Planet of the Apes (2001) / Sci Fi-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Review published July 28, 2001
Remaking one of the best sci-fi films of all time was bound to be an arduous task, and the fact that this new incarnation of Planet of the Apes is pretty solid entertainment even if it falls short of the groundbreaking original is the best one could have reasonable hoped for. The secret of the origins of the planet of the apes was one of the best revelations in sci-fi film history (though it's hardly a secret anymore), and this new film decides to offer a different twist to this origin, although they have done it in such a way that it unravels all claims to plausibility outright. Attempts are made to have some social significance and allegorical plotting, but let's face it, Planet of the Apes is to its very core escapist entertainment in its most purest form.
Around this part of my review, I usually give you a synopsis of the plot, but half the fun of Planet of the Apes is trying to figure out it's origin, so I hope I don't spoil anything while at the same time letting you know what it's all about. Well, it's the year 2029 (implausibility #1: call me a pessimist, but space travel seems far too advanced in this film to believe that the year will be only a generation ahead of us...oh well) and a space station close to a nearby uninhabited planet sends off a chimpanzee in a space pod to do some stuff (it's not clear exactly what) and when feared lost, his bestest human buddy Leo Davidson (Marky Mark, The Perfect Storm) gets in a pod of his own and goes in after him. Along the way, they both are enveloped in some sort of electromagnetic storm and Leo ends up crashing on the planet, only to find that it's not only inhabited, but there's quite a bit of English-speaking apes who are none too happy to encounter another human, and a trouble-making one at that. On this planet, it's the apes that rule, and humans (yes there are other humans on this planet) are the scourge of the land...meant to be locked up, sold as slaves or pets or just be roughed up just for the fun of it. Leo is hell-bent on getting his human butt off of the planet, and with his homing device showing the spaceship that his human friends are on is nearby, but it's in the treacherous Forbidden Zone where not even the toughest of apes fear tread.
There is a huge fatal flaw to this updated Planet of the Apes and it's a big one: the more that is revealed about what the big picture is, the more confused and unbelievable the film becomes. For every scene that has you rubbing your chin wistfully thinking "hmmm...this could be interesting...", there is a follow-up reaction where you will be scratching your head thinking "wait...what the f--?!?" As I am writing this, it's two days after seeing the actual movie and I still am asking myself and all others I know who have seen it, "So where did all those horses come from?"
Rumor has it that Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!) filmed five different endings to this film, but I suspect after watching the finished product that he also had five different scripts with five distinct origins and five different plots. He must have changed his mind about which direction he wanted to go on a daily basis, and the results do have an impact. It's really the only explanation for the reason why the revelation in the origin doesn't jibe with what we have seen and why most might leave the theater feeling a bit unsure about the ending that Burton eventually did decide on.
Yet, and I say this with a bit of shameful guilt, I must say I found Apes entertaining despite these implausibilities. Outstanding costumes, terrific scoring, quality acting, and a good dose of imaginative directing pulls together this tosh into a workable and quite entertaining adventure. I was riveted to the film from the first frame to the last, and even though I have a hangover thinking of what a crock it all was now that it's over, while it was showing I was enrapt in the story and was willing to overlook some of the largest plot holes in modern day filmmaking history.
How much you enjoy Planet of the Apes will greatly depend on how high expectations are, and to some extent, how much you revere the original film. It's an interesting twist on a great story that delivers solid action and bravado enough to have a good time. While it seemed impossible to measure up to the original film, had Burton been able to stick to a single game plan and keep coherence, it might have actually had a shot. Funny thing is, the way this film is set up, all of these implausibilities can be easily wiped away by the inevitable sequel. While this first film in the new series can't hold a candle to the old, a good sequel will be one more than the original series ever had.
©2001 Vince Leo