The opening of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes illustrates in a brief, visually snappy way just what went down in the decade since James Franco accidentally wiped out humanity while trying to cure his daddy’s Alzheimer’s. The film sets out to accomplish a great deal (spoiler: it succeeds), and The End Of The World As We Know It is but a pre-credits preamble to the epic drama at the heart of the thing. This is a smart call; as a culture we've seen enough post-apocalyptic fiction (and reality shows, bless) to know, more or less, how it will all go down when the lights go out and the water stops running. Still, there’s enough post-apocalyptic fiction (and reality shows) to indicate that for some reason, we really kind of dig watching society collapse! My theory is that it's the same bit of ego that has doomsday preppers convinced the end is nigh - somewhere in a dark corner of our brains, we all secretly want to be around to witness the end of the world.
Scratching that nihilistic itch is Motherboard, teaming with 20th Century Fox to provide the doomsday filler you won’t see (or, trust me, miss) in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The three shorts that comprise their "Before The Dawn" web series cover the first, fifth and tenth years of the Simian Flu outbreak, each film presenting a different angle on the unraveling of civilization.
“Quarantine” is a melancholy little tone poem, presenting the first year of the outbreak. It paints an intimate, mumblecore-ish portrait of a family dealing with the first stages of chaos in the wake of the biological disaster - including an infected mom.
“All Fall Down” ramps up the production value a bit, giving glimpses of a post-event, barter-based society set against a landscape overrun by neglect. It finds its young protagonist in the fifth year of the plague, detailing day-to-day existence in a world without order - and one in which a new threat is lurking out there in the dark.
“The Gun” occupies the “Year Ten” slot of the trilogy, but really it covers the entire decade between Rise and Dawn. It’s the most ambitious and effective short of the three, following one shotgun as it changes hands over ten years of societal disintegration. This one has the most scope, action, and dread of the collection - just a bleak mosaic of the world falling to pieces.
If you want to jump right into Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes on Friday, these shorts aren't essential viewing. And the stories they contain are exclusively human, so don’t go in expecting any mo-cap monkey magic. But as far as web marketing goes, they’re decent little bits of content, indie-flavored added value to complement a blockbuster experience that’s going to flat-out knock you out this weekend.
And again, it’s always fun to see the end of the world.