SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: Tim Burton
WRITTEN BY: William Broyles, Jr. & Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal; Based on a novel by Pierre Boulle
PEW PEW: This remake of the original film is a modern-style action adventure film with plenty of violence and action.
CAT FOOD: The Planet of the Apes film series frequently dips its pen into the ink of social commentary and liberally applies it to in both the background and foreground of the pictures. This one clumsily attempts to touch on a number of subjects.
NOTE: THIS FILM IS NOT RELATED TO THE TWO NEW FILMS RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES AND DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. THEY ARE NOT PREQUELS TO THIS ONE. YOU DO NOT NEED TO WATCH THIS TO GET THOSE. YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE HOW MANY TIMES I’VE HAD TO EXPLAIN THIS.
There was no shortage of science fiction novels being published in the fifties and sixties, and many of them had powerful things to say about the world around their authors. While some of these novels went on to be adapted into film, many of them were too ambitious or bizarre to even attempt a faithful re-imagining. When French author Pierre Boulle (famous for The Bridge On the River Kwai) published La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet) in 1963, it’s hard to believe anyone could picture a successful film coming out of it, with the limited production tools of the era, at least.
But blow me down, they did it. La Planète des Singes, a novel about a journalist’s experience on a distant planet populated by intelligent apes who wore suits and drove cars, and treated the less advanced humans like animals, went on to spawn eight feature films (with a ninth on the way next year), a live-action television series, a cartoon series, and a clandestine merchandising campaign that predates Star Wars’. So pull up a seat, cause over the next eight days, we’re going to talk about Planet of the Apes, easily one of the most profound and important science fiction film series’ in the genre’s rich history.
While the original series of films had captivated the attention of sci-fi moviegoers from 1968 to 1973, when the time came to remake the concept for a new generation, it proved to be a lot harder to get off the ground. While a remake had been in the works since the early nineties (with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to star at one point), it wasn’t until 2001 that we finally saw it come to fruition.
From the time it was first announced that the film would see the light of day and directed by Tim Burton, who managed to expertly reinvent Batman for a new generation, I lived and breathed the new Planet of the Apes and all of the teasers and promotional materials they put out leading up to its release. When the first full-length trailer came out, I thought it was the single greatest trailer I’d ever seen. It’s difficult to explain now, but with the scenes out of context and mashed up strategically into a dramatic trailer, this thing looked badass!
And then July 27, 2001 came round and I eagerly hit the theatre, giddy as hell that, after a lifetime of soaking in all five original apes movies, I was finally going to get to see a new one in the theatre. What emerged from that theatre two hours later was a husk that more resembled disappointment incarnate than human being. I’m sure the thing has been beaten to death over the past fifteen years, but I’ve got to put my two cents in. Heaven forbid this abomination turns into an ironic hipster classic someday.
We pick up with astronaut Leo Davidson in the year 2029 has he prepares trained apes for the rigors and complicated technology of space travel on the space station Oberon. After losing a chimp in an electromagnetic storm, Leo brashly straps himself into a pod and hurls himself into the storm after him. Blasted through the storm and thrown down to the surface of a strange planet, Leo finds himself in a jungle inhabited by primitive humans. And then the hunt begins.
To Leo’s horror, the humans are being hunted by intelligent apes who speak, ride horses, and wear armour. The humans are captured and taken into Ape City, where they are sold to an orangutan slaver. Because the humans are also intelligent in this version of the story, it’s not a big deal that Leo can speak and he doesn’t go through nearly the trouble that Taylor did in the 1968 original.
After a brutal 65 seconds of slavery, Leo breaks free, rallies a handful of humans and a few sympathetic apes, and escapes Ape City in hopes that following a tracking beacon on a device he has will get him (and the captive theatre audience) off this shitty planet. The beacon leads him to Calima, a sacred ape temple. It turns out to be the ruins of Oberon, which crashed on the surface of the planet 3000 years earlier. Upon hearing about a human who defies apes (read: just kind of walked out of Ape City), thousands of humans gather at the temple. Pursued by the menacing chimpanzee General Thade and his special forces, led by the gorilla Attar, the story eventually develops into an asstastically underwhelming battle between ape and human.
The movie honestly feels like the name was acquired, make-up was designed, people were cast, sets were built, and then a bunch of filler was written to get the film from the opening credits to the end credits. Yeah, seriously. The only things that seem like they were built with an audience in mind are those credits sequences. While I understand that studios know they have the original fan base already in the bag and that they need to really market the film to a new generation of fans, but I don’t really think it needed to be softened, watered down, and pissed on in a vain attempt to win over children.
Everything is run through at breakneck speed with no regard for meaningful character development or dramatic pause (except for those times when it really doesn’t matter and it’s completely wasted). The action is cartoon exaggerated, with people flying sixty feet through jungle foliage after apes backhand them in the noses.
The landscapes are far too cloistered, even the open ones, making every shot seem like it’s marketing a play set. The comedy isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. The references to the source material are more parody than homage and are almost an affront. And the ending is the shittiest, most nonsensical thing since everyone but Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or Robin Hood having a Texas accent in Prince of Thieves.
What do I like about the film? The cast is decent, the make-up is great (save one terrible hack job), and Estella Warren looks great even though she doesn’t really get to act (and hey, they did need a swimmer for that one scene). With an emphasis on sharpening the ape prosthetic make-up into something quite a bit more realistic looking, the chimp make-up on Thade and the gorilla make-up on Attar presents insanely well, allowing for an easy suspension of disbelief. Had the plot been more dramatic, meaningful, and less all round cornball, this picture might have actually been something. The make-up for Ari, on the other hand, looks like complete shit. The rosy make-up and glossy hairstyle make this look more like a botched plastic surgery and too much Botox than anything. Oh, and the actors had to go through ape training to get the physical mannerisms down, which works to the film’s advantage.
The cast is generally pretty cool, but is entirely wasted on this pile of monkey toss. I’m not a huge fan of Mark Wahlberg, but he suits this role. Tim Roth excels as the evil General Thade and Paul Giamatti is an all round great dude whose colourful delivery as the orangutan Limbo can’t even save the film. Michael Clarke Duncan presents the imposing gorilla Attar with relish, but is hindered considerably by a script weaker than myself in an arm wrestle with fucking Rambo. Helena Bonham Carter is less colourful than usual, and she’s covered in terrible make-up. Blessedly, her astounding eyes are at least visible.
Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison, veterans of the 1968 Planet of the Apes and its sequel have cameo roles in the picture, Heston as Thade’s father Zaius (funny) and Harrison once again as a human captured in a jungle hunt. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who played some of the gnarliest villains ever in the eighties and nineties, is buried beneath make-up, but is still able to put on a decent, if quiet performance as Attar’s former mentor Krull. As mentioned in my review for Stargate a while back, any film that includes Erick Avari in its cast gets severe bonus points. His talent is frequently wasted on garbage movies but he’s legit and appreciated every time. This time he plays house human Tival who gets Baned over Attar’s knee.
While the attempt is made at capturing the Planet of the Apes series’ strong social commentary in the 2001 remake, it seems more like an afterthought than anything. Social themes are clumsily represented with little tact and there are too few examples of commentary that isn’t blatantly obvious and awkwardly executed. I mean, it plays out more like an old commercial for Trix breakfast cereal: “Silly humans, rights are for apes!”
My final disposition? It’s entertaining on a base level, with a few cool things to see, and stuff moving around on screen as it often does in movies. Ultimately, however, the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes is pretty much garbage. The people responsible for producing said garbage did spring for one beauty of a garbage can, but in the end it still smells like shit and there’s not much worth anything inside. Thank Semos they didn’t make a franchise out of this one.