Eye For Film >> Movies >> Planet Of The Apes (2001) Film Review
Remakes are a tricky prospect at the best of times, but when the original is a stone-cold, seminal sci-fi classic? Franklin J Schaffner’s 1968 Planet Of The Apes, which remains an influential genre masterpiece to this day, spawned four markedly-lesser sequels, a live-action TV series and a Saturday morning cartoon before the phenomenon hobbled off into obscurity during the mid seventies.
Did we really need – or want – a remake then? Well, with the Terminating team of James Cameron and Arnold briefly attached some interest bubbled to the surface, before Tim Burton took the baton leaving both fans of his and the Apes franchise with a sense of hopeful anticipation…
As it turns out, both parties were disappointed. On one hand, series followers didn’t find the spark re-igniting the series they were hoping for, and on the other Burton purists found a rare misfire. The latter, in particular, was especially surprising, as apart from the dark fairytale vibe and some appropriately gothic visuals, there’s very little of the director’s usually-distinctive trademarks.
Aboard a US Air Force Space Station in 2029, pilot Leo Davison (Mark Wahlberg) trains simians for exploration missions. Following a strange electromagnetic storm, his pod is pushed forward through time until he crashes on an alien planet where evolved humanoid apes rule while humans are treated as slaves. With ape military commander General Thade (Tim Roth) fixated on obliterating humans, Leo teams with a female human-rights activist chimp (Helena Bonham Carter) to lead a reluctant rebellion…
Aside from a litter of human-ape role-reversing gags, the tone is straighter and much less quirky than we’re used to from Burton, playing like an unexpectedly popcorn adventure and with such a significant departure from his characteristic style that you wouldn’t actually know he directed the film. With rumours of studio clashes so disagreeable that the former Batman visionary even abruptly fled the set for a day, the end product wreaks of compromise and dumbing down from above.
Despite sharing the same basic framework as Schaffner’s original - an astronaut is stranded on a strange planet where evolved apes are the dominant species - Burton was also keen to stress that this was crucially not a remake, but a ‘re-imagining’. There’s a few welcome cameos (including a brilliantly aped-up Charlton Heston getting to recycle his famous parting words), but no already-existing characters. The allegorical elements are still present - questioning the foundation of religion, poking fun at class division - but feel much less integral and sophisticated. There’s some choice, re-tweaked dialogue, but the story takes a vastly different direction. On this planet, the humans can speak. On this planet, the simian overlords bound through the air wire-fu style and complain about bad hair days.
The one area where the 2001 version actually improves on its ’68 predecessor is in the ape make-up. No question, John Chambers’ original prosthetic design was pioneering and is still thoroughly credible, but here Rick Baker’s work is nothing short of flawless. While it’s nearly always too-obvious that the aforementioned leaping is the result of wire work, the facial close-ups are a stunning achievement that really help you believe in this reality.
Taking full advantage, both Tim Roth and Burton’s future long-term domestic partner, Helen Bonham Carter, are joint stand-outs. Roth, who turned down playing Severus Snape in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone for this role (doh!), is an unrecognisable and genuinely-unsettling primal menace, circling round and snarling at anyone in his way. Bonham Carter, meanwhile, is arguably even better, her twinkle-eyed, open-minded activist very nearly bouncing away with the whole movie and proving, somewhat ironically, the most human character on show. Additionally, the towering, booming-voiced Michael Clarke Duncan is also a great piece of casting as the gorilla military colonel, while Paul Giamatti provides some comic relief as a slave-trading orangutan.
Less successful are the humans. In the lead, Mark Wahlberg is painted as the basic, bland, strong silent-type hero by the script and isn’t able to rise above the material. Issues of his refusal to wear a loincloth aside, it’s not that Wahlberg is awful, it’s that he’s reduced to an uninteresting cliché with one-note characterisation (wanting to go home) who accepts a planet ruled by apes like waking up somewhere unfamiliar after a drunken bender. Given that there’s also some risky inter-race flirtations between his space-jockey and Bonham-Carter’s pretty chimp, Estella Warren’s untamed hottie exists as the very definition of token love interest, given so few lines that her farewell kiss with Marky Mark feels jarringly obligatory.
As for the ending, whilst virtually everyone hated it and its utter lack of plot sense - neither the studio or Burton offered adequate explanation - the twisted full-stop does present a brilliantly bleak and darkly downbeat finale. Living up to the original’s iconic, game-changing mind-blower was always going to be impossible, but after a final stretch where all the crucial moments either fell flat or played predictably, this was pleasingly eerie. Totally illogical, but eerie nonetheless.
Aside from some hugely-impressive ape make-up effects and a few noteworthy performances from Roth and Bonham Carter, this re-imagining falls way short and hints at problems behind-the-scenes.Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2011
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