Planet of the Apes
directed by Tim Burton
(20th Century Fox, 2001)

A few years ago, I acquired the complete set of Planet of the Apes movies from the late 1960s and '70s. Although I remembered them fondly from my youth, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they held up to time. The ape makeup was fantastically realistic, the sets were good and the storyline, particularly of the first film, was excellent, with pointed, meaningful dialogue. Even the acting didn't seem dated.

Now I've seen the remake, if it can be called one, and "pleasantly surprised" is nowhere near my reaction. What a waste of money and talent!

Sure, the makeup is good, but I can't say they've improved on the old ape masks by much. Actually, some of these modern apes look remarkably less apelike than their predecessors. (Ari, the human-rights advocate played by Helena Bonham Carter, looks like a hybrid of humans and apes, which makes no sense in the context of the film.) On the other hand, it's obvious that a little more effort went into recreating apelike movement, in part because of breakthroughs in filmmaking over the past 30 years.

But the action of this new Planet of the Apes is awkward and abrupt. The plot falters often, frequently making no sense. The climax is trite, and the "shocking" ending is nonsensical, not powerful in any sense of the word.

Acting, too, hit a low point here. Mark Wahlberg, as human hero Capt. Leo Davidson, is wooden. Tim Roth, as the simian General Thade, is ferociously evil -- so much so that he becomes one-dimensional. Estella Warren might have been interesting as the human girl Daena, but instead she's used solely as eye candy. And while it might have seemed clever to cast Charlton Heston, the star of the 1968 version, as a dying ape, his one scene is forced. (Still, he does manage to tout the NRA platform, which would be funny if it wasn't so sad.)

I've enjoyed quite a lot of director Tim Burton's work, but this "reimagining" of the original tale is more of a caricature than a tribute. Go back and watch the original, but pass this one by.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 23 February 2002

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