PLANET OF THE APES (2001)
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
MPAA Rating: (for some sequences of action/violence)
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 7/27/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The original Planet of the Apes (1968) is a solid sci-fi movie that has more historic and cult value than anything else, and Tim Burtonís "re-imagining" of the original definitely gains a lot from this fact. Letís face it, the storyline for both is pure B-movie material, but the original rose above it with some intriguing social commentary and this one rises above it with pure technical wizardry. This is definitely not a re-make, even though the story stays essentially the same for the first two-thirds. Itís much darker and more atmospheric than the original, and this is obviously due to Burtonís touch. The world of the apes is incredibly realized, and that alone makes it something special among so many other movies that never try to achieve any more than necessary.
On a space station in the future, a group of scientists is examining primates and even training them for space travel. When a electromagnetic storm appears near the ship, a chimpanzee is sent out to examine it but is lost. Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) follows for a rescue, but soon he is transported further into the future where he crash lands on a planet. In the jungle he comes upon a group of humans running from and eventually being captured by apes, led by General Thade (Tim Roth). He is captured with the others and brought to the city and a slave trader named Limbo (Paul Giamatti). In captivity, Davidson catches the eye of Thade and Ari (Helen Bonham Carter), a human rights advocate. Ari convinces Limbo to allow her to take Davidson and another human Daena (Estella Warren) and her family to her home. She is the daughter of an affluent senator, and the humans work as slaves for the house. Soon after a dinner, the humans escape with Ari and head towards the holy land in the Forbidden Zone. Of course, Thade and his army are soon on their tracks.
The most technically impressive aspect of the film is its makeup. Designer Rick Baker has done undeniably incredible job creating these apes, and the results are frighteningly realistic and occasionally just plain frightening. The world itself is also starkly presented. One of my problems with the original is that the world is too bright, but that problem is more than cleared up here. Until the humans leave the jungle, the city is dreary and threatening, and even after they escape, the rest of the planet is stark and barren. The world and its occupants are the best part of the film. The ape society brings up some social commentary, which was the most intriguing aspect of the original.
All of the actors playing apes are greatly effective. Roth gives what may be the most menacing performance behind a few layers of latex ever. Carter gives a nicely subtle and compassionate performance which is also surprising, considering the makeup. Thereís even a cameo by Charlton Heston, and heís better in this minute or so of screentime than he was in the original. Every other actor captures the ape-like movements and personality necessary to make the startling impact needed. The humans, on the other hand, are a different story. Wahlberg is serviceable as the hero, but he doesnít have the presence needed for such a role.
The result is that the humans are far less interesting than the apes, and, in turn, we do not have anyone to really identify with. Even Wahlbergís character is not presented as distinguishably unique from the other human being on the planet, and Iím left wondering why he would be so important to either the apes or the humans. Another problem is that the resolution of the conflict depends on characters understanding something that is never actually explained to them. I also have a small observation about the ending, which, like the original, is a surprise. While the original had an ending that changed the perspective of the whole movie, this ending does not provide any new perspective on what has come before it. It is simply there to establish the inevitable sequel. However, I must admit, it is an interesting setup.
These are all minor problems. This update hits most of the same right notes as the original and is definitely an improvement on all technical levels. As a Burton film, it is nowhere near his better works, but he should be given credit for actually making the whole thing work. Overall, this Planet of the Apes is neither superior nor inferior to the original, but it does serve as a nice companion piece. And itís by far one of the more visionary films out there now.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.