Planet of the Apes (2001) Review

Fox studios have firmly held onto the rights to a remake of the Planet Of The Apes Legacy ever since the franchising of Star Wars told them they were sitting on a goldmine. Various stars and directors were banded with the slated remake project- Oliver Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bay, George Clooney, James Cameron, Sam Raimi to name a few, and various script drafts were rejected due to the enormous budgets that would have been required. You can even read writer Sam Hamm's (co-scripter of Batman and Batman Returns) rejected script here. Amidst ongoing rumours and web talk, Fox announced in 2000 that they had given the green-light to a remake of Planet Of The Apes, and it would star blandest of the bland Mark Wahlberg. Apes fans weren't overly excited, until they realised that gothic maestro Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow) was brought in to direct. Given a budget of one hundred million dollars, and a promise by Burton that the new version would be a revisit and not a remake of the original, which translated to a deviation from the original plot lines.

Based loosely on the 1968 version and on the Pierre Boulle novel that inspired it, the film is set in 2029 onboard a space station, where scientific experiments to test the use of apes as guinea pigs for space exploration is taking place. A mysterious worm-hole type cloud is discovered, and one of the trained chimps Peracles is sent to determine the nature of the cloud. After losing contact with Peracles’ spacepod, the chimp’s trainer Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) disobeys orders and attempts a rescue mission. However, Davidson travels through the wormhole and is projected thousands of years into the future. Crash landing on a strange planet, Davidson finds himself amongst two different tribes. The dominant species are talking apes who hunt and kill cowardly humans who have no sense of unity or strength. Soon enough, Davidson is captured and turned into a slave by a benevolent female chimpanzee named Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter), who believes that humans and apes should live together in peace. However, a vicious ape general named Thade (Tim Roth) has other ideas, and his determination to rid the planet of all humans sparks a war between the two species. Meanwhile, Davidson’s attempts to return home meets with disapproval with the humans who see him as a ‘saviour from the stars’ brought to save them.

Dear oh dear. The more times you watch Burton's version of Planet Of The Apes, the more you realise just how moronic it actually is. Gone is the wit, beauty and intelligence of the original, and in comes a glossy yet ultimately empty exercise in breaking something that didn't even need fixing. Burton himself publicly admitted that he hated making the film, and at first was so sick of the production that he refused to record a commentary for the DVD (he later changed his mind). Those who are fans of Burton will be shocked to note there is almost no trace of 'Burtonisms' in the film. You wouldn't know Burton directed this film unless you read the opening credits, and anyone remotely interested in his work will know that this goes against the trademark that Burton has established in his previous movies. Indeed, this may be deliberate, so that Burton can argue he was simply going-through-the-motions. The only time the film becomes interesting is when it jokingly pays homage to the original, such as the shot of Davidson on horseback reaching his ship, was is almost the exact set-up of Charlton Heston's legendary approach to the Statue Of Liberty. Heston even appears himself uncredited as an ape, as the dying father to General Thade, who humourously curses the humans on his deathbed, "damning them all to hell!" You might even notice the original 'Nova' Linda Harrison in a split-second cameo as a woman caged with Davidson upon being captured by the apes. Aside from a few other jokey quotes, that's about it with regards to the level of interest, as Planet Of The Apes (2001) is nothing more than a B-movie actioner with impressive visual effects and makeup. The apes look good, but seem even closer to humans than the 1968 version did. Also, their characters are nothing more than two-dimensional 'aliens'. In the original, the apes, although generally ignorant and evil in nature, were presented as politically and scientifically evil as opposed to the new version, in which the apes are nothing more than vicious brutes. Tim Roth's over-aggressive performance as General Thade doesn't help matters, and although he expertly mimics the movements of apes he lacks proper structuring. Helena Bonham-Carter still manages to portray her usual neurotic self, and she is fatally miscast as Ari, a poor attempt to be Zira from the original. As for Wahlberg, how this pretty boy ever became an actor is anyone's guess, and it's a pity that his buddy George Clooney wasn't cast as Davidson, as he at least could act enough to become interesting on screen.

An ending so bad deserves a paragraph of its own, and Planet Of The Apes (2001) contains one of the most ridiculous and most pathetic endings to ever conclude a film. Obviously attempting to outdo the original whilst simultaneously paying homage to Pierre Boulle's novel, the ending makes no sense to the point where audiences will talk about afterwards; not because of its powerful denouement, but in an effort to understand just how the ending could have happened like that? Before those of you out there write in claiming that the ending does make sense, proving this by using intricate explanations, be warned that no audience should ever need such a complicated explanation. Also, one can't help but be cynical regarding the deliberate attempts at opening up a sequel. Let's hope Burton steers clear of this one.

Even though the production side of things manages to look very impressive, it still doesn't come close to the eerie evocations of the original, primarily because most of the forest sequences have been filmed in a studio, as opposed to the entire on-location footage of the exterior sequences in the original, which still looks superior.

As sequels and remakes look set to dominate 2002 (Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones, Spider-Man, Blade 2, Men In Black 2, The Two Towers, Rollerball etc.), Planet Of The Apes (2001) is as good an example of any of the fact that Hollywood is running out of ideas. Rather than promote creativity, the industry instead seems content to recycle and dumb-down important works of cinema.

Presented in widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1, the transfer is virtually flawless, exhibiting fine colours on the lighter sequences and acceptable contrast on the more darker sequences. Visually, the film isn't as impressive as the original, but this transfer houses the film wonderfully.

Presented in an excellent DTS mix, Planet Of The Apes (2001) is a hotbed of massive sound events. Every sound element is given the fullest audible clarity, and the musical score lingers heavily in the background, driving the narrative splendidly. Most of the elements occur in the front channels, but there are still some good example of surround events occurring. Also available in a slightly inferior 5.1 mix.

Menu: An exceptionally dark, but interesting menu which starts off in space, and zooms toward the planet, pitching you next to the ape camp near the 'forbidden area'. When an option is selected, you are confronted by an ape guard, who beats his chest.


Enhanced Viewing Mode: This is an interesting option, in that it allows you to watch the film whilst having occasional quarter-sized picture-on-picture vignettes cropping on, exploring the relevant themes of what is on screen. For example, Lawrence Konner, one of the film's co-screenwriters, pops up to talk about Leo Davidson's role on the USAF Oberon or a clip of the forest set under construction. Also, at various times an ape symbol will appear on screen, and pressing enter/play on the remote will pull the viewer out of the film and into a sub-featurette, dealing with relevant on-screen themes. For example, you can watch a featurette tackling the issue of scaling the pod-crash, or brief examples of how the digital compositing was achieved for the film. Although this feature is a neat process, it's slightly disorientating to watch, and the viewer has to sit through the whole film in order to access the extras, unless they want to master the fast-forward option. Even so, some of the extra featurettes included are enjoyable to watch, and as they only last five or so minutes each they never outstay their welcome.

Audio Commentary With Tim Burton: Although not renowned for his riveting commentaries, director Tim Burton actually delivers a fine commentary, dealing with his views on some of the film's plot, whilst not ever being tempted to be overtly harsh to Fox studios. There are a few frequent pauses throughout, but Burton is enthusiastic. Try listening to his hilarious and incompressible take on the ending, which is a rambling, stuttering incoherent mess, much like the ending itself. Burton also mentions that at one point the filmmakers had the idea of staging the ending at Yankee stadium, which might have proved to be more interesting.

Isolated Score With Commentary By Danny Elfman: Frequent composer and Burton-collaborator Danny Elfman comments on his approach to scoring the film, in-between the pauses of the film's score. For any fan of the score, this is a fabulous extra, since it presents Elfman's complete score in its entirety, unlike the accompanying soundtrack CD. Elfman's score is tenser and more sinister, but doesn't feel anything other than conventional, which is a pity considering Jerry Goldsmith's 1968 breathtaking and innovative piece of work on the original, which should be owned by any soundtrack lover.

Cast & Crew Biographies: For a change, some very good biographies/filmographies of the cast and crew are included, and presented in large enough text so that the viewer need not squint.

DVD-ROM Extras: A script-to-screen feature is included as a DVD-ROM extra, along with a few storyboards of the film's beginning and end sequences. Leo's Logbook: This is a few story pages of logs from Leo Davidson. Jr. Novella: This is some excerpts from the novella The Planet Of The Apes.

Simian Academy: A funny and interesting featurette lasting twenty-four minutes, which chronicles how the stars and the extras were taught to imitate apes when it came to acting as them. The stunt-co-ordinators obviously relish the opportunity to go 'ape', and they give proceedings a laid-back, child-like status.

Ape Couture: This is a six-minute featurette hosted by Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, and features screen-tests of the various costume designs and processes involved.

Face Like A Monkey: This is an excellent half-hour documentary detailing the intricate make-up processes involved in turning humans into ape characters. Mostly featuring interviews with director Tim Burton and multi-Oscar winning makeup artist Rick Baker, the documentary is fascinating to watch, since it makes no secret of how the time-consuming make-up look was achieved. Funny moments arise from Rick Baker, who talks about how he warned Tim Burton to cast people based on the size of their nose, which would help the makeup process. Baker then talks about his shock realisation that Tim Roth was cast as General Thade, since his nose meant he was one of the least suitable actors to play an ape!

Chimp Symphony, Op. 37: This is a ten-minute featurette showing composer Danny Elfman conduct and record the score for the film, along with interviews from Elfman himself.

Lake Powell, Arizona: A twelve-minute featurette, detailing the location work on Lake Powell, the same location for some of original's exterior sequences. It's quite interesting to watch, and the filmmaker's mention factors involved in their homage to the original. The funniest element is Michael Clarke Duncan talking on set about Burton's directing.

Screen Tests: Split into five sections, this is an innovative feature that uses quad-splits as opposed to single selection. Rather than have screen tests appear one at a time, the screen is split into four areas, and the viewer can choose which audio track out of the four he/she wants to listen to. Four of the sections utilise this option - Makeup, Costumes, Groups, Movement, and Stunt Tests are just raw footage of stunt rehearsals.

Swinging From The Trees: A nine-minute featurette detailing how the filmmakers achieved a believable look regarding the ape characters performing giant leaps and swinging from trees. Essentially, it's a feature on the excellent stunt-work of the film.

Multi-Angle Featurettes: Essentially, a focus on how the film was shot, with behind-the-scenes sequences being filmed from various angles. Four scenes are highlighted - Limbo's Quadrangle, Spandar's House, Escape From Ape City, In The Forest, and the first two of these scenes have three smaller sequences available once selected. All of the sequences chosen contain production artwork, the actual scene from the film, the relevant portion of the script and the option to watch it in three/four different angles, interchangeable via the angle button on the remote or as a split-screen of them all.

Extended Scenes: Five extended sequences are included, but these are mostly disappointing with the only extra footage being an odd throwaway line here or there. The sequences are presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 complete with AVID time-code stamp, and are titled Launch The Monkey, Dinner, Kill Them all, Ari In The Trees, She's A Chimpanzee.

HBO Special: The Making Of Planet Of The Apes: This is the usual twenty-seven minute glossy 'making of', which features cast and crew interviews intercut with clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. The making of is presented by the likeable Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) who played Colonel Attar in the film, and that makes it slightly more interesting.

"Rule The Planet Remix" by Paul Oakenfold - Music Video: The music video of the tacky remix by Paul Oakenfold of Danny Elfman's "Rule The Planet" theme, coupled with shots of the film.

Trailers & TV Spots: Two main theatrical trailers are presented, along with six TV-spots. Also, a very old CBS/Fox Video trailer is included which advertises the five original films coming soon on video! Trailers for Dr. Dolittle 2 and Moulin Rouge! are also included.

Posters & Press Kit: A few posters advertising the film, along with the full and extensive textual press kit for the film.

Music Spot: A brief TV spot advertising the Danny Elfman soundtrack and its availability in shops.

Gallery: A very extensive gallery that features endless amounts of promotional artwork from all of the locations featured in the film and most of the important props.

Ape Commentary Easter Egg: Go to the commentary menu on the first disc's Special Features, and select an invisible ape symbol in between the Burton and Elfman commentary option. This will take you to a hilarious commentary by the apes featured in the film.

Despite the terrible film, the DVD still makes this a worthy purchase, since the picture, sound and extra departments are amazing, and suggest that much effort went into Planet Of The Apes (2001), even if it served only to heighten the quality of the original 1968 classic, a film that seems to get better and better with age.

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