The original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” explored issues such as racism, religion, the ethics of slavery, theories about evolution and white people’s paranoia over black power during the tumultuous sixties. The only “theme” you might find in the 2001 model of “Planet of the Apes” is “Don’t send a monkey to do a man’s job.” I’m not kidding.
For over a decade there was talk of an “Apes” remake with writer-directors like Oliver Stone and Adam Rifkin attached during some period or another. (Rifkin once told me that his “Apes” script was basically a retelling of Kubrick’s Spartacus with apes as the gladiator/slaves in revolt.) The reason that none of these previous remakes were ever made is that no one thought the script was ever good enough. This “Apes” incarnation might have been better left unmade for exactly the same reasons. “Planet of the Apes” 2001 has to have one of the all-time worst scripts for a sci-fi action movie ever.
Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is an astronaut on a space station that uses genetically enhanced monkeys as probes to pilot ships exploring strange phenomena. When one of the monkeys disappears in a magnetic storm, Leo races after him only to get caught in the storm and crash land on a (duh, duh, dunnnnnnnnnh) planet of apes! It is here that Leo quickly learns the hierarchy of this planet – apes enslave humans and use them basically as maids or pets. And the apes are really, really mean to the humans! The difference from the original is that humans talk along with the apes. Big deal. There is one ape, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) the daughter of a senator, who sympathizes with the human’s plight. She helps Leo escape along with some human pals including the scorching hot Dæna played by Canadian synchronized swimmer and model Estella Warren. They take slave trader Limbo (Paul Giamatti) hostage and attempt to reach the source of a signal that Leo believes is a rendezvous point for his rescue. He is quickly pursued by the bloodthirsty chimp general Thade (Tim Roth) and his gorilla sidekick Attar (Michæl Clarke Duncan) who seek to wipe out the humans.
I could tell you more about the “plot,” but it’s so uninteresting, it feels less like a movie and more like an accurate retelling of the adventures of a bunch of kids playing “Planet of the Apes” in their backyard. No joke. Run here, run there, chase this person, capture that person, on and on and on. Hey, I used to play “Planet of the Apes” with my schoolyard buds on the playground when I was a kid. (I know I’m not the only one.) I think that some of the plot turns we developed as eight year-olds were better than the script for this film.
There is one bright spot and that is the make-up by Rick Baker which is spectacular. All of the actor’s performances really come through the make-up and you’ll see this very same point brought up in nearly every review you read, so I won’t dwell on it. Suffice it to say, yeah, the apes are cool. Every technical aspect is above average – the actors, the sets, the design, the effects, even Burton’s direction, etc… The lacking story and script, however, make all this effort for nothing. I actually felt sorry for the actors who did their best with just plain awful dialog. Attar twists a line at the beginning from the original by saying, “Get your hands off me you damn, dirty human.” Limbo says at one point, “Can’t we all just get along?” Ha. Ha. Jokes like this are more likely to elicit groans than laughs. Even more embarrassing is Charlton Heston’s cameo as Thade’s father who delivers an anti-gun tirade while spoofing one of the most famous lines from the classic film. It’s pure agony. As for the much talked about ending, (I’m not going to say anything, so don’t worry) it’s merely ridiculous and feels tacked on.
Director Tim Burton has put virtually no personal stamp on this film whatsoever — it may as well have been directed by Peter Hyams. Yes, it’s that bad. Anyone excited to see a “Burton” film, uh, don’t bother, because this isn’t one. None of his trademark wit or weirdness is anywhere to be found. Tim Burton is billing “POTA” as not a “remake” but a “re-imagining” of the classic film. This sounds kind of a clever until you realize that the new film is just “re-capitalizing” on a worthwhile franchise. The only that thing anyone here is “re-imagining,” are profits. There’s nothing particularly smart about this “re-imagining” either since the whole thing was already done in a 1975 television series called “Return to the Planet of the Apes” in the early seventies. In this series, humans are slaves and pets and they talk and the two astronauts in the show are searching for a way home. Same old story.
I could go on about the short-comings but I know you’re going to want to see it for yourself, so go ahead. I plan on spending time in my backyard and dividing my friends into two groups, apes and humans. Then the monkey bars can be the jail, over by the swing set, that’s the corn field, the slide is ape city and we’ll have a great time acting out our own adventures on the “Planet of the Apes.” Go ahead and try it yourself because I guarantee that playing “apes versus humans” on the playground is a lot more fun than watching this movie.