Matt Reeves Changed The Story Of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Before Filming

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Early reviews for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have been universally positive, with many calling it not only the best movie of the summer but one of the best movies of 2014 as a whole, so to say that we’re excited to see it when it opens later this week is a pretty massive understatement. In particular, we’re stoked to see how the film builds on the foundation lain by Rise of the Planet of the Apes to get the franchise’s setting closer to the place we remember seeing in the original Planet of the Apes and its sequels.

As it turns out, though, director Matt Reeves will be to thank for whatever story Dawn ends up telling – when he came on board, he changed things drastically. During an interview with /Film, Reeves admitted that he at first didn’t like what he saw from the sequel over at Fox:

“When I first arrived, [Fox] pitched me the story they were gonna do and I thought I wasn’t gonna do the film… I wasn’t gonna do the film because it was a story that I didn’t quite connect to.”

Luckily, Fox understood Reeves’ tremendous talent after seeing Cloverfield and Let Me In, and even with the film set to roll cameras just a few weeks after Reeves was brought on board (to replace Rise director Rupert Wyatt), Fox execs were willing to let him rework the script. Originally, the story was less-than-perfect, neglecting to highlight the gravity of apes learning to speak:

“It took place in San Francisco, post apocalyptic San Francisco. And basically the first or second scene had the apes joining the humans and it all took place in the city and they were pushing up power lines and there was all this stuff that I just didn’t quite get. But the thing that really I didn’t get because I wanted to see what led up to it was that they were already much more articulate than they are in the final film now. They were basically fully conversant. They could speak. And I was like wait a minute, what I thought was so cool in Rise was that the apes are coming into being. And that is what I found riveting. Like watching Andy, and behind his eyes in his performance, you see this kind of roiling sort of sense of emotion and a desire to express himself. And when he finally speaks, when he finally says no, it’s kind of breathtaking. But it’s all because it’s been this simmering build up to finding a way to say something. And when he does, it’s powerful.”

So, when Reeves signed on to direct, a lot of that original treatment got thrown out (which sounds like a good thing). He wanted something that felt like it was more centered on Andy Serkis’ head-ape Caesar:

“So I was like wait a minute, let’s not skip that. Like I love the sign language between Maurice and Caesar even before Maurice had had the ALZ 113. I was like “there’s gotta be some way to use all these things and allow us not to miss the full coming into articulate expression.” And I wanna see the beginning of language. I wanna see the beginning of reading, of teaching the children the alphabet, of the beginning of the canon stuff, like all that kind of stuff. First of all, I felt that what they had pitched me, the outline form, was not Caesar’s movie. And I said, to me, the victory of your last film was that it was Andy’s and Caesar’s movie. And that the most human character in that story was not a human at all, it was an ape. And I thought that that was mind blowing, especially that they had been able to realize the visual effects in such a way that you had that level of emotional identification. And I felt it was the deepest level emotional identification I’d ever experienced with a C.G. character. Like I know all the stuff that Andy had done, but I was, I got very emotional in some scenes. And I thought, wow, that’s incredible. How are they doing that? And so I said, you’ve gotta make it Caesar’s story. It should start and end on him. It’s gotta be his movie.”

Reeves also wanted to impress the idea that the apes had inherited the Earth with the opening sequences of Dawn:

Starting in the post apocalyptic world, which to me was obviously gonna be a feature of the story, but as the center of the story, I felt like it was familiar. I feel like we’ve seen it so many times now. But what I didn’t feel like that I’d seen was an ape world creation movie. I wanted it to be like the beginning of 2001 with dawn of man except dawn of intelligent apes. And I said, so what if we started with the apes and we told — like the way in the last movie you had an extended sequence with almost no dialogue in the habitat, what if we do that in the burgeoning ape civilization? And we just see daily life. And we see Caesar and we come to move from seeing them in this kind of eerie like “oh my God, the apes have inherited the Earth” kind of elemental, scary way to getting involved in their inner emotional lives. And that by the time you got so connected to them emotionally and you started going like oh, Caesar has a newborn, Caesar’s a father and Caesar has a family and these apes are essentially his family. They’re a brotherhood. That then you would introduce the humans. You’d find out that they were alive and then it would be a question of co-existence that would live under everything. You’d have a human family and an ape family. I pitched that to them. And to my great surprise, they said, that sounds great. Are you in? And that was literally in the meeting. ‘Cause I thought for sure that I would pitch it and they’d go, you know, the one thing I had been told is that they really wanted to keep this schedule. And there was certainly no script for that. And so I pitched it and they said, yes, and then I said, so what’s the catch? And they said, the catch is we still wanna try and make that release date. So you’re gonna have to jump in right away.

A lesser director would have surely shied away from that intimidating task, but Reeves jumped in head-first, working to craft a narrative that he felt would better Dawn. Luckily, Fox didn’t force him to stay to the schedule, which had production beginning in January of 2013. When Reeves’ changes resulted in the need to throw the original treatment out altogether, The Wolverine scribe Mark Bomback was brought in to pen a new one, and Fox made the decision to push production back two months. Reeves and Bomback used the additional time to sit down and plot out the best story they could.