Retro Review: Planet of the Apes

In 1968, our eyes were shown an original concept that shocked us and delivered us into serious debate. This original concept is re-imagined by filmmaker Tim Burton. Burton + apes + chaos = popcorn excitement.

The basic story follows astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) as he watches an ape named Pericles takeover a daring mission from his orbiting space station. A freak cosmic storm arrives and Davidson defies his commander and sets off after Pericles. The storm pulls Davidson out of his world and causes his spaceship to crash into a foreign world. Davidson is chased by shadowy figures that seem to be hunting fleeing men and women, who he encounters upon his arrival. The figures turn out to be human like “apes”.

They are ruled under the iron-thumb of General Thade (Tim Roth) and his second in command Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan). Davidson realizes that there are two sides to “ape-culture”; apes who fight for human rights and others who wish to have the humans remain in slavery. Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a chimpanzee and senator’s daughter fights for human rights and quickly connects with Davidson when she sees something in the human. Is there a way off this world for Davidson?

What is the secret origin of this upside-down world? How will Davidson’s existence in this world change it forever?

Tim Burton’s new vision of this classic tale will be compared to the original and probably mocked for even trying to recreate such a classic motif. Will the backlash be as bad as the way society brutalized Gus Van Sant for remaking “Psycho”? Since this film is so far away in look and spirit to the original film that is truly doubtful. As Burton himself states, this film is a “re-imagining” not a “remake” or “sequel”.

Burton’s version makes the humans more intelligent and not mute. He does away with a lot of “chimpanzee” culture and really only has one representative, Ari. In the previous films, chimps were the scientists and Burton sticks with one chimp instead of a couple like in the original film dynamic. (ie: no Cornelius)

There are millions of differences that should definitely set this film away from the previous version. But is this version any good and if so can it live up to the hype? I would have to say most definitely.
Tim Burton is a dark visionary with a delightfully twisted sense of humor. It’s because of those elements alone that you should go see this film.

The opening sequence that brings Davidson to the planet is a little long as Davidson crashes his “sperm-like” spaceship into the “Dagobah-ish” swamp of the other world. Is this just a follicle/reproductive reference or is it just me?

From that Burton shows us dense and captivating rainforest where Davidson seems almost sucked into this new world. Burton is brilliant as he subtly pays homage to the “capture” scene in the original as the humans flee through the dense foliage. Never really letting the audience see what the shadowy figures are until they pounce. And do they ever pounce. Their springboard pouncing is reminiscent of “Crouching Tiger”.

The flaw in some of the rain forest scenes scattered through the middle of the piece is that they are to dark and it’s often tiresome to find which character is which. I know that Burton loves films staged at night but couldn’t there have been some unique way to light these scenes. Can anyone say “lanterns”?

I liked Burton’s humorous moments as the fleeing rebels run through Ape-City. These are priceless moments as we yearn to see more of ape society. This society has definite character. It is brilliant because it is unbelievably candid.

Burton’s directing is flawless throughout the third act as he slowly unveils the secret to ape society and the unavoidable confrontation. The core of the film is the revelation scene that tells why the planet is as it is. This is utterly brilliant as it is something one would have never guessed. And it’s because of that secret that makes the film’s ending one of the greatest Burton has ever filmed. These two elements are pure science fiction and unbelievably clever.

The standout performances in the film are Tim Roth and Wahlberg. These two actors pour their hearts out in their characters. Roth is so evil and seems so at home in his makeup that he is literally eye-candy every time he is on screen. Wahlberg is stoic and shows that this actor is quickly becoming a great Hollywood leading man.

The scenario that made me a little bewildered was the sort of three-way sexual attraction of Wahlberg, Carter and Estella Warren (who plays Daena, a strong female human leader). Because of this sexual tension, you do wonder about the rumors of a deleted scene involving an “ape-human” romantic encounter. What is that tension all about? And why didn’t the film flesh out a stronger romantic relationship between Warren and Wahlberg in so that this “ape-human” relationship would be more toned down.

In the original film, Taylor, the film’s central character was obsessed with the “Daena” character. The obsession with Daena plus his companion apes being a married couple made Taylor’s “ape-human” dynamic different all together. The married couple seemed more parental than anything else. And the allure between Daena and Taylor was unmistakable. What was Burton trying to accomplish with this mixed sense of boundaries?

The movie’s ending minus the twist is such a disappointment that it makes it hard to acknowledge how brilliant most of the movie is. The little ape, the final reveal made it impossible to make heads or tails of what Burton wanted to do with the movie.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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