Film: Planet of the Apes (2001)

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Planet of the Apes

Director: Tim Burton
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

After a spectacular crash-landing on an uncharted planet, brash astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself trapped in a savage world where talking apes dominate the human race. Desperate to find a way home, Leo must evade the invincible gorilla army led by ruthless General Thade (Tim Roth) and his most trusted warrior, Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan). Now the pulse-pounding race is on to reach a sacred temple that may hold the shocking secrets of mankind’s past—and the last hope for it’s salvation!


Billed as a “reimagining” of the original 1968 film, Tim Burton’s extraordinary Planet of the Apes constantly borders on greatness, adhering to the spirit of Pierre Boulle’s original novel while exploring fresh and inventive ideas and paying honorable tribute to the ‘68 sci-fi classic. Burton’s gifts for eccentric inspiration and visual ingenuity make this a movie that’s as entertaining as it is provocative, beginning with Rick Baker’s best-ever ape makeup (hand that man an Oscar®!), and continuing through the surprisingly nuanced performances and breathtaking production design. Add to all this an intelligent screenplay that turns Boulle’s speculative reversal—the dominance of apes over humans—into a provocative study of civil rights and civil war. The film finally goes too far with a woefully misguided ending that pays weak homage to the original, but everything preceding that misfire is astonishingly right.

While attempting the space-pod retrieval of a chimpanzee test pilot, Major Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) enters a magnetic storm that propels him into the distant future, where he crash-lands on the ape-ruled planet. Among the primitively civilized apes, treatment of enslaved humans is a divisive issue: senator’s daughter Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) advocates equality while the ruthless General Thade (Tim Roth) promotes extermination. While Davidson ignites a human rebellion, this conflict is explored with admirable depth and emotion, and sharp dialogue allows Burton’s exceptional cast to bring remarkable expressiveness to their embattled ape characters, most notably in the comic relief of orangutan slave trader Limbo (played to perfection by Paul Giamatti). Classic lines from the original film are cleverly reversed (including an unbilled cameo for Charlton Heston, in ape regalia as Thade’s dying father), and while this tale of interspecies warfare leads to an ironic conclusion that’s not altogether satisfying, it still bears the ripe fruit of a timeless what-if idea. —Jeff Shannon

Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” of Planet of the Apes is about one thing above all else: monkey movement. But for most filmgoers, whether fans of the 1967 original or not, that’s simply not enough. Thematically the story of an outsider in a society that doesn’t know what to do with him chimes in nicely with Burton’s other work. As always with Burton, the focus is more on what’s colourfully going on around the central character (Mark Wahlberg) than his own story. It all looks stunning, of course, as make-up, set design and costumes outdo the accomplishments of the original. But otherwise a direct comparison with the classic version simply shows up holes in the Burton approach. The breakneck pace at which the pared-down plot is told makes little sense of the material and misses all the satire and social comment potential. What sold the idea to Burton was the opportunity to goof around with apes as humans: as a result the background is constantly peppered with lame visual gags which fall as flat as the unnecessary homages to Charlton Heston, who pops up repeating lines of his own dialogue from the first movie. Slick, action-packed and ultimately nonsensical, this is the film that made a monkey of Tim Burton. —Paul Tonks

Barnes and Noble

Tim Burton’s opulent remake of the well-remembered sci-fi shocker bears even less resemblance to Pierre Boulle’s novel than did the 1968 original, but it’s a visually stunning, intensely absorbing film in its own right. Mark Wahlberg plays an American astronaut stationed aboard a space station in the year 2029. An abortive deep-space rescue mission ends with him crash-landing on an Earth-like planet ruled by intelligent, fierce, talking apes who have enslaved their world’s human inhabitants. Supermodel Estella Warren is fetching as Wahlberg’s same-species vis-à-vis, but the ape characters—sporting unbelievably authentic-looking prosthetic makeup created by Oscar winner Rick Baker—are far more interesting. Submerged beneath pounds of rubber and fur, an unrecognizable Helena Bonham Carter nonetheless shines as a sympathetic simian member of the ruling class. Her subtle performance contrasts nicely with that of Tim Roth, who’s marvelously malevolent as a power-seeking commander of the warrior apes. Director Burton (Sleepy Hollow) imposes his unique point of view on the material and occasionally slips into the darkly satirical mind-set that characterizes much of his screen work. But his vision of the ape world and its societal conventions is dazzling in its originality, which makes this Planet well worth visiting. The two-disc DVD Special Edition offers commentaries by Burton and composer Danny Elfman and presents the film in an enhanced viewing mode that permits viewers to jump to behind-the-scenes material at intervals of their own choosing. Other extras include an HBO First Look program, five extended scenes, six featurettes on various aspects of the production, art and photo galleries, multiangle looks at isolated scenes, and DVD-ROM content (including script/storyboard comparisons).

Ed Hulse

Related Works

Book:Planet of the Apes: A Novel

Planet of the Apes: A Novel

Pierre Boulle

Before you see the movie, read the original novel!

First published more than thirty-five years ago, Pierre Boulle’s chilling novel launched one of the greatest science fiction sagas in motion picture history, from the classic 1968 movie starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell, through four sequels and two television series…and now the newest film adaptation directed by Tim Burton.

In the not-too-distant future, three astronauts land on what appears to be a planet just like Earth, with lush forests, a temperate climate, and breathable air. But while it appears to be a paradise, nothing is what it seems.

They soon discover the terrifying truth: On this world humans are savage beasts, and apes rule as their civilized masters. In an ironic novel of nonstop action and breathless intrigue, one man struggles to unlock the secret of a terrifying civilization, all the while wondering: Will he become the savior of the human race, or the final witness to its damnation? In a shocking climax that rivals that of the original movie, Boulle delivers the answer in a masterpiece of adventure, satire, and suspense.

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