75 of 94 people found the following review helpful
A Missed Opportunity
, October 4, 2001
This review is from: Planet of the Apes (Two-Disc Special Edition) (DVD)
I believe the original 1968 version of "The Planet of the Apes" was the first time I realized that a film might actually be something more than an escapist entertainment. In fact, it might have something important and relevant to say to its audience. Indeed, that first film seemed to have something to say on a wide variety of topics: race relations, bigotry, vivisection, free thinking within an oppressive society as well as humanity's place in the universe. It made these points by using ironic twists, gentle humor and downright scathing satire; all wrapped within the context of an exciting sci-fi adventure story. The result was a classic piece of film making. An almost instant icon of 20th century pop culture that eventually spawned four sequels and even a short lived TV series.
So, when I heard that 20th Century Fox wanted to do a "re-imagining" of POTA my first thought was "Why?". Hadn't the first film gotten everything right the first time around? Why monkey (no pun intended) with something that was pretty much perfect already? Then I heard that Tim Burton had been assingned to direct and I thought that here was an ideal choice if you were going to re-imagine something as iconic as POTA. After all, he had done a marvelous job of revamping the image of Batman from that of the ridiculously campy to that of the more respectible avenging Dark Knight (only to have Joel Schumaker undermine all of that with "Batman and Robin"). While a re-imaging of POTA wasn't needed, I thought, it still might be interesting to see the results of such an undertaking from the capable hands of a director like Burton. Unfortunately the final product failed to meet my expectations.
The biggest dissapointment here is the script, no real plot and flat, one dimensional characters ... The social commentary, so important to the original, is almost completely lacking here. Early on in the story there are some token nods to racism and human vs animal rights but then the writers never develop them. ... The characters, especially the human ones, are hardly worth caring about. Leo, the lost astronaut (Mark Wahlberg), seems to just wander around through the film in a catatonic trance; never even aware of the romantic interest of the human female (Estella Warren) or that of the chimp female Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). The film makes it obvious the two are interested in Leo but, again, fail to develop it into anything. This movie wants to get up and go but is eventually left spinning its wheels aimlessly for two hours.
However, its not all bad. There are some things that make this film worth viewing. One, is Burton's visuals. Burton is first and foremost a visual director. In other words, the look of the film seems to take precedence over everything else. Unfortunately that's the case here. The script [is poor] but the film itself looks gorgeous. I particularly loved the shots of Ape City built into the huge and forbidding rocky crag, also the views of the long marching columns of the ape army at night. Also, the forest that surrounds the city is one of those typically beautiful but scary Burtonesque fairy tale type affairs. My favorite aspect to this film is Rick Baker's incredible ape make-up. These are simply incredible designs that obviously had a lot of work put into them. If Baker doesn't win an Oscar for his efforts there is simply no justice in the world. Another good thing going for this film is the quality of the performances which for the most part are quite good. In particular Tim Roth as the violently tempered chimp General Thade and Helena Bonham Carter as the female chimp Ari who sympathizes with the plight of the humans. There is also good comic relief in the form of the Orangutan vender of humans played by Paul Giamatti. And Michael Duncan Clarke is an imposing Colonel Attar. I also have to make mention of Charlton Heston's brief cameo as Thade's dying father. In one of the films few good ironic moments Heston's character introduces the concept of guns into the story. Thade's Daddy has been hiding the fact that humans at one time had such dangerous weapons (apparently apes have never developed firearms) and reveals the secret to his son before he kicks the bucket. Finally, mention must be made of Danny Elfman's wonderful score; a nice blending of Jerry Goldsmith's atonal, primitive sounds that worked so well for the original film with that of a full orchestra. I may or may not get the DVD but I will certainly add the soundtrack to my collection.
Ultimately I found this "re-imagining" of POTA a disappointment. There are occaisional moments where this film shows that it has the potential to achieve so much but then turns around and squanders it. When will Hollywood learn that cool visuals and great looking make-up are not enough to make an excellent or even a good movie?
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