Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes doesn't measure up to the original.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
Monkey Business: Tim Roth (center) plays Thade, the vicious military ape leader in Planet of the Apes.As a tremendous fan of Franklin J. Schaffner''s 1968 original Planet of the Apes, as well as director Tim Burton, my hopes were high going into this update. Whether you come out of this new Apes with a grin on your face or the urge to smack Burton will depend on how much you cherish the original production.
Burton''s film draws much from both the Pierre Boulle source novel and Schaffner''s film, but as befits the bizarre stylistics of the director, it''s less a remake than (as Burton has consistently called it) a "reimagining." Simply put, Burton''s film lacks the social and political gravitas of the original, a film that was wholly of its time. Schaffner''s film--with talking chimps Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter aiding and abetting grizzled lead Charlton Heston--dealt with such weighty ''60s-era themes as racism and classism. Rather than being a simple monkey movie, Schaffner''s film was a skewed hippie battle cry, unique among sci-fi films of its time. This 2001 script has little of the earlier film''s political bite, and instead fuses the story of American astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) with something akin to Spartacus or Moses.
When Leo crash-lands his spaceship on a remote planet after entering some kind of electromagnetic space-field, he finds himself on a planet ruled by talking apes, where the humans are enslaved and kept as servants or pets. The script likens the apes'' society to that of ancient Rome, with the scheming, warlike General Thade (an all-but-unrecognizable Tim Roth) as its militaristic fist and David Warner''s Senator Sandar as one of its heads of state. There''s also Sandar''s daughter Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a chimpanzee activist for human rights who quickly bonds with the captured Leo, and the conniving orangutan slave trader Limbo. Unlike the original film, the humans here can speak, though they don''t say much, and when they do it''s almost always a throwaway line.
Estella Warren''s lippy Daena becomes Leo''s wishful paramour, but the film gives short shrift to any sort of romantic melodrama outside of an amusing battle for the poor astronaut''s affections between Daena and Ari. Burton''s film features a number of the director''s spectacular set-pieces, including an ancient craft mired in the wastes of the Forbidden Area (originally referred to as the "Forbidden Zone") and a stunning if obvious epilogue best left undisclosed. Wahlberg is adequate as the marooned spaceman, but there''s none of the visceral quality that Charlton Heston brought to the role, and while all the ape actors are excellent, the real star of Burton''s film is Rick Baker''s Oscar-caliber make-up effects, which improve drastically on Ben Nye''s 1968 foam-latex ape appliances.
Burton''s film isn''t the effects-driven barrage I had worried it might be, but neither does it pack the emotional wallop and sense of wonder that Schaffner''s original film carried. Like so many of the franchise films that sought to expand upon the original, it''s a near miss.
Planet Of The Apes... (* * * )Rated: PG-13, 119 min.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Paul Giamatti, David Warner, Estella Warren, Michael Clarke Duncan, Tim Roth, Charlton Heston, Kris Kristofferson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Helena Bonham Carter
Where: Northridge and State
When: See Movie Times