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PLANET OF THE APES






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Release: 2001, 20th Century Fox
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Estella Warren
Director: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: [PG-13] violence, language
Genre: Science Fiction/Action


Rule the planet...

Summary
Trapped on a world where apes have evolved as the dominant species, an air force captain (Wahlberg) rallies humans to revolt against their cruel masters.

What's Good
strong performance from Tim Roth
realistic makeup jobs, for the most part
Estella Warren runs around in a caveman outfit

What's Bad
lack of action and purpose
Helena Bonham Carter's character is too preachy
the "surprise ending" is neither a surprise nor an ending

Commentary
Reviewer: Andrew Manning (08/01)

In the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, Mark Wahlberg is an air force captain in the near future, in a time when humans are beginning to explore space. During an experiment in which he is training a chimpanzee to fly a space-pod, he foolishly and unnecessarily puts himself in the line of danger, and his own pod is sucked into a space rift. His craft soon crashes on a nearby planet, and Marky Mark finds himself (drumroll please)...on the planet of the apes! It is a primitive world on which apes have evolved as the dominant species, and humans are subservient cavemen.

I had hoped that Planet of the Apes would be at least one of two things: a thought provoking metaphor for racism that used the apes to exemplify cruelty and inhumanity, or a jaw-dropping blockbuster loaded to the max with action. Sadly, this remake of the 1968 sci-fi classic misses both marks.

The watered down social commentary on people hating each other for superficial reasons comes across more like a preachy sermon than an intelligent argument. As the ape who leads a sympathetic crusade for humans, Helena Bonham Carter's character Ari is too much of a bleeding heart treehugger to take seriously. Her constant willingness to get herself and her comrades in trouble for the sake of her movement gets tiresome, and one cannot help but be reminded of modern day protestors who break into laboratories to free animals.

The docile feel of the movie also leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from a single giant explosion that comically scatters primates like dominoes, there's not much to appease audiences looking for kickass action. There's hand-to-hand fighting sequences and a flare gun occasionally fired, but nothing is new or impressive.

Krull and Thade, two of the ape characters, are interesting. Krull is a former general who is disgraced in the eyes of his military for supporting Ari's cause (more out of loyalty to Ari than any great love of humans). His role as a reluctant hero endears him to the audience, and he is far more believable than the Ari. Instead of mimicking her idealistic beliefs, he acts as the realist--the apes' treatment of humans may be wrong, but who is he to change society overnight? Meanwhile, General Thade is an opportunistic psychopath played with wonderful enthusiasm by Tim Roth. Thade is a vicious monster who enjoys tormenting humans, but he is also depicted as intelligent--an often neglected trait that always makes a villain more dangerous.

Pouty-lipped Estella Warren running around in a cavewoman getup scores some points, but her motley band makes you realize why the apes have taken over the show. All the humans are weak or stupid, and sometimes both, as is the case with a young boy who wants to be a hero, but instead predictably causes more trouble than he is worth. Paul Giamatti does comic relief duty as a slave-trading ape, but his character quickly becomes tiresome.

In the department of movie magic, the makeup jobs are impressive, but only in certain cases. The job done on General Thade is amazing, and Roth's lumbering walk and guttural grunting completes the illusion--he truly comes across as an anthropomorphized ape. But on the flipside are the truly awful makeup designs for the female apes. The inherent problem is that apes in real life don't have feminine traits we associate with women--so trying to distinguish them from their male counterparts by using human characteristics only results in an unrealistic ape-chick hybrid that is completely the brainchild of Hollywood fiction. This problem has always plagued this particular movie franchise.

While much of the movie is boring and uneventful, it's not until the end that things get truly ridiculous (this from a movie where intelligent apes rule the world, no less). The mystery behind how the apes overtook the humans is far-fetched technobabble involving time travel, a typical favorite of sci-fi stories, and a scene in which the ruling apes bow down to a chimpanzee who can't even talk is a ludicrous sight to behold. And after all this foolishness, the creators of this movie feel compelled to throw out one final display of nonsense. Marky Mark hops in his ship and goes back through the space rift as casually as you might catch the freeway. But just when he thinks he's home, he's dealt a surprise! I won't completely spoil it here, but suffice it to say that it's like the ending of a Twilight Zone episode stripped of the creativity, moral lesson, and shock factor. It's so bad that a vice president at 20th Century Fox poorly defended it by claiming "it wasn't supposed to make sense."

Well now...how's that for a rousing show of support for your film?


Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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