On Planet of the Apes

Directed by Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), and featuring Mark Wahlburg (Transformers: Age of Extinction), Erick Avari (Stargate, Stargate SG-1Independence Day, The Mummy, Daredevil), and Helena Bonham Carter (Corpse Bride, Terminator: Salvation), Planet of the Apes is loosely adapted from Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel of the same name and the 1968 film version. According to the ComingSoon.net article, “10 Reasons Why Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes Needs More Respect“:

With War for the Planet of the Apes getting ready to shred screens soon (that hotly anticipated 2nd sequel opens on July 14th), we thought it a good time to drag up from the primordial swamp the relatively unloved “missing link” of the cinematic Planet of the Apes universe: director Tim Burton’s 2001 action/fantasy Planet of the Apes.

Although financially successful upon release and well-reviewed in some circles (lambasted in others), Burton’s expensive bauble of an Apes movie was derided by purists who hold the original five Planet of the Apes films in such high regard. And those films deserve adoration, of course. Especially the 1968 original which set new standards for combining blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking with deep, dark, “thinking man’s” science fiction, co-penned as it was by the father of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling.

Indeed, the passion for Planet of the Apes and the pop culture wave it spawned was so deep that Burton — a gun for hire on this project — didn’t have a chance, especially when the product he delivered was this odd and irreverent to its source. Originally, Burton wanted to call this movie The Visitor, announcing it as a new series spawned from the same source novel, Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet. But 20th Century Fox balked and the film was put out as a “new” Planet of the Apes.

The biggest problems with POTA 2001 are in the casting of a stiff-as-starch Mark Wahlberg as the hero (he’s not terrible, just… totally blank), a poor substitute for the macho intellectualism of Charlton Heston in the original. Then there was the foolish concept to make the humans both clean and intelligent and articulate, throwing the “man is a dumb animal” dynamic that made the 1968 film so potent, right out the window. And the overt humor of the piece was perhaps too broad, turning many fans off.

But man, there’s SO much to love about Burton’s Planet of the Apes and we’ve isolated 10 of our favorite elements in the gallery and YouTube clip below. See if you agree with us.

10. Danny Elfman’s Punishing Score

Regular Burton collaborator Elfman (he’s been there since 1985’s joyous Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) pulled out all the stops for his thundering POTA 2001 score, using the experimental percussion of Jerry Goldsmith’s original music as the basis to build a wild, full-blood orchestral call-to-arms that announces loudly from its creepy opening credits onward that this Planet of the Apes means business. Even if you hate the film, you have to admire this music.

9. Rick Baker’s Make-Up Effects

John Chambers’ applications in the original films are iconic and the motion-capture in the new films is state of the art. But Baker’s incredible make-ups in POTA 2001 are without peer. Prosthetic and practical and totally believable, they give the actors plenty of room to facially emote while also being wild examples of magic-realism. Of course, Baker has long been a master of the apes, from the 1976 King Kong  to Greystoke to Gorillas in the Mist to Harry and the Hendersons. This work stands among his best.

8. Rick Heinrichs’ Production Design

Taking the stripped-down, stone-age design of the original Apes City designs,  Burton’s frequent collaborator Heinrichs’ vision of the Planet of the Apes is richly detailed, alternately lush and regal, grotty and overgrown and organic and dry and apocalyptic. It’s magnificent.

7. Tim Roth as General Thade

It’s not hyperbole to say that British actor Tim Roth is among one of the greatest actors of stage and screen anywhere, ever. And since the secret of any POTA film is to put great thespians under the monkey make-up, the casting of Roth as Burton’s central villain was a deft choice. General Thade is pure petulant, narcissistic evil fueled by irrational anger and brute violence. He struts and preens and lashes out, a monstrous presence that is far worse than the war mongering, human hating gorillas in the original film. Roth is unforgettable.

6. Helena Bonham Carter as Ari

Like the casting of Roth as Thade, Carter was another genius stroke as she is indeed one of the finest actresses alive. Her civil rights obsessed Ari may look a bit silly at first, but Carter pushes through and delivers a powerhouse portrait of a strong, singular “woman” who refuses to buckle to societal rules.

5. Paul Giamatti as Limbo

Another great actor getting coated in rubber and delivering an unforgettable performance, Giamatti’s slave trading Limbo is a true scumbag and is the film’s caustic comedy relief. The original script had Limbo having an “Amazing Grace” moment near the end and realizing how wrong his profession was. But Burton and Giamatti scoffed and made him a shithead till the end. Bless them!

4. Charlton Heston’s Cameo

Having Heston, the hero of the original two Apes films, appear uncredited in POTA 2001 was a nice touch, offering a frail portrait of a remorseful, death-bed bound Zaius (a chimp this time). His presence adds soul to the film.

3. Lisa Marie as Nova

Lisa Marie was Burton’s longtime muse and it was always a treat to see the alarmingly beautiful model and actress appear in key moments in his movies. The martian Queen in Mars Attacks!, the pagan mother in Sleepy Hollow and here, as the Ape mistress Nova. While she doesn’t have much to do in the film, her presence is important because the couple would split during the making of the movie, with Burton moving on to Carter as his new love interest and on-screen muse. Burton’s subsequent films felt a bit less pretty without her.

2. Dynamic Action Sequences

POTA 2001 shows Burton in fine form as a director of action, with comprehensive, epic seqeuences of battle and chase. If the film has a flaw, it’s that it sacrifices the original’s more high-minded Sci-Fi elements in favor of simplistic action but if viewed as an example of the latter, it’s a wonder. If you saw this thing on the big screen, you’ll know what we mean.

1 That Ending…

Nothing tops the still-potent shocker of the original film’s final shot, the half-buried statue of liberty that hammers home that Col. Taylor was indeed home on a post-nuke planet Earth. But many critics have slammed POTA 2001’s ending, citing it as making no sense. But it makes perfect sense in the nutty context of the multi-timeline POTA universe. Somehow, in an alternate timeline, Thade has gone back in time (maybe in the American spaceship?) to a pre-Civil War U.S. Instead of Lincoln freeing black American slaves, Thade must have liberated Simian-kind and is now revered as the Great Emancipator. Goofy? As goofy as anything in any of the Apes movies, I guess, but it makes perfect pulp sense in the context of this weird film.


Additionally, according to the Nerdist article, “Great Apes!: Planet Of The Apes (2001)“:

People really hated this one. When it came out in the summer of 2001, Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes was instantly rejected by fans and critics alike, and it has since grown into a rather infamous turkey, often referred to as one of the worst remakes of all time. People considered not only an unworthy chapter in the Apes franchise, but many consider it the point at which Burton himself – previously hailed as the co-founder of Goth and all-around nerd darling – began to make bad films in earnest. Planet of the Apes 2001 is not as maligned as something like, say, Catwoman, but it’s largely known for its lack of quality.

It’s also not that bad.

I admit that Burton’s Apes film is a mess. The screenplay is sloppy, the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the lead character is a bit dull. Also, don’t put any thought into the big “twist” ending because it simply doesn’t add up. But this film is so much fun to look at, and such a fun homage to sci-fi films of the past, that I often find myself defending it despite its weaknesses. I think the issue most people take with the film is its overall tone. This doesn’t feel like an Apes movie because it’s not in any way linked with grand themes of the fate of humanity. The previous Apes films have been all about the eventual downfall of man and the eventual rise of apes. There has been something playfully apocalyptic about the Apes movies. Apes 2001 doesn’t involve the fate of humanity, the apocalypse, or anything really deeply sci-fi or too philosophical. This planet of the apes was not Earth all along, but just some planet somewhere.

The themes this time around focus more on slavery than on the apocalypse. A dashing white hero named Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) lives aboard a space station, and is conducting experiments with his space chimp. When the chimp disappears into a mysterious space vortex, Leo follows and crash lands on the planet of the apes, time and place unknown. Here, (mostly white) humans can speak and think, but are frequently kidnapped and enslaved by the local apes, who can also speak and think and live in a really cool looking ape city. Indeed, everything looks great in this film from the ape makeup to the ape acting (lots of fun loping) to the costumes to the production design; in this regard, Burton can always knock it out of the park. From there, Leo will convince the apes to fight a civil war over the freedom of the humans. With him is the pretty ape woman Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), and against him is the warmongering chimpanzee Thade (Tim Roth). Paul Giamatti plays an ape slave dealer and Charlton Heston has an uncredited cameo as an ape elder.

Oh yes, and it’s eventually explained that the apes arrived on that planet centuries ago, sent by the very same humans that Leo worked with. The space hole was also a portal in time, so Leo is largely responsible for this planet he landed on. Instant karma, that. Don’t think about the chronology too much, though, because it does not stand up to any amount of scrutiny.

It may be a remake of Planet of the Apes, but this feels more like Burton was trying to remake something along the lines of Forbidden Planet. This is Burton’s stab at 1950s serial sci-fi, complete with the white-clad hero, the clunky pseudo-science (it’s once again never explained how apes learned to speak), and the foxy leather bikini babe played by a model (Estella Warren fills this role). I think a lot of the film’s weaknesses can be credited to Wahlberg himself. Not that he’s bad in this role, but he’s merely miscast. I think the role required someone a bit more square-jawed and blandly heroic; someone more in-keeping with the gleaming movie serial heroes of old.

Does it work as an overall film? Not really. The chronology is confusing, the science is dumb, and the story is all over the map. It’s a great looking film, and and entertaining one that may take some concentration to appreciate. I’d certainly still rank it above Battle for the Planet of the Apes. This film was such a bomb that it failed to reboot the series proper. It would be ten more years before someone else were to tackle the material again.

And finally, according to the CinemaBlend article, “What Really Happened At The End Of Planet Of The Apes? Tim Roth Finally Explains“:

Tim Burton’s attempt to reboot the Planet Of The Apes franchise is regarded as a catastrophic failure. While it was actually a box office success, it was roundly chastised by critics because of its convoluted plot – so much so that Tim Roth, who starred as the film’s villain, has now had to try and explain exactly what really happened in the film’s confusing conclusion.

The British actor is currently doing the rounds promoting Selma, in which he stars as George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, and during a discussion with Crave Online the topic turned to Planet of the Apes. After being asked whether he knew exactly what his Planet of the Apes character, General Thade, did when he went back in time to Earth at the end of Burton’s film, Roth responded:

“I think it was he took over, he took control. [Laughs] I think the idea was when they shunted in time that way, he was the President of the Planet of the Apes. [Laughs] Brilliant, I thought. It’s crazy stuff. I liked it. I had a good time making it. It was in the old style. It wasn’t too much CG trickery.”

According to Roger Ebert:

Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” wants to be all things to all men, and all apes. It’s an action picture and a satire of an action picture. It’s a comedy and then it gets serious. It’s a social satire and then backs away from pushing that angle too far. It even has a weird intra-species romantic triangle in it. And it has a surprise ending that I loved, even though Matt Drudge spoiled it last weekend with a breathless “scoop.” The movie could have been more. It could have been a parable of men and animals, as daring as “Animal Farm.” It could have dealt in social commentary with a sting, and satire that hurt. It could have supported, or attacked, the animal rights movement. It could have dealt with the intriguing question of whether a man and a gorilla having sex is open-mindedness, or bestiality (and, if bestiality, in both directions?).

It could have, but it doesn’t. It’s a cautious movie, earning every letter and numeral of its PG-13 rating. Intellectually, it’s science fiction for junior high school boys.

I expected more. I thought Burton would swing for the fence. He plays it too safe, defusing his momentum with little nudges to tell you he knows it’s only a movie. The 1968 “Planet of the Apes” was made before irony became an insurance policy. It made jokes, but it took itself seriously. Burton’s “Planet” has scenes that defy us to believe them (his hero survives two bumpy crash-landings that look about as realistic as the effects in his “Mars Attacks!”). And it backs away from any kind of risky complexity in its relationships.

The key couple consists of Leo (Mark Wahlberg), who is the human hero, and Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), who is the Eleanor Roosevelt of the apes. They’re attracted to each other but don’t know what to do about it, and the screenplay gives them little help. Leo is also supposed to be linked romantically, I guess, with a curvy blond human named Daena (Estella Warren), but her role has been so abbreviated that basically all she does is follow along looking at Leo either significantly or winsomely, as circumstances warrant. At the end, he doesn’t even bid her a proper farewell.

Leo, to be sure, is not one for effusive emotional outbursts. He’s played by Wahlberg as a limited and narrow person with little imagination, who never seems very surprised by anything that happens to him–like, oh, to take a random example, crash-landing on a planet where the apes rule the humans. He’s a space jockey type, trained in macho self-abnegation, who is great in a crisis but doesn’t offer much in the way of conversation. His basic motivation seems to be to get himself off the planet, and to hell with the friends he leaves behind; he’s almost surly sometimes as he leads his little band through the wilderness.

The most “human” character in the movie is, in fact, the chimpanzee Ari, who believes all species were created equal, casts her lot with the outcast humans, and tells Leo, “you’re sensitive–a welcome quality in a man.” Helena Bonham Carter invests this character with warmth, personality and distinctive body language; she has a way of moving that kids itself.

There’s also juice in a character named Limbo (Paul Giamatti), a scam artist who has a deal for everyone, and a lot of funny one-liners. That he sounds like a carnival pitch-man should not be held against him.

The major ape characters include the fearsome Gen. Thade (Tim Roth), his strong but occasionally thoughtful gorilla lieutenant Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Sen. Sandar (David Warner), who is a parliamentary leader and Ari’s father. There’s also a cameo for Charlton Heston, as a wise old ape who inevitably introduces a gun into the plot and has a curmudgeonly exit line. Watching the apes is fun all during the movie, while watching the humans usually isn’t; the movie works hard to bring the apes to life, but unwisely thinks the humans can take care of themselves.

It’s interesting that several different simian species co-exist in the planet’s ape society. It may be a little hard to account for that, given the logic of the movie, although I will say no more. One major change between this film and the earlier one is that everyone–apes and humans–speak English. The movie explains why the apes speak English, but fudges on how they learned to speak at all.

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, and there’s one neat long shot of the ape city-mountain that looks, when you squint a little, like Xanadu from “Citizen Kane.” There are lines inviting laughs (“Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice”) and others unwisely inviting groans (“If you show me the way out of here–I promise I’ll show you something that will change your life forever”). And a priceless moment when Leo wants to stop the squabbling among his fugitive group of men and apes and barks: “Shut up! That goes for all species!” “Planet of the Apes” is the kind of movie that you enjoy at times, admire at times, even really like at times, but is it necessary? Given how famous and familiar Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film is, Tim Burton had some kind of an obligation to either top it, or sidestep it. Instead, he pays homage. He calls this version a “reimaging,” and so it is, but a reinvention might have been better. Burton’s work can show a wild and crazed imagination, but here he seems reined in. He’s 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.



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