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Planet of the Apes (2001) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Image Decades ago, the idea of apes evolving and supplanting the human race was a radical idea filled with all kinds of social implications. When Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel “Planet of the Apes” was published in English, 20th Century-Fox won the movie rights, and a film appeared in 1968. It was phenomenally successful and generated a series of sequels and a TV series. It was embraced by many groups, from race relations representatives to animal activists. It seemed everyone could find a correlation to whatever they wanted to push in their own interests. A lot of viewers just liked the science fictional alternate-earth scenario that was so cool.

French writer Pierre Boulle, who occasionally dabbled in science fiction, included a twist at the end that still hasn’t been shown in films or television.

In the original movie, the stark image of the Statue of Liberty stands out. That image, or many like it, has shown up in other films, books, and comics. Charlton Heston starred in the original 1968 movie and the scene with him seeing the collapsed statue at the end has been included in a lot of documentaries on science fiction in the movies.

Tim Burton’s film has a different ending, but one no less staggering and memorable.

Boulle smashed readers in the face with a lot of what-if at the time the book was released. He presented and discussed cultural implications and the potential for evolution within other species. His book is also something of a biting satire. He was an accomplished author and had already written another book that was made into a popular movie: “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. The “Planet of the Apes” franchise of the 1960s and 1970s spawned five successive movies. Each of those movies became less and less believable. The shock value of the first film was long gone by the time the fifth movie premiered.

The television version of “Planet of the Apes” started in 1974, a year after the last movie. Roddy McDowall, who was in four of the five movies, again starred, making the transition from big-screen to television more credible. Trivia hounds will love the fact that veteran actor Mark Lenard who played Spock’s father Sarek in “Star Trek” played an ape general. In 1975, the series debuted as a Saturday morning cartoon called “Return to the Planet of the Apes”.

The cartoon actually came closer to the original novel than any of the live-action efforts. Boulle’s ape world was a futuristic one filled with cars, planes, and spaceships. Hollywood refused to raise the budget to create that look and ended up influencing a generation with the primitive appearance of the ape world.

Tim Burton chose to keep that primitive look, although he moved it deep into the jungle. The film looks fantastic on the Blu-ray disc, and the atmosphere Burton and the set designers put together is absolutely staggering. The early scenes aboard the space station and aboard the spacecraft are well done and stand out, but the murky lighting and the tree homes and caves really set the tone for the film experience.

Due to the fact that the special features on the disc are extremely limited, there’s no information about how big the sets actually were, but on screen they look huge. The prison wagon stands out, too. The flight through the jungle and the battle sequences are awesome. The vegetation and trees are so thick the viewer can’t help but feel claustrophobic.

Rick Baker, the makeup designer, outstrips anything that was ever done in the past: he ape characters all look real. There’s no indication of a mask, and no evidence of prosthetics, though that’s how the effects were achieved. From chimp face to gorilla features, the makeup is spot on. The actors and actresses carry the roles out in mannerisms and movements. Nearly all of them sniff each other repeatedly during confrontationsalthough this does become repetitive and distracting. Pet owners can immediately identify some of the traits with their own pets.

The sound is presented in true Lossless and is absolutely incredible. The scenes with the space pods blasting off shiver and shake through the surround sound system. When the drum beats start up during the action on the plane, they explode constantly through the system and constantly hammer the viewer with a savage rhythm that enhances the primitive feel of the viewing experience.

Where “Planet of the Apes” falls apart, though, is in the story. Even though this is a remake and there is a different twist at the end of the film, there just isn’t enough new material provided. The first few minutes with the space station and the electro-magnetic storm is pretty cool, but as soon as the story touches ground the film takes on a familiar appearance and plot. Human pilot crash lands onto a planet, discovers apes are at the top of the evolutionary ladder and in control, and gets captured. He immediately starts planning escape.

Mark Wahlberg starts as Captain Leo Davidson, the human pilot who crash-lands on the planet of the apes. He’s briefly shown as sympathetic to his chimp buddies on the space station, then gets plopped down into confrontations with their successors. Wahlberg usually plays an action hero to a degree, or at least a man capable of violence. His recent foray in “Shooter” shows that, and even “Invincible” depicts him as a physical character. He’s extremely competent at showing different facets of character, but Davidson the character is simply too wooden. There’s nothing there for Wahlberg to work with. In addition, there are inconsistencies with his character. In the movie, Davidson never shows beard growth, so either everything took place in one day, or his beard doesn’t grow. He underreacts to everything around him, but that appears to be more a problem with the script than with his ability.

The ape society consists of chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas, and the three groups don’t always get along. Tim Roth plays chimpanzee General Thade and turns on the menace. His portrayal of Thade as a cunning and selfish schemer is great, but even he wasn’t given his due by the script. His “monkey” attack on the two guardsmen he kills to silence them so they won’t review the secret of the space pod is fantastic.

Helena Bonham Carter proves herself to be a great character actress as she portrays Ari, the daughter of a rich chimpanzee (David Warner). She turns out to be something of a bleeding heart who thinks that humans and apes can learn to live together. Her body acting is absolutely stunning. Her movements are dynamic and sell the character quite well. The fluid way she moved along the roots and vines on the walls of the ape city was well done, and her frightened reaction to the lake was something a viewer would expect on “Animal Planet”.

Attar, a gorilla, is played by Michael Clarke Duncan as a threatening, bristly force. His deep voice fit the role perfectly.

Karubi, a human being played by Kris Kristofferson, just doesn’t work. Kristofferson, who can be a good actor, just wasn’t given anything to do except wear an animal skin and die nobly. That role kind of works if there’s been some build-up leading to it, but Karubi is a non-entity in the scheme of things. He was a familiar face in a sea of primate features.

Estella Warren is a waste on screen but it’s not her fault. Like Kristofferson, she’s never given a chance to be more than eye candy in the movie. Her grief for her father Karubi is downplayed, and her heroic effort to save a little girl gets handed off, literally, almost as soon as she picks the child up.

Paul Giamatti was my personal favorite in the film. As Limbo, the orangutan slave trader, he had the opportunity to just be himself. Unfortunately, every time he opened his mouth and said something, I mentally stripped the make-up off him and saw him as he was: a guy acting like an ape. His presence turned the film into more of a spoof at times, but I enjoyed watching him work and ended up cracking up again at the things he said and the way he acted. The epitome of how badly the movie got off-base at the end, though, comes when Limbo is taken captive by Davidson and asks, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Although the video and audio presentation of the Blu-ray disc are pumped up and are beautiful, there’s simply not enough here to justify the expense of adding a Blu-ray version of “Planet of the Apes” to your collection. The absence of special features alone is a red flag. However, for fans of the movie, there’s not a better form in which to enjoy “Planet of the Apes”.

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