Friday, March 20, 2015

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: A Good Film for Kids to Sneak In to See (15 July 2014)

     I hesitated to see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) since it looked like a real downer. I went, though, since I  respected the 2011 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and DAWN got mostly good reviews, including a solidly-argued rave review from Variety. Plus I was really bored preparing for a trip and reading scripts and wanted to get away from my desk.

     I went to the early morning old-farts matinee and was surprised to see a lot of kids hanging around: mostly boys in Little-League baseball uniforms, accompanied by their dads. I asked one dad-like guy with a kid near him, "Uh, you taking your son to the APES movie?" And he said he wasn't — they were going to see EARTH TO ECHO — but that most of the kids were there for DAWN. I said that EARTH TO ECHO was a good kids movie (which it is), and we both gingerly noted that different parents make different decisions. Undertone I heard from the guy: «No way I'm taking my kid to a movie like DAWN!»

     Compared to the last two dystopian SF films I'd seen — THE ROVER and SNOWPIERCER — the latest in the APES franchise was downright lighthearted, but, more seriously, it is a very dark film even for grownups, and I feel ambivalent about those grammar-school boys there.
Mostly, though, I'm glad their dads took them, however underinformed might have been their decision to do so.

     I think the fathers at the matinee thought DAWN was going to be like the APES they saw with their dads: recycling of the kid-friendly sequels to the pessimistic 1968 original with Charlton Heston. Instead, with DAWN, they got a family film in the sense of a film featuring family units, both ape and human, under very get stress, with a good deal of unpleasant conflict, death, and loss.

     The boys sat through the film quietly enough and seemed to pay attention, and were properly boisterous in the lobby on the way out. So this dark and sometimes painful film probably did them no harm, and I suspect it did them — in the long run — a good deal of good.

     I can't find the quotation, but I think it was Bill Maher who said in an old routine that when he was a kid no one cared what sort of movies he wanted to see; the studios made feature films for a grownup audience, and kids just had to keep up. And he thought it did him good to be challenged.

     Maher misremembers about a  dearth of kids films: we "War Babies" and Boomers were way too major a demographic to ignore. Still, he has a point: those of us into movies watched movies mostly for grownups, and, offhand I can only recall walking out of one: THE SHRIKE from 1955 was not for a twelve-year-old.

     And some of us were taken to the movies by our parents.

     That's how I saw CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1968), and one of my students in a Science-Fiction Film course told me of his father's getting highly excited about a re-release of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on a big screen and dragging him to see it. The kid hadn't understood much of 2o01, but he learned that a grownup, even if his dad, could get seriously involved with a work of art and want to share it. My student said he was happy that he got a chance to study 2001 and could go back and argue about it with his father.

     I'm not going to argue for making your kids watch DAWN OF [...] THE APES or SPACE ODYSSEY, but I will encourage you to let them sneak off and see real adult films you might think they are not ready for. And I mean here "adult films" as "films for adults"; when I'm talking about porn, I'll say porn and advise just not being too shocked if your kids find some.

     (Porn was available in nice neighborhoods in Chicago when I was a frosh in high school, and if the War Babies and Boomers are screwed up — and a lot of us are — not much of that is due to any of the media.)

     If the kids on their own, or with a parent or parents, watch and listen to some challenging films, that's good, especially if they re-watch and re-listen a couple or three times and come to understand it better.

     Getting challenged with adult material will help them develop some taste in art, and may get them thinking. And even a Little-Leaguer can see DAWN OF THE [...] APES and get some idea that there are difficult choices to be made in life about loyalty and forgiveness, about hatred and bonding and the "problematics" of patriotism — and how fear of capital "O" Others can start wars.
That group of dads in Oxnard, CA, probably screwed up in their choice of a film for a treat for the ball team — but I think that turned out to be a good thing. 

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