Planet of the Apes
Rated PG-13, 119 min. Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Charlton Heston.
As a tremendous fan of the 1968 original, as well as director Tim Burton and Austin-based co-screenwriter William Broyles, my hopes were high going into this update of Franklin J. Schaffner's classic sci-fi parable. Whether you come out of this new Apes with a grin on your face or the urge to smack Burton about the face and neck 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 Sixties-era thematic chestnuts as racism and classism; that film's sci-fi time-travel tropes seemed manufactured to give the script (by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) a chance to deal with socially relevant issues. 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 politically correct bite, and instead fuses the story of American astronaut Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) with something akin to Spartacus or the biblical leader of enslaved peoples, 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 Sandor's daughter Ari (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.
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