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  • Rev Horror

Planet of the Apes

Dir. Tim Burton (2001)

An astronaut crashes on a planet where humans are dominated by apes.


I've gone on the record stating that I don't have nearly as much of a problem with reboots as your average movie fan. Hell, sometimes the redone versions are better, or at least more entertaining, than the original, even if the original is a film that I personally love. That's not to say that they're all good, of course, and some flat-out butcher the messages and the plot of the original. Case in point: Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, a big-budget spectacle that manages to get a few things right while abandoning much of what made the original a science fiction classic.


Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) crash lands on the ape planet while trying to rescue a monkey astronaut who has slipped inside an electrical storm in space. He is taken captive by the ruling apes on this planet and eventually makes his escape, leading a band of humans (and a few sympathetic apes) in an attempt to reconnect to the search party that he believes is looking for him. General Thade (Tim Roth) leads the ape army, a brutal military leader who establishes a dictatorship after convincing the King to declare martial law, and he makes it his mission to eradicate the few humans who are left on their planet. As the humans make their way towards the Forbidden Zone, the gorilla army sets their sights on hunting them down.

As with some of the later Ape films, the societal messages of the film lack any form of subtlety or grace. Of course, when you're giving eco-friendly messaging to Mark Wahlberg, that's pretty much par for the course (just ask Shyamalan). The plot in this version of the film is much thinner than in the original, with what little commentary it provides coming across in just a few monologues while the rest of the film is just modern graphic-ed violence. The makeup effects are excellent, and with the dearth of meaning in the rest of the film it pretty much has to be. The decision to hire Rick Baker to do this part of the film was just about the only really good decision that was made here.


The cast is all-star, seemingly a balance of people who either loved the original film or wanted to work with Burton: Wahlberg actually signed onto the project before ever reading a script. Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, and Kris Kristofferson are added to the main characters played by Wahlberg and Roth. As good as the effects are, however, there's a real Uncanny Valley thing going on here, giving the film perhaps more in common than it would like with the recent feature film version of Cats. Thank God for Baker, because this could've been a celluloid nightmare. The actors, for their part, do a fine job in their roles, but they were unfortunately not given a whole lot to work with. The lone standout is Roth, who is delightfully evil in his role as the attempted military dictator, and he makes up for a lot of the films failures.

Which really leads to the chief poor decision in re-making the cult classic: hiring Tim Burton in the first place. I've never been a fan of his work, and (gasp, howl!) I don't even really like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands all that much. He's just a weirdo, given too much credit for his gothy strange visuals without taking enough flak for the fact that his movies often suck. I'd like to appreciate that they decided to make this a "re-imagining" rather than a reboot, but it does such a piss-poor job of matching the quality of the original that it struggles to even get credit for that. It's also a full two hours long, which is at least a half hour longer than it should be: at one point, I assumed the movie was almost over, and there was around 45 minutes left in the runtime.

Look, at the end of the day, fine. Whatever. You wanna remake Planet of the Apes, that's cool. But you have to retain the things that made the original film special in the first place. Gimme some biting social commentary, throw in some cool ape effects, and string together a barely-coherent plot and you're fairly well golden. Unfortunately, no piece of that, save for maybe the effects, lands as well as it should. Gone are the unspeaking humans and the parallels built by the original, gone is the "apes don't kill apes" conceptual framework that the previous films were built upo. It becomes a farce of itself, with even the normally solid Giamatti delivering a more cartoonish performance than necessary for what ultimately becomes a fairly ridiculous movie. These monkeys have as much in common with The Wizard of Oz as they do with the '68 version. Though I will give a little bit of credit for the Aperaham Lincoln at the end.


Who this movie is for: Planet of the Apes superfans, Reboot lovers, Military dictatorship stans


Bottom line: Except for a particularly enjoyable battle scene at the end of the movie, this one is largely forgettable. You get the feeling that everyone working on it knew it wasn't all that great, a fact that Wahlberg has alluded to in interviews. Regardless, the relative failure of this film ushered in a new series of Apes films, which have done pretty well at the box office, including the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. You can stream every film in the series but the new one on Hulu right now, and Kingdom will be in theaters this month. Check em out, but don't expect a whole lot from this one.

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