Planet of the Apes (2001) – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Warner, Kris Krsitofferson

Synopsis: A very loose remake of the original Charlton Heston film, Wahlberg’s Leo Davidson gets propelled to unknown reaches of the galaxy by a mysterious space storm.   Her crash lands on a mysterious planet, where apes are in charge, and humans are merely pets and game.

This version of Pierre Boulle’s classic story was widely derided upon its release and subsequently as well.   In hindsight, it is clear to see what Burton’s intentions were with this remake.   He avoided a frame by frame recreation that simply had better special effects, seeing that as a pointless exercise, which indeed it would have been.   However, the flaw in his plan is that his new story lacks the resonance of the original 1968 picture, which offered a much deeper commentary on the human condition.

Wahlberg has shown elsewhere that when given the right material, he can be a fantastic actor.   He is not that bad here either, giving a convincing performance.   But his presence in the film is a reflection of what is wrong with the film as a whole.   The simple fact is that Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston!   As for the rest of the main human cast, only Kristofferson comes off really well.   The rest, including a barely dressed Warren, actually perform okay, but their characters are so under written that they have very little to work with.

The apes are what make this film really fun though.   Roth is delightfully demented as General Thade, the primary villain of the piece.   Clarke Duncan is his 2IC, and if there was an actor who had the physicality and voice of menace in such a role, it is he.   Bonham Carter is a class act most of the time anyway, and her makeup does not mask this, though admittedly her makeup does have her appear to be a very human-like ape!   Tagawa underplays his role a bit more, but to good effect.   Watching him I was made to think of brooding apes at the zoo, waiting for their cue to move.   Finally Giamatti almost steals the show when he appears on-screen as a very cowardly orangutan.   All the actors were trained to move as apes, but Giamatti was the most convincing of the lot, even with some vocalisations really capturing an ape-like tone.

So why did this film fail?   There is entertaining action, barely clad hot women, some fine performances…   I think that list answers the question.   This film would have been great competition when compared to the first Transformers film.   In short, it is a popcorn flick.   While baring the title The Planet of the Apes however, it will be compared to the earlier film of the same name, no matter what script changes are made.   The first film had all the elements I listed above, and it was perhaps overly long.   However, it was a film that had harsh social commentary for audiences at the time.   It was the cold war, and the threat of nuclear holocaust was prevalent.   1968’s The Planet of the Apes was not just another science fiction film, but one that shocked and resonated with audiences, so much so that sequels and spin-offs are still made to this day, though rarely with the same success.

Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a good film.   The problem is, it was supposed to be a great film!

2.5 stars out of 5

 

Planet of the Apes (2001) on IMDB

Planet of the Apes (2001) on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1lZ3un-kcg]

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