By Dom Cioffi
Have you ever been driving down the road, flipping through radio stations, when suddenly a song comes on that jettisons you back to a time or place when that particular melody played a role your life?
It doesn’t have to be a song that you liked either. When I hear the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” (which used to drive me crazy), I am immediately transformed into a college senior. I can almost smell that townhouse ripe with stale beer; I can almost feel the slight anxiety of an impending exam; I can almost hear the chorus of girls singing in unison at that dingy bar.
It’s an amazing experience and one that makes you wonder about the workings of the human brain and how memories are stored and retrieved.
The same experience can hold true with food.
As a teenager, my parents and I used to frequent a local restaurant that served the most unique and delicious pasta. There is no other pasta like this in the world, with its oily consistency and thick, luscious red sauce.
I don’t get back to that restaurant much, but when I do, I always get a serving of that magnificent dish. And no sooner do I place that first bite into my mouth when, like a spaceship ripping through a celestial wormhole, I am a teenager anticipating the newfound freedom that awaits me when the meal is over and I’ll be heading out on the town with my friends.
Obviously, movies can offer the same experience.
If I watch the musical “Oliver!” I am instantly thrust back to that dusty theater in downtown where as a wide-eyed 9-year-old I was about to get my first taste of culture.
I recently rented “The Artist,” the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner, and as I was watching the first few scenes I was constantly reminded of that beautiful theater in Paris where I first watched it.
And along with the sense of that grand open space, I could also remember the feeling of those luxurious seats and the taste of that cafe latte and croissant that accompanied me.
But more than any other film (and I’ve obviously seen a lot of films), the one that sends me hurtling back in time most profoundly is the original “Planet of the Apes.”
The first film (starring Charlton Heston) was released in 1968 so I was much too young to see it in a theater. Instead, I first saw it around 10 years old via a television broadcast on a Saturday afternoon.
I distinctly remember the film starting and being a bit concerned that talking apes might be a bit too freaky to watch (at that age, nightmares were a big concern so I was hesitant to inflict unnecessary pain upon myself).
However, the concept of spacemen intrigued me so I ventured forth.
This may have been one of the first truly adult-level films that I watched on my own, so I was keen to not lose track of the story. And the more the storyline progressed, the more engrossed I became. To think that there might be a planet where apes evolved into the dominant race and humans served as their pets and playthings! The concept was nearly overwhelming to my adolescent mind.
But what really burned this movie into my young psyche was the final scene – the scene that made this film so utterly memorable to anyone who watched it (if by chance you’ve never seen the end of that first film and are planning to watch it, avoid this next paragraph).
As Charlton Heston and his lover ride their horse down the shoreline away from the ape civilization and into the unknown, they suddenly come upon a devastating site: a mangled, half-sunken Statue of Liberty.
Even at my young age and with my inexperienced palate I knew the implications: The spaceship had not landed on another planet, but instead had landed back on Earth far into the future.
To this day, I have never been more taken aback, moved, or caught off guard by a movie. I was forever changed in that moment as I experienced the truly transformative power of motion pictures.
Because of that experience, I obviously have a soft spot in my heart for the Planet of the Apes franchise. So to say I was looking forward to the release of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” after the masterful work of 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” would be a grand understatement.
And thankfully, this sequel met expectations, and in my mind exceeded the power and intrigue of the first film.
But the biggest point I would like to make about this film is the absolute artistry that was put forth by Andy Serkis in his portrayal of Caesar, the leader of the ape colony. Serkis is the preeminent motion-capture actor in the world, having portrayed Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” and King Kong.
Now, with advanced technology that allows an even greater range of emotional expression from actor to CGI character, Serkis has delivered a performance that, dare I say, could break new ground with a Oscar nod for best actor.
Combine the work of Serkis with the visual artistry and involved storyline and you have all the elements for a top shelf motion picture. Check this one out as soon as possible whether you’re a fan of the series or not. It’s that good.
A triumphant “A-” for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]
By Dom Cioffi