Planet of the Apes
review by KJ Doughton, 3 August
your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty human!"
Anyone who has seen Charlton Heston
roaring similar words in the original, 1968 Planet
of the Apes will get a solid belly laugh when this slightly
revised complaint jumps off the screen during Tim Burtonís
stylish, darkly beautiful remake.
Like Jurassic Park 3,
Burtonís version of Pierre Boulleís classic sci-fi novel uses
self-referential humor to pepper his visually gorgeous,
tightly-wound comic book spin. Unlike that other dinosaur-driven
blockbuster, however, this film has the stamp of a visionary genius
etched over every hairy, flea-bitten inch of it.
As with his earlier films, including Batman,
Pee Weeís Big Adventure,
Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy
Hollow, Ed Wood, and Mars Attacks,
you can tell that Burtonís not just in it for a paycheck. He
injects a melancholy, detail-driven sense of imagination into Planet of the Apes that makes this ambitious puppy his own.
Preadolescents sniffing out
escapist fodder during the early seventies swore allegiance to
director Franklin J. Schaffnerís original
Planet of the Apes
and its colorful palette of shaggy simians. There was the cautious,
intellectual Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), his bleeding-heart wife
Zira (Kim Hunter), the battle-hungry, hotheaded gorilla soldiers,
and brooding, snooty orangutan politicians. Like the Star
Wars series that would follow, the Apes cast a magic spell as
they tormented homo sapiens through five films. Charlton Heston
dominated the first movie as an astronaut who landed onto a backward
planet where apes, not humans, were the ruling species.
Meanwhile, men, women, and children were lowly, mute cattle
to be harvested, caged, and stuffed by simian taxidermists. Beneath
the Planet of the Apes visited the underground catacombs of some
bomb-wielding mutants, and Escape
from the Planet of the Apes had two supersmart chimps traveling
to contemporary earth, where they faced initial celebrity and
eventual doom within a society governed by humans.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle
for the Planet of the Apes finished off the series in
progressively more forgettable fashion.
And that makeup!
Putty-encrusted actors donning monkey makeup were forgiven
the fact that their stiff mandibles never seemed to move in time
with the lines, by a generation weaned on
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. For pre-Industrial Light and Magic
times, makeup artists John Chambersí primate alterations were
still groundbreaking stuff, not to be upstaged until Rick Baker (who
provides state-of-the-art makeup in this outing, as well) turned
David Naughton into a growling, snarling Canis lupus in 1981ís An
American Werewolf in London.
Growing up in the heyday of Apes
fever, I can recall snatching comic books, fanzines, action figures
and lunch boxes off retail store racks at the speed of a frisky
gibbon chasing a mate from tree to tree. However, my perception
changed with adulthood. Upon
more recent dissection, I found the original Apes movie to be overstated and cornball, like a comic book refusing
to see itself as a comic book. Some saw the film as a metaphor for
race relations. Others
perceived it as a cautionary, post-cold war anti-nuke tale.
I viewed it as a bunch of guys in ape suits taking themselves
way too seriously.
Burton, the weirdo genius supreme
who adorned Johnny Depp with Freddy Kruegeresque metallic upper
extremities in Edward Scissorhands, was a natural choice to resurrect the Apes
legacy. He knows that talking monkeys in uniforms are cool in the
same way that his other screen heroes, like the caped crusader Batman
and the undead comedian Beetlejuice,
are cool. All the same, however, Burton also sees the outlandishness
of this premise, and succeeds in ways that the first Apes franchise
failed by refusing to push for serious social commentary. After all,
this is all about talking monkeys in uniforms.
Right from the get-go, the
revisited Planet of the Apes charges forth and never gives us time to breathe,
with Danny Elfmanís forceful, epic score thrusting things into
Wahlberg plays Leo, an astronaut from the future, who is introduced
from a space research station where he dutifully trains chimps to
navigate pods on missions where human helming of the vehicles would
be too risky. During a
frantic electromagnetic storm, Leoís prized monkey is launched
from the station by some surly superiors to brave turbulence.
"Heís the canary," points out a higher-up to Leo,
"and thereís the coal mine."
The stubborn Leo, however, objects
to the use of chimps for such perilous expeditions. When the
spacebound guinea-pig ape sets his craft adrift and off-target,
itís Leo to the rescue. "Never send a monkey to do a manís
job," he vents to his supervisors before jumping into his own
pod and launching off to save the chimp and its endangered vessel.
Itís a doomed mission, however, with Leo soon knocked off course
and poised for an emergency landing in the swampy depths of a nearby
planetís forested bog.
Escaping from his submerged
spacecraft, Leo finds another particularly troubling monkey on his
back. Thereís a major manhunt in progress, with a grungy,
half-nude colony of humans being systematically brutalized by the
barbaric General Thade (Tim Roth). "This one looked at
me," the human-hating simian tells Attar (Michael Clarke
Duncan), a hefty gorilla who acts as the fierce soldierís right
hand man and quickly beats Leo for this unforgivable offense.
Sporting a white goatee and a furrowed, judging brow, Thade
looks like a cross between dapper director Martin Scorsese and some
satanic high priest. Roth, not one to hide from unsympathetic roles
(like Liam Neesonís sword-wielding nemesis in Rob
Roy), chews the scenery with psychotic relish.
Like a constipated penguin, Thade throws his weight around
with a wobbling, hunched gait and dominates his social circle, which
includes Sen. Sandar (David Warner), a political ally whose daughter
Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) inflames the soldierís romantic
Unfortunately for Thade,
Ari is sympathetic to humans, so much that when Leo is caged
up and prepped to be sold by a fast-talking shyster named Limbo (a
hilarious, scene-stealing Paul Giamatti), the radical ape-babe helps
him to escape slavery. She also rescues a scruffy family of humans
along for the ride, including the patriarchal Karubi (Kris
Kristofferson, looking like an over-the-hill Ted Nugent in long hair
and loincloth), and his shapely daughter Daena (Estella Warren).
Itís during this middle section
that the true genius of Burton comes to the fore. As in his other
works, Burton loves dabbling in the details.
As the heroes scramble back and forth to survive the wrath of
human-hating Thade, the screen offers a visual feast of dazzling,
demented eye candy. A goofy-eyed orangutan puffs contentedly on an
opium pipe from one corner, while a reverse-organ grinder appears in
the background, an ape playing the instrument while a
"mini-me" sized man collects coins from onlookers.
There are also some hilarious lines
gracing Planet of the Apes.
Selling a young human girl to an enthusiastic ape clan interested in
buying a "pet", Limbo offers the eager buyers a word of
advice: "Get rid of it by puberty.
You donít want a human teenager in the house!" In
another scene, a decadent, obese statesman-ape sits down to dinner,
his gold-digging wife dressed in all the latest jewelry. "We
just got back from a vacation to the rain forest," he boasts to
some associates. "I needed to get away from politics."
of the Apes culminates in a
rousing desert battle, where age-old secrets are discovered and
historical revelations made. Itís
here that one spends some time trying to retrace the filmís steps
and decipher its logic. Good
luck. By the time Leo
finds a way to launch himself back to earth and into a completely
ludicrous "twist ending", Burton has jettisoned any
attempts at rational sense. Youíll either go with it, or feel
infuriated by the filmís complete reliance on its visual
perfection and neglect of its tattered stab at a plot.
There are other howlers in this
nonsensical slab of simian cinema. Warren, in the bimbo role, has
absolutely no point other than to shake her bodacious booty. Leo,
meanwhile, is a humorless, self-absorbed putz.
Itís a real head-shaker as to why Ari would put herself in
harmís way for this rather unsympathetic soul who tells her, after
she shows Leo a cruel wound inflicted on her by Thade, "You
better go take care of that."
Indeed, on The Planet
of the Apes, chivalry really is
of the Apes will get
slagged for its lack of any "serious"
subtext, and its contrived, messy storyline. However, it gets major
brownie points for its absolutely perfect, live-action comic-book
look. Take it
seriously, and be prepared for a disappointment. Admire it as a pulp
slice of colorful fantasy fare, and itís the best popcorn movie of
the summer. After all,
we are talking about
monkeys in uniforms.
Helena Bonham Carter
Michael Clarke Duncan
William Broyles Jr.
Mark D. Rosenthal
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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