Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:50 - Released 7/27/01

I must admit, at the risk of ruining my credibility as a movie critic, that I never cared much for Planet Of The Apes, even the 1968 version. Although I admit it was, at the time, a marvel in the field of make-up (for which John Chambers won an Oscar, and rightly so), I thought the whole concept was rather dumb and Charlton Heston's acting way over the top. But at least the '68 version tried to be intelligent. Tim Burton's remake is just dumb.

I think what amazes me most is that so many talented, high-caliber actors chose not only to be involved but to appear in make-up that renders them unrecognizable. Tim Roth, who did such amazing work in Reservior Dogs and Rob Roy, Michael Clarke Duncan, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Green Mile, and perhaps the most amazing choice, period film veteran Helena Bonham Carter, who has proven her thespian eloquence so many times — why, they're all just a bunch of apes. No doubt this is seen as an opportunity to test their true skill — to force them to act "through" their make-up — but the effect is that they must all overact in order to compensate, a fact compounded by the film's third-grade-level script and Burton's stock action-film directing style.

Former rap star Mark Wahlberg (whose acting ability would probably be helped by ape make-up) plays U.S. Air Force astronaut Captain Leo Davidson, who crashes his space pod on an alien planet after getting caught in a time-bending electromagnetic storm in space some time in the distant future. No sooner than his pod cools, he discovers he is on a planet where humans are captured and sold as slaves and the ruling class is made up of highly intelligent (well...) gorillas. Most of these apes regard humans as little more than beasts of burden, but there are a few broad-minded members of society, namely Ari (Carter), the senator's daughter, who feel that humans should be treated as equals, or at least petted once in a while. When Davidson, desiring to escape from quasi-comic orangutan slave trader Limbo (Paul Giamatti), discovers Ari's humanistic sensibilities, he convinces her to set him free, a crime punishable by the revocation of the government's monthly delousing rights.

Led by the arrogant and cartoonishly evil General Thade (Roth, with a snarl built right into his rubber mask), and his right-paw man Attar (Duncan), the military snaps into action to find the uppity human and his rule-breaking gorilla-friend and beat them into a pulp (in this version, the army doesn't own a gun). Also present is fabulous blonde Estella Warren (Driven), reprising her role as The Fabulous Blonde, original Planet-man Heston, mercifully covered in make-up as a dying simian elder, and various other damn, dirty apes.

This movie makes a lame attempt at addressing the issue of slavery, but I've seen better scripts, and better characters, on my kids' Saturday morning TV. The screenplay, by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal (based on Pierre Boulle's original novel), is as heavy-handed as they come, blending a childishly simplistic take on complex moral issues with various lapses in logic regarding ape behavior. I mean, are you telling me that an entire army of intelligent, sophisticated warriors can be defeated just because they're afraid to step into a chest-deep puddle of water? Come on.

Of course, the film is at least visually interesting; Burton's talent for dark spectacle remains his strong point, and Carter at least tries some subtlety in her latex-beleaguered acting. But overall, this is an overpaid, over-hyped, and oversimplified retelling of an already questionable story. **½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail