The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Planet of the Apes (2001)

So within the last few weeks I reviewed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this summer's movie that is attempting to reboot the Planet of the Apes series/franchise.  As I reviewed, it was a surprisingly good effort, taking a concept that didn't need to be remade and finding something new and interesting about it.  What the 2011 film confirms is how truly bad 2001's Planet of the Apes was, a straight remake of the original 1968 classic.

My curiosity got the best of me on this one. The original five 'Apes' movies are some of my favorites, and the newest entry was highly enjoyable. I've avoided director Tim Burton's addition to the series for years for a couple reasons. The biggest reason? I thought it looked like a pile of awfulness. More than that though, it looked like a dumbed-down, mindless remake that didn't need to be remade. I was in the right frame of mind though to watch it, hoping my enjoyment from 'Rise' might boost the 2001 version. Long story short? It didn't. The 2001 version is everything I was afraid it would be and more...or less I guess depending on how you look at it.

An astronaut/scientist on a U.S. space station in 2029, Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is working with a large staff, exploring all space has to offer, including studies with chimps. As the station moves through space, an electromagnetic storm is discovered in front of them, Leo following one of his test chimps into the storm which turns out to be a wormhole. His pod crash lands on a strange planet full of jungle and deserts. Just minutes after crash landing though, he makes a bizarre discovery. The planet is ruled by a war-like tribe of apes, and the humans are slaves. Leo is caught almost immediately so what can he do? An ape general, Thade (Tim Roth), is suspicious of this more intelligent human, leaving Leo to come up with a plan. Can he get free and then get off this planet? 

This next part is going to sound stupid, but I can't come up with a smart, semi-intelligent way to say it. You're watching a movie called 'Planet of the Apes,' right? It's clear at some point a human main character will discover he's on a planet ruled by intelligent apes, right? With the 1968 original, there's a sense of mystery, and when the apes are revealed in the human-hunting scene, there is a genuine shock and surprise...even knowing it's coming. That is a fundamental problem of Burton's 2001 remake. Wahlberg's Leo crash lands, runs, sees intelligent apes and never seems to question what's going on. He just goes along with it. To a point, Burton and the script seem to take that element for granted, assuming the audience just isn't going to be shocked/surprised and throwing that chance aside.

As I brought up in the 'Rise' review, there was a cheese-ball charm to the original, humans dressed up as apes. 'Rise' went the other route with computer-generated apes (<---that sounds cool). 2001's 'Planet' is somewhere in between, but the effort falls short. The apes, gorillas and chimps are both too human and too simian-based. At times, they are like skittish cats, and other times are far too much like humans. Also, monkeys apparently can leap hundreds of feet into the air from a stand-still. Who knew? Roth's Thade is too over the top as a villain, finding a way to be both unintentionally funny and not intimidating at the same time. Helena Bonham Carter is Ari, a sympathetic monkey, Michael Clarke Duncan is the angry army ape, Paul Giamatti is a finnicky slave-trading monkey, David Warner is a monkey senator, and even Charlton Heston himself -- star of the original Apes movie -- makes a quick appearance.

Now as much as I like Mark Wahlberg, I think he is not the right choice here to play the lead, U.S. astronaut Leo Davidson.  Some of it is his fault as he doesn't bring a whole lot of charisma to the part, brooding and growling through his situation. He also never seems to question anything. If it's me, and I crash land on a planet ruled by apes....I don't know...maybe I ask some questions. In the matter of hours, Leo becomes this heroic human who all the slaves are drawn to, and I'm thinking....really? That's all it took? Punch an ape and lead a poorly planned escape? The script gives him absolutely nothing to do though so it's not entirely on Wahlberg. Also wasted in human parts is Kris Kristofferson as Karubi, a chief of a fleeing tribe, and supermodel Estella Warren as Daena, a young, babely human girl. I imagine at some point the script called for a random hot girl who had to do nothing except look good. She nails the part in that sense.

There is something missing in this movie that I can't put my finger on.  The look of the movie isn't quite right, appearing like it was shot on a poorly-built studio set. The ape village/town certainly looks pretty clean as does the whole movie. Jungle, village, expansive desert, it feels faked.  The whole movie is boring though on top of that. There is a certain B-movie campiness to it, but basically nothing happens, Leo becomes a hero, leads a revolution, and then there is a brief ape vs. human fight. The original explored in some depth the idea of what was happening, animal mistreatment, fate and destiny, bigger issues. Not so much here. Dumbed-down was pretty spot on, the final product a mindless two hours that doesn't even touch its predecessors.

And how about that ending? The 1968 original was a gem, one that still is remembered for its shock value. How about this one? Shock value, yes, but it makes absolutely no FREAKING sense. Burton has said in interviews he left it up to the audience to make up their mind, and that a possible sequel would have explained things clearly. That's a weak excuse on the part of a director. It certainly goes for a surprise, and it is that...surprising. But nothing is explained, and no logical, reasonable explanation comes to mind. You've got to watch it yourself though, and revel in the badness.

Planet of the Apes <---trailer (2001): */****

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