Despite the stresses of working on a blockbuster, Reeves recounted his experience deciding to take on Dawn, revealing that the emotional core of the story is what convinced him that the sequel was a story worth telling:
I had never done a tentpole movie. And I had been offered a number of tentpole movies. But one thing that I could tell from the outside and from the experience and from watching the movie, these movies are so huge, they take up your life in such a grand way, and I’ve also seen so many of them where the kind of filmmaking point of view sort of gets sucked into what almost looks like a kind of generic committeeism. I can understand now having gone through it how that happens. Because it’s so enormous that there’s such a force to like just, you know, let this part take care of itself and you focus on this and you do that. And I had such admiration for those guys who had been able to make movies that felt like they had real points of view on this kind of scale. And I felt like the only way I would ever be able to do that is if I had kind of an emotional connection to the story. And when they approached me about this story, this, a lot of the big tentpole movies, they’re superhero oriented and it really comes down to whether or not you connect to that character or that series of characters. And I had never been approached with one where I felt that burning desire. But I had been a lifelong Apes fan. I mean, literally as a kid, I wanted to be an ape. I had the dolls. I had all that stuff. So when they approached me, I was very excited and I was especially excited because I thought that Rise had been done so beautifully and that in particular the emotionality that came from that was unexpected. I thought, wow, this is a reason to re-enter this world. Because those films, I mean, the first one is a classic and I love Beneath and I even love the TV series. I had, you know, all those dolls from the TV series. And I think that what I thought was this emotionality and being in the apes kind of inner lives, that’s a reason to do this. Like because you know the ending. And so now the question is how do we get from here to there? And I just thought that there was an enormous story because the world of Rise and the world that I was proposing in Dawn is so far away from the world of the ’68 movie that it immediately asks a provocative question, which is how do you get from here to there? Which is all about character, all about kind of mythic story and like he’s kind of like Caesar’s like their Moses or something. You know, I felt like wow, this is and it did feel kind of like Star Wars to me in that sense. You know, it felt like wow, this is this amazing like it’s not laid out somewhere in some way like The Lord of the Rings or something where you know what all those chapters are, but it feels like there’s all these chapters. Can we go on this crazy pursuit of that? And so when I went in and they said, you could do that story, I literally ’cause I’m always looking for the reason to say no with these big movies, ’cause I think I can’t do it unless I’m gonna do it right ’cause I’m afraid I’m gonna fail. And when they said yes, I literally was thrown ’cause I thought for sure that they would at least say, well let us think about that. And we’ll come back to you. And I thought that they’d come back with some series of conditions that I wouldn’t be okay with. But they just said yes, and so then I was like terrified ’cause it meant that there was really no good reason to say no. So then I said yes.
When the final cut of Reeves’ film arrived, it was ambitious to say the least. In fact, the film relies heavily on apes using sign language, with only a few lines of dialogue, for almost thirty minutes. When asked about whether Fox had any hesitation with something like that in a big blockbuster, Reeves said:
I wouldn’t say it was a battle, but I would say it was an important debate. There would be questions of do we really need that much of this or that? And I was like oh guys, we need this, we need this. And actually the producers became real protectors of that idea as well. Everybody was like, wait a minute, I know, you guys you’re not seeing yet, ’cause you have to understand when you’re in post on this thing, you spend most of the first year up until really the last few months looking at shots of actors wearing mo-cap equipment. So you, after the initial kind of involvement that comes from seeing how great Andy Serkis’ performance is and Toby Kebbell, like they’re, the amazing thing is that the movie actually works before they’re apes in it. But the amazingness of what that sequence was gonna be would not be apparent fully until we actually got all those shots in there. So there were places along the way where the question would come up again like are we sure about this opening? And I kept saying, guys, I think this is gonna be one of the things that’s gonna be really unique and special. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie. And the crazy thing about it is is they kept saying, okay, okay. And I kept pinching myself that somehow the craziest thing about the movie for me is that they let us make this movie. My feeling about what it would mean to do a big studio film would be that there’d be kind of like well, you’ve gotta follow these formulas and the generic tropes and this and that. And the movie that I pitched to them is the movie they let us make. And we had to figure out how to make that movie, but that was the movie we got to do. And I kept going, this is crazy.
I remember the first time that I showed it to the studio and they were very emotional. They were excited that we were trying to be ambitious. As a director, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the moment they go, okay, so we’re kidding, we’re taking it away. Forget it, you don’t get to do that. Like I kept waiting for that moment. And of course there were debates and struggles about this and that. But the essence they were behind and that sequence in particular was something that was really important to me. And somehow we got through this process and now the world is seeing it and so it’s crazy.
Personally, I can’t wait to see what Reeves and Bomback have come up with. It seems like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is going to be one of the very best movies of the summer, which only makes sense looking at where the director came from with wanting to the story to go. We’ll see whether he was entirely successful in his wild ambitions when the film opens this week, on July 11th.