released July 27, 2001
Well, so far this summer of 2001 we’ve been having hasn’t been too hot. But at least we got that new Tim Burton movie coming out, right? I don’t know why they gotta remake PLANET OF THE APES but it’s a great cast and that guy knows what he’s doing, I’m sure he’ll do something interesting with it.
Nope. 10 years later I’m not sure I need to explain why the PLANET OF THE APES remake is no good. I don’t remember there being an argument about it at the time, or ever encountering anybody that liked it in the decade since. It was a bad idea, it was not good, let’s all pretend it never happened. The end.
But I’m doing this thing so let’s do it.
I got one nice thing I can say: the makeup by Rick Baker is really good, at least on the male apes. Tim Roth’s villainous chimpanzee general and Paul Giamatti’s sleazy orangutan salesman (man, Clyde would hate that asshole) look so real, but allow the actors to express through them. Michael Clarke Duncan is a gorilla warrior, and somehow his eyes make him recognizable (okay, the voice helps).
Luckily there are only a couple of female ape characters. They look ridiculous. On a real ape you don’t really see recognizable “female” characteristics on their face, but for some reason in the movie they thought that was important. So instead of giving them realistic animal faces like on the males they make them closer to human and give them thin, painted-on type eyebrows, the kind that don’t even grow naturally on humans. The hair on the top of their heads is fashionably styled and they seem to be wearing lipstick and mascara. Which I guess makes sense for an advanced race of apes, but they don’t look like males with makeup on, they look much closer to human.
Are they trying to make them look attractive? Kind of attractive? I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone could really say what they were trying to do. They had a release date to meet, no time to think this shit through.
The original PLANET OF THE APES of course holds up as a stone cold classic, and the makeup was a breakthrough at the time. But that’s the only thing that made it a classic that carried over to the new version. The original, written by Rod Serling, had a great story, a human finding himself in a crazy world where he’s considered such a low life form that everybody flips out when he talks and thinks it must be some kind of a hoax. And he has to go to court.
The remake ditches that whole setup. Mark Wahlberg plays a U.S. Air Force space pilot in the near future whose little space pod deal gets sucked into a space storm and he crash lands on the Planet of the Apes. He finds himself in some woods with some humans (dressed like cavemen) and they all get chased and rounded up by gorilla warriors wearing armor, and sold to Giamatti.
For maybe 10 minutes the humans don’t talk, and Wahlberg doesn’t talk to them. Then it turns out they do talk. Huh.
Bonham Carter’s character is the daughter of a senator (David Warner) and she’s some kind of an ape-liberal who’s a human rights activist, but not in a cool way. She sneaks into the place where the humans are gonna be branded like cattle, then hops and swings around and knocks the brand away and then says a bunch of righteous stuff. Although I am a liberal and although I appreciate people who stand up for what they believe in and although I am a human I still found her annoying. It’s a real bummer. Gonna turn me into an apepublican.
She’s kind of dumb too in my opinion because she makes a big deal about being an atheist, and making it clear that she doesn’t believe in it when she explains the ape prophecies and shit to Wahlberg, but when one of the apes jokes about “next thing she’s gonna be telling us the humans have souls” she says “Of course they do!” Oh yeah, scientist through and through… until spirituality is convenient for shocking dad’s friends at the dinner table.
Although none of the other characters are as annoying as hers none of them have much to offer. Wahlberg is just gung-ho soldier guy going through the motions that have to happen for the plot, doesn’t ever show any personality. Estella Warren, the model seen earlier in the summer in DRIVEN, plays a human girl, and that’s pretty much the extent of her characterization. A former synchronized swimmer, Warren does not get to do any water dancing like in DRIVEN, but does have some extensive underwater shots. So that’s good.
Kris Kristofferson plays her dad, doesn’t do anything either. Roth gets really into moving like a chimp, and has at least four or five parts where he gets to bash somebody over and over again like he’s trying to break open an oyster with a rock. But his character is less than one-dimensional. He’s openly evil. His eyebrows are always slanted villainously, even when his face is translated into statue form, and his voice always sounds like he’s threatening to destroy the world, even when conversing with polite company at the dinner table.
And what the hell is he trying to do, anyway? If people are just like animals why is he so concerned about them? From the beginning he fixates on Wahlberg. It’s like if Donald Rumsfeld suspected that a really smart dog he came across was gonna ruin American society and spent 24 hours a day brooding about it, even talking to other human adults about it. But it’s not played like it’s supposed to be silly or funny, the movie just acts like it’s reasonable.
I guess if I had to choose a best character it would be Duncan’s, because he just kind of tries to do his job and then at the end has a change of heart and tries to do the right thing. Too late though, he already killed a good gorilla. It’s nice that he wants to bury humans and apes in unmarked graves so they’ll be mourned equally, but it’s kinda too little too late in my opinion. (SPOILER. I just ruined it. Better not see the movie now. Sorry about that everybody.)
One thing they intentionally did to make it different from the good PLANET OF THE APES was to have the actors move like animals. They hunch over, swing around, pound their chests, that kinda shit. I’m fine with that. What I don’t like is their magic jumping powers. I guess some monkeys can leap, but I can’t get with Tim Roth constantly jumping 15-20 feet in the air, especially since it’s clearly just him being slowly lifted up on a cable. It looks dumb every time it happens.
But you can ignore all the above complaints, none of them really matter that much in the face of the terrible script by William Broyles Jr. (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS), Lawrence Konner (SUPERMAN IV, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE) and Mark Rosenthal (same as last guy). It just has no purpose to it. Here’s the plot: he crashes, he gets caught, they escape (well, more like just leave), they travel, there is a battle, then it’s the end part.
There’s not really a plan, he’s just kind of making it up as he goes along, maybe as a commentary on the script. He’s just trying to go back to where he crashed, thinking his people will rescue him there. There’s not some dangerous path or series of obstacles to get through, there’s not some items he has to get, there’s not some plot or scheme he has to stop, there’s not a character he has to convince of something, or a piece of information he has to learn, or training he needs to have, or even something to avenge. He’s just trying to go from the city to the other place. And yet there’s no beautiful simplicity there. It’s big and sloppy and crowded. It’s a textbook example of the project developed over years and years and instead of getting it perfect they just give up at some point and choose a release date and start filming with the stitched together remains of 25 different unrelated, not good enough scripts.
There are approximately two parts of the movie that are semi-interesting. One is the special guest appearance by Charlton Heston as the villain’s father-on-his-deathbed. He reveals to his son the secret of the gun – they found one in the ancient ruins or somewhere, and he explains how it’s this powerful device that changes everything. It’s weird because it’s Heston’s pro-gun politics, and the movie seems to not just endorse them but go a little overboard, treating the invention of the gun like the most important thing that ever happened. That wouldn’t be that surprising in a John Milius movie, but Tim Burton doesn’t strike me as the gun lover type. He’s barely even had them in his movies before.
I think the way they deal with it though is the scene where Roth gets the gun but he fires it inside a plexiglass room where it just ricochets around. It doesn’t hit him in the ass or anything but it turns out not to help him as advertised.
The climax is kind of amusing, when Wahlberg’s not-human chimp from back on the space ship predictably shows up through the time portal or whatever and is interpreted as the prophesized return of the ape god Semus. The mob of angry apes all bow to him, so it’s just a great “fuck you” when Wahlberg walks over and the monkey holds his hand. YOU SEE THIS, APE MEN? YOUR GOD HOLDS MY HAND LIKE A LITTLE BOY!
I’m kinda surprised that they let the human approach Semus, they don’t seem to care at all. But maybe they figure their god can’t be hurt. And maybe that explains why nobody gets mad at Tim Roth for punching their god.
Also I get a kick out of how his space ship has become thousands-of-years-old ruins, but some of the machinery still works and he can just chip a layer of rock off of the monitors.
The very end of the movie is the most absurd and crazy part, so of course that’s the part I like best… and the part most people point to as the reason why the movie is bad. As if the two hours of boring bullshit before it would’ve been improved by not ending on a strange and unexpected note. It ends with Wahlberg crashing back in what appears to be present day Washington DC, but then it turns out to be Present Day Washington DC of the Apes, and he’s surrounded by ape cops, media, tourists, etc.
I guess the part that bothered people is the way this switch is revealed, when he looks at the Lincoln Monument and it’s now the General Thade Monument. This is a timeline where somehow Tim-Roth-chimp saved the planet and is a great hero of the past. How did this happen? I do not know. Would it be better if I understood the specifics of how Thade travelled through time, what he did to save the planet and why the space-time-continuum would cause a great ape hero to be memorialized in the same way that our timeline’s Great Emancipator was? In my opinion fuck no, you silly people. Anyway if you hate Aperaham Lincoln you support slavery.
Ten years of distance didn’t help this one at all. I guess it didn’t look as ugly as I remembered it. I remember really hating the ape village back in 2001, everything is so close together and sound-stagey looking I thought it looked like a Universal Studios stunt show. Didn’t really bother me this time, maybe because we’re so used to everything being CGI now that you don’t see big sets like that as much. Otherwise nothing improved.
But you know I am a positive individual so I’m proud to say that I thought of another nice thing to say about the movie that I actually didn’t pick up on ten years ago. I realized this time that the good guy gorilla that helps the humans is played by renowned b-movie villain Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Who would’ve ever thought mean old Shang Tsung would put up with several hours a day in the makeup chair? It really is good to see him play a good guy, even if you gotta really look close to tell it’s him.
2001-2011 connections: This movie prevented PLANET OF THE APES from being revived until this summer, when it finally got a chance to be a liability to the unrelated rebootquel RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
legacy: See above
datedness: Paul Giamatti says “Can’t we all just get along?” in part of it. That was already an old reference when it came out, now I bet the youths don’t even know what the fuck it is. Which is kind of sad as far as knowledge of modern history but positive as far as corny jokes.
Visual-effects-wise it’s up-to-date, because the space ship stuff looks good and the monkeys are all done without the computers and therefore don’t look obsolete.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.