Planet of the Apes (Ultimate Collector’s Edition) - Planet Of The Apes (2001) Review
It it 2029 and in an orbit above Earth, the space station Oberon is the present home of astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), who's based there to train chimpanzees to carry out space missions thought too dangerous for humans. As the film opens, we see him working with Pericles, his favourite chimp but during a training exercise, Pericles proves himself unable to pilot his space-going pod into Earth's atmosphere. Suddenly, an alert sounds on the Oberon as an electromagnetic storm is tracked on a path that will intercept the space station's orbit and the decision is taken to send Pericles out to investigate the storm.
Within minutes, though, the signal from Pericles's pod is lost and Davidson launches his own craft to investigate the chimp's disappearance. Following the route taken by Pericles, Davidson enters the storm and falls into a vortex, out of which he emerges entering the atmosphere of a strange world. Crashing into a lake, Davidson emerges to join a group of humans running scared through a jungle, only realising what is threatening them as he enters a clearing - a group of savage apes on horseback, who are herding the humans into a horse drawn cage. Rounded up with the other humans, Davidson is brought to Limbo (Paul Giamatti), an orangutan slave trader who then sells him and female slave, Daena (Estella Warren), on to Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a chimp who's sympathetic to the remaining humans. But at a dinner party held by Ari's father (David Warner), Davidson meets General Thade (Tim Roth) and Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) once again, realising that is the powerful ape military that he must rise up against if he is to find a way back to Earth and to his own time...
Frankly, I'm beginning to feel monkey'd-out this week, what with the Planet Of The Apes live-action show, the animated show, this, a review copy of King Kong and even the spooky gorillas of Princess Mononoke to contend with. Forgive me then if you feel this review to be a little underwhelming but not only did I reach something of an excess of apes with Tim Burton's reimagining of Planet Of The Apes but also noted a complete absence of logic, something that can be forgiven in a less pompous production but which actually looks to have been the route taken here by Burton. Besides which, if you do consider this review underwhelming, it's no more than the film deserves, being one entirely lacking in filling once the viewer gets past the impressive makeup.
It's one of the frustrating things about Tim Burton is that for every Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, both of which are magnificent examples of filmmaking, he turns in a Mars Attacks! or a Planet Of The Apes, where he looks so completely out of step with the material as to make it a hopeless endeavour. Here, he has his film labour under ideas of class, of the relationship between apes and humans, of their sexuality and of a fear of one another based on some unspoken knowledge of an event in the history of both species. Of course, all these were in the original to a greater and lesser degree but at least there was an interest in these in 1968 and the film was fashioned accordingly, with an appropriate amount of care. Burton, though, has no such interest in the script, nor even a belief in it, and rarely rouses either his talent or his actors. Much was made of the makeup and though it is excellent, Burton uses it to mask a multitude of sins - a much-too-quirky performance from Helena Bonham-Carter, a set of awful in-jokes using cameos from Charlton Heston and a ludicrously dressed Estella Warren, whose lip gloss and décolletage are more suited to Vogue than to the desert battlefield. Worst of all is a dreary performance from Mark Walhberg who, we're led to believe, inspires mankind's rise against the apes but last speech before battle is no more than a confused, "er...let's go!" For a reimagining, there's precious little imagination in what Burton's presented, more that, like his recent Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, he remakes but loses what charm there is in the original, never more so than in trying to replicate the twist ending of the original whilst still trying to surprise.
The ending of the original was such a virtuoso example of the twist that it remains, and will do so for many years to come, a classic of the form. Even when you've seen the 1968 Planet Of The Apes a good many times, the big reveal on the beach remains a superb example of filmmakers holding back on their plotting until the very end, when it will have the most dazzling and unexpected impact. It's a joy to watch and not even the numerous parodies of it has dimmed its brilliance. My personal favourite is a local one - BBC Northern Ireland's Give My Head Peace is a sitcom featuring a Loyal Protestant family (Billy, Uncle Andy, Red Hand Luke and Big Mervyn) and a Catholic Republican one (Cal, Dympna, Ma and Sinn Feiner Da, who's often taking calls from Gerry and Martin). Having been handed a grant to make films about their respective cultures, Uncle Andy and Mervyn turned in Planet Of The Fenians - this being local slang for Catholics - in which they travel through time to a Northern Ireland of the future. Dressed in their space suits, which sport, in the place of the NASA logo, the red hand of Ulster, Andy and Mervyn are aghast to find a statue of Edward Carson, which normally resides outside Stormont castle, buried in the sand, to which he cries, "You did it...you gave them a united Ireland! God damn you all! God damn you all to hell!"
Burton, however, has, out of all the options he had at his disposal, appears to selected the most rotten one of all. It really doesn't make any sense and although Burton suggests on his DVD commentary that it would have been explained by the sequels that would have followed had this been a success, the audience shouldn't need to wait for evidence of their loyalty to a film before being rewarded. The suggestion is that, although trapped as this film ends, Thade somehow takes advantage of the various parallel worlds and timelines to travel back to an Earth that existed prior to Davidson leaving and, in the course of doing so, changes history. Just how far back isn't clear but I'm assuming it's really, really far back in time given how pervasive the film suggests ape society has become. Or it may be an Earth in a parallel universe. Or, indeed, not Earth at all but a similar planet that has enjoyed a parallel but vastly different history.
Almost as disliked as the original is loved, Burton's Planet Of The Apes was just the wrong film at the wrong time. Or indeed at any time really, given that I watched it five years after its release and it's still a dreadful film. Instead, it's more the kind of film that's unnecessary, with the original film still being such a classic of its kind that the chances of this being any good were very slim. It's inclusion as part of the Ultimate Ape Collection actually makes it even less welcome a film, with anyone laying out the considerable amount of cash for the Ape Head probably being the kind of person who'll forget this was even in there, which is actually no more than what this deserves.
Released when the DVD format was beginning to catch a hold, Planet Of The Apes was one of those discs that would have been recommended for the quality of the transfer alone, all the better for showing off a decent DVD player, a widescreen television and a surround sound system. A few years later, the quality of the picture and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are still noticeable but we're surely past the age of discs used only for demonstrating one's hardware.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is all that you'd ask for in a DVD - clear, crisp and sourced from a virtually flawless print. The colours are rich and although the film is often very dark, no detail is lost in the shadows and in the gloomy interiors and locations as in the desert, it's suitably bright. As for the audio tracks, the DTS is clearly superior with great use of the rear channels and the subwoofer but without any distortion. Clear in its quietest moments but equally able to handle the battles later in the film, it's little wonder that this DTS track was an early favourite of demo rooms. The Dolby Digital track isn't quite as good but it's still excellent, showing itself to be as able as the DTS but slightly more muted.
Enhanced Viewing Mode: Whatever became of such features as this - there was a time when it was a presence on discs such as this, The Matrix, Spider-Man and Snatch, all waiting for the sight of an ape, a white rabbit, a spider or a diamond to be taken to a short feature on some aspect of the production. I tend to think that we simply caught on to navigating through a disc via the remote rather than waiting for the occasional appearance of onscreen links to features that we weren't really that interested in. Regardless, watch the film and look out for the ape symbol and you'll get taken to a series of short features on CG effects, the pod crash and digital compositing. There's also a feature of this that shows a small window over the main action, which shows interviews, behind the scenes footage and effects shots during relevant points in the film.
Commentaries: There's two advertised commentary tracks on the disc - one by Tim Burton and the other by Danny Elfman - as well as one that's available as an Easter Egg. The Burton one does rather show how little interest he had in the film, with him leaving long gaps in his track and tending to concentrate on the practicalities of the production - the script, effects and the like - rather than what he brought to the film. It does pick up somewhat during the ending, not for Burton's explaining of it but more his lack of an explanation. The Danny Elfman track is set around his isolated score and he discusses this during silences in it. It's not a very impressive score - not a patch on that of the 1968 film, for example - but by including it, Fox shows the quality of this DVD. Finally, there's a commentary by the apes that last all of forty-three seconds, who appear to lose interest shortly after Pericles takes off in his pod. They really ought to have kept on watching given how much they'd have enjoying following the actions of General Thade.
Cast & Crew Biographies: These have been included for all of the main members of both - eleven members of the crew, sixteen of the cast - and in most cases have an impressive amount of detail throughout, although, oddly, Charlton Heston doesn't get more than a filmography.
The Making Of The Apes: As you'd expect, there's a great deal of background information on the making of Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes and this doesn't disappoint. Although there's no option to Play All, these eight features describe various stages to and aspects of the production and include Simian Academy (24m11s), Face Like A Monkey (29m47s), Ape Couture (6m34s), Chimp Symphony (9m41s) with Danny Elfman, On Location at Lake Powell (12m00s) and Swinging From The Trees (9m34s). These titles are fairly self-explanatory, although I was expecting a chorus of apes in Chimp Symphony rather than the sight of Danny Elfman, but otherwise they're what you'd expect of a decent making-of. Finally, there's a set of Screen Tests, which, in a quad-split-screen, show Make-up, Group, Costume, Stunt and Movement Tests, none of which last more than a few minutes.
Extended Scenes: There's a total of five such scenes here - Launch The Monkey (1m13s), Dinner (1m17s), Kill Them All (58s), Ari In The Trees (41s) and She's A Chimpanzee (54s) - none of which add anything to what actually made it to the final film. The sequences are unfinished, being non-anamorphic 2.35:1 with a time-code stamp.
HBO Special - Making Of... (26m45s): Beginning as a day in the life of Michael Clarke Duncan, this is a typical behind-the-scenes promotional piece with interviews with the cast and crew intercut with behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film. Although slight, there's still a fair amount of contributions here from the likes of Tim Burton, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter - oh, and Mark Wahlberg I suppose - making this a good entry point for anyone unprepared for the much longer features elsewhere on his disc.
Multi-Angle Scene Comparisons: Taking four scenes from the film - Limbo's Quadrangle, Sandar's House, Escape From Ape City and In The Forest - and then further breaking them down to create a total of ten sub-sections, this allows the viewer to look at the actual shooting of a scene from multiple angles, the production art, how it was originally written in the script and how it looked in the finished film. I can only assume that such extras were popular at such a time when the average DVD collection didn't amount to more than five or six titles and people wanted to get value for money.
DVD-ROM Extras: Pop this into your DVD-ROM drive and after the Interactual Install screen, you can go in search of storyboards, Leo's Logbook and a script-to-screen comparison, all played out through a browser.
Finally, there's a Paul Oakenfold music video (Rule The Planet Remix), Posters & Press Kit, Trailers & TV Spots, a Music Promo and a gallery of Still Images.