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Movie Reviews

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Director Tim Burton's new "Planet of the Apes" is a ludicrous film. It could hardly have been otherwise. It is a film about an Army captain named Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) who is catapulted through time to a planet where apes rule over humans with a strong, furry fist. Davidson isn't about to have any of that, and resolves to go home as soon as possible. However, he needs help to evade the forces of the simian overlord Thade (Tim Roth), who has a special incentive to exterminate the pink-skinned vermin - his dying father, played by Charlton Heston in an uncredited, hilarious, old-school "Planet"-referencing cameo, told him to kill them all.

Davidson gets the necessary help from Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a human-sympathizing ape who eventually gets jungle fever for Davidson, and Daena (Estella Warren), a courageously breasted human who is apparently concerned that the apes are taking the humans' dignity and their men. As if it had never occurred to them before, the humans rebel. Guess who wins? (Hint: what species will buy tickets to this film?)

This plot in and of itself is not a big hindrance to the success of "Planet of the Apes," especially since an earlier movie used a similar plot with pretty good results. (This new one, by the way, is not a remake of the older one, but was "inspired by" it.) What really hurts "Planet of the Apes" is the additional ludicrousness that screenwriters William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Kosner and Mark Rosenthal and director Burton impose on this already rickety structure.

There is literally no depth to any of these characters, and thus no reason to care about their fates. Fine actors like Wahlberg, Roth and Carter (and not Warren) can only add depth of character by physically conveying psychological truth for split seconds when the camera is on them. Moments which are supposed to be poignant, like Davidson's farewell to a human kid, are wastes of time. Without going into it too far, several details of the plot don't really work, even within the world the filmmakers have created. And finally, no human could last two seconds in combat with a full-grown, enraged ape — chimps have been known to register hand pulls of up to 1200 pounds in the heat of anger — yet in hand-to-hand combat Davidson brushes his fellow primates aside like stalks of corn. A world ruled by apes, sure. But humans fighting them and winning? Not damn likely.

As always in Tim Burton films, the visuals are a good place for a disgruntled viewer's mind to linger. The human-to-ape transformations, headed by make-up effecter Rick Baker, are astonishingly convincing. The "Ape School" at which Roth, Carter and other ape apers matriculated was well worth the tuition, too, giving them a real, consistent physical interpretation of how an intelligent ape might move. Danny Elfman's score roils with almost oppressive percussion, driving the plot along even when it seems disinclined to move. And the primate planet itself is gorgeous, chock-full of interesting set-design details and lush vegetation and photogenic deserts, all of which Burton lingers over with an appreciative eye. The big final battle, which is all spectacle and no talking, is marvelous; for those moments, all misgivings are swept away by the amazing pictures, as they should be.

Yet that final battle and a predictably but deliciously transgressive coda are the only scenes in which those misgivings are swept away. Thankfully, this kind of ending leaves you feeling satisfied; doubts only sink in after a couple hours have passed. If you're not feeling too demanding (and since it's summer you're probably not), "Planet of the Apes" is a good couple hours' worth of spectacle that provides a nice payoff.

But this isn't the kind of dark, dangerous entertainment one hopes for in a Tim Burton film. The abovementioned ridiculousness makes the film feels tame and somewhat uninvolving, and "Planet of the Apes" suffers for it. That's no reason to damn all the filmmakers to hell, but you won't want to praise them to the skies, either.


All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.