Planet of the Apes (2001)

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Estella Warren and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Directed by Tim Burton.
Written by William Broyles, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal.
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox.
120 minutes.

Photo ©20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.

Note: This page includes review and revision entry.

A New Breed of Damn Dirty Apes

There was something to the original Planet of the Apes. It was dressed up like a cheesy sci-fi flick with great ape make-up, but it had a point. It delivered the message that if man didn't check his arrogance and hostility toward his fellow man, the race would ultimately doom itself. It was all set up very well with Charlton Heston playing a self-assured hater of mankind pit against the dogma of the society he was trapped in, while being assisted by those who believed in the name of science. Despite the onslaught of its reputedly unworthy sequels, Planet of the Apes is a cult sci-fi classic with a thoughtful message, not to mention one of the most memorable endings in all of movies. No matter the level of relation the new version of the movie has to the old one, it has a lot to live up to.

I am not of the opinion that it succeeded. Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, like the original, boasts incredible make-up work and, as usual for a Burton movie, excellent production design. However, it doesn't have the solidity of theme of the 1968 movie. Also, in trying to keep up with the fact that the original's reputation was augmented by its twist ending, Burton's version seems to force an ending that is neither thoughtful nor effective. An ending shouldn't make a movie, but in this case it actually feels as if it negates it.

In the year 2029, Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is a crew member of a space station floating near what appears to be Saturn. A mission to explore a nearby electromagnetic storm goes wrong, and in no time Leo finds himself crashing on to the surface of a strange planet. Here, humans are captured and put in to cages, forced to become servants or pets. The rulers of the world are organized and civilized talking apes of all varieties. Leo is captured but, before long, is assisted by human-sympathizing chimpanzee woman named Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). However, if the brutally fierce and forceful ape General Thade (Tim Roth) can help it, Leo and any other friends he's made since his arrival are not going anywhere.

This movie had a lot of potential to duplicate the sort of tense atmosphere used in the original, that of utilizing religion as a tool used by rulers to maintain control of their society and pitting it against the purposes of progressive thinkers and their quest for concealed truths. However, I don't think Burton's version was trying to even be close to that level of ambition. It seems to me that the movie sets up plenty of opportunities to toy with the notions of these quandaries, but then prefers to just keep the characters moving from one place to another before getting a chance to dwell on things. Ari sympathizes with humans not because of any truth-seeking; it just seems that she hates watching humans being treated badly when they could potentially be treated as intellectual equals. She sees that potential but her efforts try to back it up with evidence or reason are squashed before they can pose any interesting dilemmas to anyone. Thade hunts down the humans because he just seems to hate them. It doesn't seem to have to do with any feelings of possibly being threatened by their existence. Even when such evidence presents itself to make him feel threatened, he doesn't really feed off of it. There's also a right-hand ape of Thade's named Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), who presents an interesting character. He is obviously an ape of great faith in the teachings of their god "Simos." He growls "Bow down your heads!" as dinner guests forget to say grace before they begin to feast. His belief seems to be strong and could have been played up, but later in the film it seems to be too readily dismissed. In the end, the film may offer some things to think about on the subject of discrimination, but it doesn't seem to care that the audience thinks about them for long.

If you don't plan to see the movie to think, you may be just fine and happy with it because of its great look and feel. The make-up work by that wizard Rick Baker is first-rate. I loved the designs of both General Thade and Attar. It also helped that the ape characters were very well portrayed by the actors who played them. Roth is a worthy snarling villain as Thade, with a strong simian gait and a look of madness that transcends the make-up. His character also has a frighteningly powerful leap, and he has quite stylish ways of mounting a horse. Duncan is imposing as Attar with a voice fittingly deep and powerful pounding arms. Carter also has to be given a lot of credit for a performance she really gets into. Ari may be a talking civilized chimp, but when her emotions break loose the chimp habits of screeching and the flailing of the arms give cause for a kind of admiration for her dedication to the role. The apes are adorned with creative costumes and armor and are surrounded by fitting art and architecture. It's a pleasure to just use your eyes and view.

The movie could have been passable as an experience in appreciating high production and a light story, but the entire experience is ultimately hurt by its ending. Honestly, the ending just didn't need to be there. It almost feels like a joke with the way it is. There's too much of a "Huh? What the-?" feeling and less of a "hey, that was pretty cool" feeling. It makes no sense. It's almost as if the writers just had to come up with some kind of twist to match the legendary twist of the 1968 movie, but why make a twist simply for the sake of having a twist? The third act was already relatively weaker than the rest of the movie. The ending is the clincher that will leave audiences scratching their heads.

The original movie's ending brought all of the proceeding events together with a punch. It was effectively chilling, and gave the movie a haunting closure. The new Planet of the Apes gives a needless ending that doesn't necessarily ruin the movie but can if you think about it long enough. It gives the opposite effect of the original, and that is an effect of dissatisfaction. The movie is partially saved, though, by some very memorable apes, not the least of which is an ironic cameo by Charlton Heston. Here as an ape and not a human, Heston plays a character who warns his son about the danger of guns. Right when that scene occurs, we should have fully expected a character to burst in and scream, "It's a madhouse! A MAAAAADhouse!"

Rating: 6/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 29, 2001


In my 2001 Hindsight article, I wrote regarding Planet of the Apes:

Two movies that seemed dumber the more I looked back to them: America's Sweethearts and Planet of the Apes. Sweethearts' jokes were embarassing, and Apes' story was lazy. I didn't hate either of the films, but neither did I think they were as good as other movies I had given a 6/10 to. I've dropped them to a 5/10.

Revised Rating: 5/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 13, 2002