Most of the things the artificially evolved apes and steadily de-civilizing humans in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” share — territorialism, bloodlust and so on — fall under the heading of animal instincts, but there’s one, more hopeful thing they have in common: great taste in comic books. When Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teenage boy traumatized by the worst of of human violence, and Maurice (Karin Konoval), a peace-loving orangutan who acts as the ape village’s schoolmaster, need to find a way to relate to each other, they do it through the medium of Charles Burns’ “Black Hole,” a 368-page graphic novel about a sexual transmitted virus that cause human teenagers to mutate into grotesque new forms. Director Matt Reeves never shows us any of Burns’ distinctive artwork, but the cover and spine are visible in numerous scenes, and at one point, Alexander reads some of Burns’ dialogue aloud. (Missing from the movie, apparently, is the scene where Maurice gives the human a funny look and signs, “Dude, this is kind of messed up.”)
With its emphasis on teenage decadence and sexual dread, “Black Hole” would have been a better thematic fit for Reeves’ “Let Me In,” or even “Cloverfield”; sexual dread, a theme Burns is currently exploring in his “X’ed Out” trilogy, doesn’t play much of a role in “Dawn’s” future. But “Black Hole’s” later stages, where the mutated teenagers essentially found the beginnings of a new society, resonate with “Dawn’s” schism between human and ape civilization, and its depiction, however ominous, of the suburban teenage lifestyle could serve as a perfect illustration of just what the human race has lost. Ape teens Blue Eyes and Rocket may be going through some youthful rebellion, but they don’t have time to sit around and kill off brain cells for fun. It also, unintentionally, points to what’s missing from “Dawn,” which is any sense of what, beyond their bare survival, the movie’s small band of humans is fighting for — although you could argue that they’ve lost sight of it, too. As a general rule, if you’re going to drop a reference that explicit, it should be one that dovetails with the movie you’re making, and not reminds viewers of all the stuff you didn’t get to.
Burns talked to the Philadelphia Inquirer about “Black Hole’s” inclusion in “Dawn” — basically, he signed a piece of paper years ago and had forgotten all about it — and Kate Erbland at Film School Rejects points to an 11-minute “Black Hole” adaptation by “Snow White and the Huntsman’s” Ruper Sanders, which is as close to the eternally stuck-in-development project has gotten to the screen.