Stay away from this damn, dirty movie
'Planet of the Apes'
**1/2 (out of five stars)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth
20st Century Fox
By Ken Fountain
Daily Cougar Staff
Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is one summer movie I really wanted
to like, for this simple reason: The original 1968 film, which I saw on
television as a kid, was the first
non-Disney movie that really blew me away.
Photo courteys of 20th Century Fox
Chimpanzee Gen. Thade (Tim Roth) leads his monkey minions
into battle in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes.
For some reason, the world created in the science fiction classic grabbed
hold of my young imagination. It wasn't that I wanted to live in that "upside-down
civilization" in which
simians were superior to humans. But something about the weirdness
of it appealed to my impressionable sensibilities. And the final, unforgettable
ending was my childhood
introduction to nihilism.
Which is why it's my sad duty to report that Burton's "reimagining"
(not a remake, the 20th Century Fox publicity machine tells us) is woefully
disappointing. Certainly, it has its
moments (with master weirdo Burton at the helm, how could it not?),
but despite much more advanced special effects and make-up, it's a pale
imitation of the original.
In the 1968 film, loosely based on a novel by French author Pierre Boulle
(The Bridge Over the River Kwai), Charlton Heston played Taylor, the leader
of a U.S. deep-space
mission that is shot across time and space and crash-lands on an unfamiliar
world. The crew encounters a band of humans who have devolved to a near-animal
state, and are then
shocked to find themselves hunted by gun-toting gorillas on horseback.
Taylor, the supremely competent pilot who left Earth because he despises
humanity, finds himself caged, prodded and poked by simian scientists who
see him only as a dumb
brute. Finally convincing them that he has reason, the misanthropic
Taylor becomes the defender of mankind to a tribunal of orangutans.
In the new film, Heston is replaced by Mark Wahlberg as Capt. Leo Davis.
Nothing against the former "Marky Mark," who's done some good acting in
movies like Three Kings, but
he just doesn't have the stature, in size or persona, as Chuck "Moses
meets the NRA" Heston. He's less a world-weary Superman than a scrappy
But Wahlberg isn't the film's real problem. He does a credible job at
what he's asked to do, which is not much more than run around a lot. Which
brings us to the real problem: The
story is just another dumbed-down action adventure.
The original film, co-written by Twilight Zone creator/host Rod Serling,
was a sly commentary on the social, racial and political turmoil of the
1960s. Some of the humor was a tad
too obvious, and Heston's performance tended towards the hammy side.
But at its best, it was a great blend of action, wit and thoughtfulness.
Burton and his screenwriters have made some fundamental alterations
to the original premise. Much has been made of the fact that in the new
film, unlike in the original, the
planet's humans speak. That would be fine -- if any of them had something
worth saying. Supermodel-turned-actress Estella Warren, who plays Wahlberg's
jungle-girl love interest,
is just as pretty as the original's Linda Harrison, but has nothing
important to do in the story.
As for the apes, Helena Bonham Carter is chimpanzee Ari, who sympathizes
with humans and develops an unrequited crush on Davis. Carter is a fine
actress, and she plays the
emotional scenes well, but her make-up isn't all that convincing.
On the other hand, Tim Roth as General Thade, the leader of the Ape
Army, not only looks convincing, but is utterly menacing as a Napoleon-like
chimp who protects his massive
ego by staging a genocidal war against the humans.
After a well-staged battle scene, with the ape infantry rushing forward
on all four limbs, the film veers toward a double-whammy surprise ending
that tries to top the first film's
unforgettable last scene. Unfortunately, it comes across as a not-very-convincing
gimmick. It's rather obviously the set-up for a sequel (there were four
sequels to the original film,
plus a prime-time television show and a cartoon series). Maybe next
time, they'll get it right.