PLANET OF THE APES (2001) Reviews and overview

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‘Rule the planet’
Planet of the Apes is a 2001 American science-fiction feature film in which an astronaut crash-lands on a mysterious planet in 2029. He is shocked to discover that evolved, talking apes dominate a race of primitive humans.

Directed by Tim Burton (Dark Shadows; Sleepy Hollow; Mars Attacks!; Ed Wood; Batman and Batman Returns; et al), from a screenplay written by William Broyles Jr., Larry Konner and Mark Rosenthal (based on the novel by Pierre Boulle). The movie stars Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham-Carter, Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kris Kristofferson.


Flung into the year 2029, astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) crash-lands on a mysterious planet – with twin stars, definitely not Earth – populated by intelligent apes, who rule over downtrodden humans they consider their social and biological inferiors. Davidson hooks up with compassionate she-ape Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter), an activist who wants to end the prejudice against humans…

Our review:
Following a number of career landmarks beloved among Goth types and comics fanciers, cartoonist-turned-auteur Tim Burton seemed to become a fallback director for overinflated remakes, usually of beloved fantasy material. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows, Dumbo, various iterations of Alice in Wonderland made nice usage of Burton’s incredible imagination, yet at the same time begged the question…why? Especially as the originals worked well enough on their own.

Certainly, as one of the more visionary filmmakers at work in the astronomical-budget territory, it is nicer to think of a Tim Burton at the helm of some marketplace “event” movie than a tiresome hired gun with no heart in the thing, just good connections at the CGI special F/X houses and action-figure sales licenses. But still…why?

Enter the Burtonized Planet of the Apes, in 2001. Behold way-cool state-of-the-art escapism, Industrial Light and Magic visuals, fancy costumes and makeup, snappy dialogue, chases, stunts and a fabulous “Ape City” soundstage custom-constructed on the Sony lot – all quite fun to look at without having any particular soul or staying power. The sensation is much akin to the faux Burton vibe that Joel Schumacher brought to the Batman series.

Taking over for John Chambers’s Oscar-winning makeup appliances in the original 1968 film and its sequels, Rick Baker here created a terrific variety of hominid visages, but the real treat here is the animal body language mastered by the actors, from prehensile feet to the bounding, backflipping tantrums of General Thade, a villain Tim Roth evokes marvellously via posture and movement.

Such business alone could make a viewing worthwhile – that and cameos by original leading man Charlton Heston, Burton’s soon-to-be-ex-lover/muse Lisa Marie (simian, yet seemingly in the same tight outfit she wore in Mars Attacks!) and Rod Serling’s vintage 1968 Apes dialogue now ironically transposed from the mouths of one species to another.

The plot deviates brashly from the original, losing much of the classic’s racial and social subtext and developing alarmingly large plot holes in the process. In 2029 an American space station experiments with training monkeys genetically modified monkeys to pilot space probes. Up brews an “electromagnetic storm” of the sort beloved as a plot device by Star Trek scriptwriters looking for an easy out. The F/X engulfs one primate-controlled probe and a pursuing rescue craft flown by astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg).

Thrown several centuries into the future, Leo lands on an alien planet where a dominant class of talking chimps, gorillas and orangutans maintain their own city-state, government and economy. They also hunt, enslave and oppress dispirited tribes of ragged humans.

In one of the better upgrades to the Pierre Boulle material, affluent she-monkey Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter, to succeed Lisa Marie in the Tim Burton-girlfriend/muse pantheon for a while) is an activist in the “human rights” (read: animal rights) field, who safeguards the troublesome Leo from harm at the paws of her conservative peers, like her ex-lover Gen. Thade. Before long Ari, Leo and a mixed grouping of apes and humans make their way to a forbidden zone where Homo sapiens makes its last stand against apekind.

There are nagging doubts that an infinite number of monkeys typing forever would have taken not very long coming up with more airtight scripts. The picture spins a basic Doctor Who explanation for a non-Terran world divided between talking apes and cowed people – so where did the horses come from? Wrecked tech half a millennium old comes online and functions (insert your own Apple/Windows joke here), and the final “twist” is lamely illogical any way you warp it.

Producer Richard Zanuck is, yes, the same producer who oversaw the Franklin Schaffner original in his youth, which is kind of interesting. And names reportedly attached to various Planet of the Apes remake schemes down the decades had included Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, Philip Noyce, Michael Bay, Chris Columbus and Oliver Stone. With a lineup such as this, Tim Burton emerges as the lone wolf (or whatever mammal you wish to name) able to put a personal stamp on the retread.

So, it’s ephemeral fun while it lasts, and the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes provided entertaining theatrical eye candy in the carefree summer of 2001, shortly before another brand of cave-dweller flew airliners into the World Trade towers and other landmarks and brought the 21st century back to grim reality.

If any real follow-ups were intended for this Apes frolic (and the story’s silly conclusion certainly leaves the door ajar), they were completely cast aside when Fox began an entirely different Planet of the Apes narrative-trilogy in 2011 that kicked off with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, hewing somewhat more closely to the cycle started by the 1968 original – yet measurably less cartoony than either that set or the Burton phantasmagoria.

One could well argue that Burton’s concept belongs rightfully amidst the sometimes-creative monkeyshines generated by the artists and writers at Marvel when they mined the Pierre Boulle/Charlton Heston mythology for an on-and-off series of comic books in the 1970s.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

The makeup is good, as you would expect. The script is worse […] The film is a triumph of marketing. The thought of Burton on the Planet, creating extraordinary visual set-pieces, excites the imagination. Anticipation is high. Lower it immediately. As one ape says to another, in what passes for social chit-chat, “Would you like to freshen up?” Tell that to the writers.” Eye for Film

“Out-and-out silly are the attempts to give apes more clearly human characteristics by having them wear frilly nightgowns, use deodorants and complain about bad hair days. Worse still is the idea of giving orangutan slave trader Limbo (Paul Giamatti) the kind of “you are giving me such a headache” dialogue usually associated with Jackie Mason. What plays best, frankly, are apes on the attack.” Los Angeles Times

“The movie is great-looking. Rick Baker’s makeup is convincing even in the extreme closeups, and his apes sparkle with personality and presence. The sets and locations give us a proper sense of alien awe. Tim Burton made a film that’s respectful to the original, and respectable in itself, but that’s not enough. Ten years from now, it will be the 1968 version that people are still renting.” Roger Ebert

“Scripts are a problem in Burton movies, with the classic exception of Ed Wood, but the man can’t make a film that is not visually thrilling. With camera ace Philippe Rousselot, Burton creates images of beauty and terror that save Planet from disaster. Call it a letdown, worsened by the forces of shoddy screenwriting. To quote Heston in both films, “Damn them, damn them all.” Rolling Stone

“The script cannibalizes famous lines from the first movie for easy, self-congratulatory laughs […]The resolution of the ape/human conflict is like a bad week on Star Trek, and what follows is even stupider. Because the original had a killer punch line, this one does, too—actually straight from Boulle’s novel, where it had been elaborately set up. Here, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.” Slate

Main cast and characters:
Mark Wahlberg … Captain Leo Davidson
Tim Roth … Thade
Helena Bonham Carter … Ari
Michael Clarke Duncan … Attar
Paul Giamatti … Limbo
Estella Warren … Daena
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa … Krull
David Warner … Senator Sandar
Kris Kristofferson … Karubi
Erick Avari … Tival
Lucas Elliot Eberl … Birn
Evan Parke … Gunnar
Glenn Shadix … Senator Nado
Freda Foh Shen … Bon
Chris Ellis … Commander Karl Vasich
Anne Ramsay … Lt. Col. Grace Alexander
Andrea Grano … Major Maria Cooper
Michael Jace … Major Frank Santos
Michael Wiseman … Specialist Hansen
Lisa Marie … Nova
Eileen Weisinger … Leeta

Technical details:
119 minutes
Audio: DTS | Dolby | SDDS
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1

Budget and Box office:
Worldwide: $362,211,740 on an estimated budget of $100 million.

Planet of the Apes was released by 20th-Century Fox.

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