The spinning globe of a 76 gas station in a redwood jungle. The first iPad “charge complete” chirp in a decade. The palm frond surgical masks worn by a group of ape doctors.
Director Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a terrific action movie that earns its keep by building in time to let us appreciate stylish little details like these. Perhaps most charming is the strategic placement of a beaten up trade paperback collection of Charles Burns’ Black Hole comics.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a noble human named Malcom (played by Jason Clarke) must broker peace with Caesar, the leader of the intelligent apes, who is played in motion capture by the brilliant Andy Serkis.
Malcom must win Caesar over so that the human survivors of an apocalyptic “simian flu” in San Francisco can make use of an electricity-generating dam near the ape village. Malcom, for dubious plot-necessitated reasons, brings along both his girlfriend (Keri Russell) and his teenaged son Alexander (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Throughout the movie, we see that Alexander is carrying around the Black Hole trade. Later, as tensions between the ape and human tribes begin to ease, we see Alexander teaching the orangutan Maurice to read using the critically acclaimed graphic novel.
The use of Black Hole pays off well here on a couple of levels. Firstly the movie cliche of a cross-culture reading lessons is totally disrupted by the inappropriateness of the subject matter. In a lesser movie, Alexander would have conveniently found a child’s reading book that covered stuff like “A is for Apple.” Here, Alexander uses what he happens to have on hand, even if it is a little too sophisticated for the intended audience. So, he proceeds to read this orangutan a passage about a bunch of pre-apocalypse teenagers going to a kegger in suburbia. Hilariously, when Alexander reads that the teenagers are “hanging out,” he has to clarify that it’s not meant in the tree-branch sense of “hanging” that Maurice is probably familiar with.
Given that the apocalypse in DOTPOTA is caused by a virus, the allusion also works thematically — the story of Black Hole follows a group of teenagers in the 70s who are infected with a sexually transmitted disease that causes them to develop bizarre physical mutations. Many of them even end up retreating to the woods for sanctuary.
Anyway — it was a nice surprise in a movie that no one expected to be anything but a by-the-book blockbuster sequel, and also a good lesson in how the time-honored cliches in movie making can always be subverted with a little thought.
Though I do wonder if it got awkward when Alexander read him this part: