Planet Of The Apes (2001) Review
Classic films are good enough to not ever need remaking. Gus Van Sant’s attempt at modernising Psycho was slick but misdirected, and the fact that Rollerball has been delayed until next year due to major re-editing suggests that big-budget remakes are not necessarily sure fire hits (Get Carter anyone?).
The original Planet Of The Apes was a science-fiction classic and for a review of the best available DVD version click here. Rumours have been spreading for years about a remake, and here in 2001, in what is the summer of all summer blockbuster seasons, the remake or ‘revisit’ of Planet Of The Apes is finally upon us, with brilliant visionary Tim Burton at the helm.
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 using 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, who believes that humans and apes should live together in peace. However, a vicious Gorilla general named Thade 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.
The original Planet Of The Apes was a satirical social commentary held together by a gripping science-fiction plot. Unfortunately, the new version ditches the social commentary and becomes an out-and-out action adventure.
However, the film is extremely enjoyable and slickly paced, if you forgive the terrible and predictable plot that serves to be a cut-and-paste of other movies (not just the Apes ones). The worst part of the film is the ending. If you are a fan of the Apes legacy (or just a sci-fi buff) you will guess all of the twists premature of when you are supposed to. The obligatory final scene twist makes no sense (unless you apply twisted sequel logic based on previous Apes sequels) and appears to be just a lame attempt at bettering the original.
Cast wise, I was disappointed. Mark Wahlberg is so minimalist and lacking charisma that he doesn’t even seem surprised to have landed on a planet infested with talking apes (maybe he’s seen the original – unlike everyone else in the cinema who the in-jokes were wasted on – such as cameos from Charlton Heston as an ape). Wahlberg is such a bad A-list actor you’d be forgiven for thinking the producers wanted the apes to be the main attraction. Helena Bonham Carter as Ari is just a pale imitation of Kim Hunter as Zira, and as for the grunting Tim Roth, let’s just say his two dimensional Thade character lacked all of the menace of Dr. Zaius. After his King King-esque performance in The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan seems a perfect choice to play Attar, a character whose role looks likely to expand in the inevitable sequel. Lisa Marie as Nova is pure annoyance, and her role is so small you get the feeling her performance has been cut dramatically.
Visually, the film doesn’t match it’s predecessor. Whereas the original utilised beautiful natural locales such as the Utah rockies, the modern version settles for blue screen effects and studio sets. The makeup by multi-Oscar winner Rick Baker is too reminiscent of his other work and is no where near as innovative as John Chambers’ work on the original. Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment technically is Tim Burton’s direction. Burton seems unable to control the film to his own ends and his direction seems like a typical ‘director-for-hire’ approach, although thank goodness Michael Bay didn’t get near the film. Those expecting a film in the Burton visual style will be disappointed to note that Sleepy Hollow or Batman this isn’t, and even though the film is very entertaining and contains some good moments it still feels like a missed opportunity. Why bother to remake a classic if you are only going to hit half the targets you aim for?
Planet Of The Apes has something for everyone in the form of cliched science-fiction, comedy, action, adventure and the final scene twist ending. You’ll enjoy it, but don’t expect to understand the ending and don’t expect this to be the only film in the franchise. It’s Burton’s worst film, but that does not mean it is bad by any means (and if anything shows you how good his career has been). It’s worrying in Hollywood when a big budget remake serves only as a testament to how good the original really was.