Planet of the Apes (2001) Movie Review
I didn't expect much from this latest "interpretation" of Pierre Boulle's classic novel Planet of the Apes. I mean, how could you top the force and impact of the original film, intelligently co-scripted by Rod Serling (of Twilight Zone fame) combined with the overbearing Chuck Heston growling and yelling at those "damn dirty apes," in one of his best roles of his career? Sadly, I sat down to watch Burton's version of Planet of the Apes and within the first 20 minutes, I was checking my watch and my girlfriend (a big fan of the original film) started to nod off.
This time around, the story plays out like a cross between Enemy Mine, Braveheart, and Project X. Marky Mark Wahlberg, who was enjoyable in Boogie Nights and The Corrupter, plays Leo Davidson, a hot shot U.S. Air Force pilot. Leo and his crew are in search of some mysterious magnetic storms (no real explanation given in the film) and Leo sends one of his genetically altered "smart" chimps into the storms to collect data. Leo and his crew lose communication with the chimp, Leo hops in another ship to find the monkey, and then he's thrown through some type of time-space wormhole which crashes lands on the Twentieth Century Fox studio backlot, all mocked up to look like the Amazon jungle.
Leo ends up getting captured by a group of talking apes and is sold to a slave trader named Limbo (Paul Giamatti) who in turn sells Leo to a chimpanzee named Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). The kind Ari then helps Leo and his fellow humans escape to the mountains to find Leo's ship. Along the way, monkeys played by Tim Roth (overacting his role of a vicious general named Thade) and Michael Clarke Duncan (who further enhances his career by playing another heavy in a bad action movie) strive out to hunt down Leo and his band of human savages, just like Battlefield Earth! In the end, it all culminates into another Braveheart rip-off human versus ape battle scene.
While Rick Baker's makeup work is amazing, the script is a pathetic hodgepodge (courtesy of three writers), the acting is horrible, and the "surprise" ending feels like a swing from a ball-peen hammer into the temple. Wahlberg does not have the physical or mental presence of a Chuck Heston to carry the film or any of its action sequences.
This remake, or re-interpretation, as Tim Burton has proclaimed it, is an insult to the intelligence and wit of the original film. The ethical arguments about the equality of species, fascism, and military buildup have been replaced by tremendous amounts of ridiculous dialogue, an unimaginative narrative structure, and a romance between a monkey and a human. Even Chuck Heston's anti-gun tirade (in a de rigueur cameo) seems shallow and jokey.
But the main element missing from this Tim Burton Film is Tim Burton. Even though his name is plastered across every billboard in America, John Badham could have directed this film. Even Joel Schumacher could have directed this film. He probably should have. Burton's predominant themes of rejection, isolation, and the search for one's place in the universe, as seen in Ed Wood, Edward Scissorshands, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, are completely absent in this Planet. I suppose that's what happen when a great director gets sucked through a wormhole.
The Apes DVD experience is quite a different ballgame -- a two-disc set that is bizarre for what is essentially one big joke, courtesy of Tim Burton. In addition to a wholly incomprehensible commentary track from Burton, there's commentary from composer Danny Elfman (there's a first!), and an interactive viewing mode that provides contextual outtakes and picture-in-picture commentaries, a la a New Line Infinifilm release. And that's just the first disc. Disc two has various extended scenes, documentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and more. And there's even a handy pull-out card that tells you how the theoretical time-space physics of Apes is supposed to work. Alas, there is no feature included that makes the ending make sense (in fact, on his commentary, Burton doesn't even seem to want it to make sense). So there.
Our full Apes coverage:
Planet of the Apes (1968)Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)Planet of the Apes (2001 remake)
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