch for the story.
The realism of the CG is so incredible. I was talking to another journalist at the junket who actually said, "They use real apes for the close-ups, right?"
[Laughs] That's great! That was my fantasy. I've gotta tell you. When our first ape shot came in, it was the close-up of Maurice (the orangutan) on the bus: All those hairs and the creases on his face. I knew what they were doing and I'd seen the animation, but when they do what's called a full-lighting render, the first time you see all the textures on his face lit and incorporated into the set, I was like, "I know that's Karin Konoval, but Weta has turned her into Maurice. And I can't believe it." I really was hoping, and that's thrilling to hear that, that many people say, "Well, you must have used some apes." And of course, there wasn't a single one. It's pretty cool.
I loved Michael Giacchino's score. Of course, you've worked with him before on "Cloverfield."
When Michael and I were looking at the movie for music, we were talking about that music from "2001: A Space Odyssey," with that choral, eerie, sort of tonal stuff. He wrote the most incredible music and then asked, "What if we did something tonal here?" And it was terrifying and great. I was very excited about it.
You were a co-creator of Keri Russell's series "Felicity." How was it working with her again?
It was great. We had been looking for something to do together for years. She is one of my favorite actors I've ever worked with. That experience working with her on "Felicity" -- which was my first experience working in TV -- to me, it was like going to college again. We were all very new to doing that. After that experience, of course we always kept in touch, then this came up. I wondered if she'd think I was crazy. She had just finished doing the first season of "The Americans," she was exhausted and I thought, "Oh, she's not going to do this." But she said, "When will I have the chance to do something like this again with you?"
Andy Serkis talked about how the first "Planet of the Apes" was a metaphor for its time. Would you say this film is too?
I think it's a metaphor for things going on right now, but for me, it's more a metaphor for who we are. The big conceit of "Planet of the Apes" is this idea that animals have taken over the planet, but the secret of the story is that we are animals and it becomes a way to look at our nature. That is very relevant to today. To me, the big question is -- given that the end of the story is "Planet of the Apes" -- Could this have gone a different way? Could there have been a way for them to co-exist? And then that becomes about our ability to resist violence, which we seem, as a species, to have a very hard time doing.
So, that is obviously incredibly relevant to today, but also to man through the ages, which is that we struggle against ourselves, our light and dark sides. I wanted there to be as much of the kind of yearning and hope and possibility in the film as there was this darkness, but you know where the story goes. It doesn't become "Planet of the Humans and Apes." It has this sense of dread to it. In a way, it's like a classic western, where a long fuse has been lit and you know it's not going to end well. It's going to turn to violence, but the question is when and how. And yet, at the same time, you're going to hope against hope that they can find a way to work it out because of the stakes on both sides. That was the idea, making it a family story, that what mattered was family.
So the goal of the franchise is to sync up with the original Charlton Heston film?
I wouldn't put it that literally. I would describe our movement as a trajectory toward that world. If and when we get there, it would be a different version of that story. We know the Icarus (Heston's spaceship) is out there, but that story is a mindbender. And that ending is one of the classic endings of all time. That movie's all about this revelation of the "what" and the "what" is "Oh, my God, that was Earth all along. We did it to ourselves." This story is not a reveal. We already know that's the ending, so then it's a story about the characters and the "how" and the "why" we get there.
So, if we got there, I think what's interesting is, if it's this struggle between both sides of ourselves, which is represented by this struggle between the two species, it's actually inverted to where we started in "Rise." The humans are in bondage, apes are the dominant species and Taylor, or whoever, arrives on Icarus and it's ripe for yet another evolution.
You're on board for the next film as well?
Any more beyond that?
I'm certainly thinking about it. I don't even know what's going to be in the next film. I'm thinking about this trajectory. To me, it's a generational story. There's Caesar and Caesar's progeny and Caesar begets other Caesars. You've got "Rise," you've got the original series, and you have all of these different films and yet [a new movie] can still be its own thing. The reason I was excited about doing this film was that it's a version of the story that I've never seen before. I've never seen an ape civilization movie. The beginning of their communication, the way they would speak and live and connect. That, I thought, was an exhilarating thing to be able to explore.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" opens everywhere July 11.
Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP