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|Planet of the Apes (2001)
by Matt Mulcahey
“You damned dirty apes.”
With that one line a classically overacting Charlton Heston entered the American film lexicon in the science fiction classic “Planet of the Apes.” Though the 1968 original is generally remembered as campy, over-the-top science fiction, the film was much more than that.“Planet of the Apes” was the kind of intelligent science fiction that is little seen today. With its embittered, cynical anti-hero and perversely upside-down world, “Planet of the Apes” represented the anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment voice of post-Vietnam America.
"Not bad, but probably Burton's worst film"
Released on the cusp of a somewhat unpopular war whose atrocities were seen on television like some demented reality show, “Planet of the Apes” featured a land where man’s warlike, violent tendencies caused his own demise.
The film delved into the danger of our own violence, the oppression of the minority opinion and the ignorance of racism. Complete with one of the most surprising twist endings in a movie history.
What Tim Burton gives us in his “Planet of the Apes” re-imagining is nothing more than a glorified, beautifully designed action movie.
This updated version of the Pierre Boulle novel “Monkey Planet” (guess “Planet of the Monkey’s” doesn’t sound quite as good, does it?) finds astronaut Mark Wahlberg teaching chimpanzees how to fly in space (think Matthew Broderick form “Project X”.)
Until he crash lands on an unknown planet where apes rule and humans are there submissive slaves.
Wahlberg (making a rather bland action hero) quickly catches the eye of human rights activist Helena Bonham-Carter who helps him and a band of humans including Kris Kristofferson and Estelle Warren (who’s job is to stand around and look pretty) escape.
This leads to a predicable chase by the military monkeys (led by Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan) and eventually to a predictable final battle, complete with unnecessary comic relief from an Orangutan slave trader (Paul Giamatti, a good actor in a bad role.)
Some of the originals plot holes and inconsistencies (they figured out how to make guns and perform brain surgery but couldn’t figure out what made a paper airplane work?) were forgivable because the movie tried to say something.
Burton’s remake has no larger themes to pursue, leaving the plot more readily examined. In the end, this is a movie about humans battling talking apes, which is a really silly idea to begin with. Burton’s explanation for how the apes came to rule the planet is completely ludicrous, though I can’t go into all the plot inconsistencies without ruining the twists. And the ending, as Burton tries to add an unnecessary homage to the original, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.
What does set “Planet of the Apes” an interesting picture is observing how far filmmaking technology has progressed in 30 years.
At the time of the original’s release the make-up was considered astounding. So astounding, in fact, make-up head John Chambers received an honorary Oscar for his work on the film. Today, it looks like a bunch of people in ape masks.
The make-up for this updating is supplied by make-up master Rick Baker, who transformed Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor,” made Jim Carrey into the Grinch and ended up in a monkey suit while working on the notoriously awful 1976 remake of “King Kong.”
The change from rubbery mask to textured, life-like features is almost as amazing as the difference between the transformation scenes in the original 1941 version of The Wolf Man, accomplished by pasting yak hairs on Lon Chaney Jr. face, and Baker’s make-up in 1981’s “An American Werewolf in London.”
But it is in scene design that this “Planet of the Apes” remake, and all of Tim Burton’s films for that matter, excels the most. The futuristic landscape of the Apes planet in the original was shot in the deserts of Utah and Arizona….and pretty much looked like the deserts of Utah and Arizona.
In the hands of Burton, the planet turns into a dark, shadowy place full of gothic imagery. But much like Burton’s last film, “Sleepy Hollow”, a visual delight with little else to entrance, “Planet of the Apes” seems cold and removed.
From “Edward Scissorhands” to “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, Burton has always merged his visual sensibilities with the same breed of alienated anti-hero, reflecting his own ostracized suburban upbringing. That personal touch has not been evident in either of his last two films.
The original “Planet of the Apes” was a perfect example of how science fiction is the perfect film genre to serve as a metaphor for the world we line in. From the anti-nuclear “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to the indictment of McCarthy Era conformity in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” science fiction has a rich tradition of thought provoking layers hidden underneath the surface.But in today’s relatively uneventful social climate, there just doesn’t seem to be anywhere for Burton to direct pointed observation. Which is why this remake, while considered by itself is not an entirely unenjoyable film, should’ve never been made.
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originally posted: 08/03/01 15:07:50