Planet of the Apes (2001) dir. Tim Burton
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Year: 2001 Director: Tim Burton Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, David Warner Length: 124 min. Color/Stereo
"Get your stinking hands off me, you damn, dirty human!"
In 1968 the film Planet of the Apes
was rated G. This version is rated PG-13. So this one should be better, right? Higher rating, more nearly adult sensibilities. Right? No. ... More action violence. Ratchet up the stoopid, and wiggle stuff around a lot.
This movie does not suck; and it does
entertain. But it also disappoints me each time I watch it. It seems a perfect example of marketeers running a film (ruining it, too). In some parts of the movie, a band of firecrackers can provide more entertainment than this movie does. Overall, though, it has enough Tim Burton touches to make it watchable. At least once.
Face it, this film has a lot going for it: Tim Burton; Helena Bonham Carter; Paul Giamatti; Tim Roth; David Warner, Michael Clarke Duncan's rumbling basso voice! Kristofferson even has a bit part. Philippe Rousselot was the lighting cameraman. Check his IMDb filmography, and you'll have heard of over half the films he's shot. The production designer did Fargo
, and Lebowski! Rick Baker designed the makeup. As bizarre as some of it gets, it's 1000% better than the prototype makeup in the 1968 film.
And everyone does their jobs well. It looks superb. The makeup is fascinating except for the misguided attempt to make the female apes "pretty," which gave me my very first uncanny-valley experience, and continues to, big time. The acting behind that makeup is generally very good. The costumes are well-done and not too far into the "hey, look at me" category, although they do tread there. So, if everyone does a good job, why is the film such a disappointment?
I think it's because either 1) everyone tried too hard, or 2) putting a bunch of brilliant, beautiful colors of paint into a pot and stirring it makes brown. (Draw your own analogies.) For example, Giamatti plays his orangutan human-trader just a little too fawningly, just a little too irritatingly, almost as if Burton told him, "This is for kids. Make sure they understand that Limbo is a sleezebag." In fact, the problems probably rest in the script (don't they, so often?) by Broyles, Konner and Rosenthal. Did Burton feel overconfident that he had a money-maker on his hands? (It did make a hell of a lot of money.) Or was he shoe-horned into this production just so his god-like name could go on the production and draw an audience? Who knows? Somehow, all that keg of beautiful gunpowder misfires, and the stuff winds up all over the room whenever I watch.
Don't get me wrong; this is not a terrible film. It has moments of sheer genius. Trouble is, those moments get passed by, as the sheer genius is driven further, and winds up being forced into sheer oh-gaawwwd-ness. It doesn't ever drive me to mutter it aloud, but I keep thinking, "Why did they do that
?" a lot as I watch. There is a good idea...and then it gets used to the point of seeming pedestrian; and then it gets used to the point of seeming comically overdone. And this happens over and over in the film. It comes off in the end as a widescreen made-for-TV movie with a huge budget.
In order to discern the answers to some of these "Why'd they doits?" I had to reconfigure my brain into market-think. For example, the first time I watched it back in 2001 when the DVD popped onto the Blockbuster shelf, I didn't even notice that the big-headed kid has any lines. I thought they had a character with a name who never talks, and hardly does anything!
Here is the character I mean: Birn.
He is clearly target-audience bait. Also, his sister, this one
target-audience bait, although her purpose is different.
Now that I've seen it four times, I realize that Birn is the plant for the boys who were expected to come watch this movie. "Oh, cool, I could be like that guy! I would love to have a sister that looked like her!" Boys don't think clearly sometimes. Yeah, big-headed, narrow-shouldered young Birn is there for the target audience to identify with. Doe-eyed, large-breasted Daena is there to be drooled over by said target audience. Captain Leo Davidson is there for the wind blowing through the trees to frighten him into...oops, wrong movie.
Daena's presence was easy to figure out...although her name is as perplexing as Dwan's in the 1978 Kong
remake. Oh, wait, it's actually not. Clearly, the names are both typos, and the writers looked at them and said, "Hey, that name's cool as shit!" And they kept the names. (They got the description half right.) The actress who plays Daena was born "Estella Dawn
Warren." Do you think the writers looked at her birth middle name and thought, "Why, her middle name's Dawn, and a Dawn typo became Dwan's name in the 1976 King Kong
remake, and this is a remake, so we can transpose letters in her character's name and see if someone writing about the movie on the corrierino catches it!"? That seems a little unlikely. But I still wonder this: Can you look at the cast of characters and if the names of the female protagonists are goofy, the movie is doomed? Maybe. I have two examples that would suggest it, but that's not a statistically verifiable n
I like to look
at this movie, but what I see is not enough to make me say, "Great movie!" Instead, it is just skewed off the mark enough for me to say, "What a disappointing movie." It tries to be bigger than its breeches, as my relatives used to say. There is so much packed into its roughly two hours of story-mangling time that it's hard to follow the first time you see it. And if that's the only time you see it (I can imagine many people not giving it a second or third chance) you should feel deflated and disappointed. If you love the original film this one is likely to let you down. If you hate the original film, you might go either way on this one. Older teens, even, could be expected to want more than this outing delivers. I daresay the more male you are and the younger you are, the more you are likely to like this film.
But, despite the reaming I've just given the film, I honestly don't think it's terrible...simply not nearly as good as it should have been. I think this film deserves every star of its 5.5/10 star rating by the denizens of IMDb. With 77,108 votes cast, that's probably a pretty solid 5.5/10. And as I watched this film the first, second, third, and fourth times I continued to wonder, "What went wrong?"
If someone in the cast and crew had believed that "less is more" this probably would have turned out the equal of the 1968 film. I can dream, can't I, that it might have happened? After all, you can't blame the environmentalist message that so clearly creeps into the film for its unsatisfactory outcome; the 1968 film has the same environmentalist slant. You can't blame the "humans are ruining the planet" notions so obvious in this one for ruining the film; the 1968 film features the same theme. So if it's not politics that ruined the 2001 re-imagining, what did? Search me. Perhaps it will occur to me as I write the essays. Meanwhile, here's the list of likes and don't likes for the 2001 movie:
Burton's decision to have the apes act like apes. One of the gripes I had (have) with the 1968 film is that the apes act like humans wearing makeup, and other than a few actors who waddle unconvincingly, there is not much of an attempt to make them ape-like.
The sets are cool as snot. They are decorated to the point where the ape houses look like they are lived in. They are warm and inviting (except for the house-human cages in the kitchen). The set-design actually invokes the feel of the novel. I can see this as a place where apes live and work and connive and do other human things.
Burton's apeing of the first film's decision to make the apes low-tech in order to save money. The people who claim that this film is not a remake clearly haven't read the novel. Burton steals/borrows a hell of a lot more from Schaffner's film than he does from Boulle's book. But the low-tech presentation of the apes on the planet of the apes makes the condition seen at the end of the film all that more radically surprising. The ending of this version of the film, by the way, is the ending of the story-within-a-story in the novel. The actual surprise ending of the novel would be almost impossible to film.
The acting and characterization of the apes in this movie...up to a point. Tim Roth's mannerisms as General Thade are just short of marvelous, in between his Cheetah moments of scampering over the set. The orangutan politician who comes to dinner at Sandar's house is particularly amusing. By and large the actors manage to be both human and ape-like for most of the run. But at times the ape-icity of the acting goes too far, and it just becomes laughable...unintentionally, I suspect.
Charlton Heston's cameo (uncredited) as Thade's dying father...who has to slam humans and their invention of the gun!
When Ari first shows up at the animal-monger's place, she swings from the rafters, and it is charming. But Ari doesn't do that other than this one time. It allows Bonham Carter to establish that her character with the horrid face is a non-human, and then it is dropped. If only Burton had allowed Thade to merely suggest
The overall feel of the film just before it crashes. I can't tell you when it crashes. It gets off to a stumbling start, almost falls a couple times, but stays on its feet somehow; then it goes pretty good for a while, pumping its legs expertly as it moves toward some kind of invisible finish line; and then it sort of gets its feet mired in the muck toward the end. But for a little while there, it feels great.
As I wrote above, the costumes, sets, the makeup for the most part. The photography is very well-done most of the way through. Something seems unwell about the desert sets at the end. You know, the first end, on the planet of the apes. And I like Danny Elfman's score well enough to have bought the CD. (The product number of the CD is SK 89666, by the way.)
The idea of telling a different story in a remake of a well-known film. I like that idea
. The execution left much to be desired, though. Perhaps they told the wrong story. Perhaps I subconsciously wanted it to be more about the same planet of the apes that I saw in the first film, rather than being about a different planet of different apes.
The fact that the train, though it tips and waggles on the track, with wheels leaving the rails entirely at some moments, never quite derails to the point of wrecking (although I'd have to say that the train loses a car or two off the back).
Many ape characters are overdrawn to the point that they remind me of 1960's sci-fi where the bulk of the audience was expected to not be able to catch up. Tropes are one thing. Overdone tropes are another, and this movie is full of tropes pressed just a little bit too far. Many kudi to the actors for their attempts to reign this in somewhat.
Burton's decision to have Thade bouncing around like an untrained ape at the zoo too often. Okay, once or twice, to see the chimp General acting like a real chimpanzee is pretty cool. Genius, in fact. After the third time, rather in the middle of the third time, it gets boring as a stuffy nose. I don't mind the ape-like way with which he explores things and other apes with his nose, or the way he cradles the guns in the film; again, that's pure genius. What I tire of very quickly is him leaping about. Makes me want to say, "Okay. I got the point. Let's move on, please."
Big. The scope of the film cannot make up for its failure to have something to say. Rather, the hugeness gets in the way of it saying anything. I'll face the fact that the first film is as much an action flick as it is sci-fi or social commentary. In the case of the 2001 version, though, there is an inept attempt to layer messages, and it just makes brown goo instead of a pretty picture. But it's brown goo with a cast of thousands!
Captain Davidson's complete lack of curiosity about the world in which he finds himself. Hell, all he wants to do is escape. The guy totally lacks imagination. At least Taylor in the 1968 film wondered about things and thought about where he was! Davidson is a robot. Taylor is an annoying prick. The score is: Taylor 10, Davidson 0.
The feeble and unsuccessful attempt to make the female apes "pretty.' Gawd what an awful misfire. By the fourth watch I finally got past Helena Bonham Carter's makeup job to watch and see if she was acting back there. She looked better in Sweeny Todd
. The thing is, with Tim Burton you can't be certain he didn't put that weird makeup in just for the gaudiness of it, you know. He very much likes to play with our minds.
The way the "new" story interferes with my ability to forget the old story. By that I mean that Burton's "re-imagining" was close enough to the original movie that it wouldn't let me decide to watch this one...without comparing. Even though I like the more primitive ambiance, I wonder if the new film would not have been more successful on its own if Burton had used his 20-times larger budget to create the world that the novel depicts: a modern ape world with cars, planes, trains, televisions and spaceships. Imagine Thade with a tank corps! On second thought, don't imagine that.
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