Wednesday, August 03, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Planet of the Apes (2001)

If you frequent my blog with any regularity, I hope you know I'd much rather praise a movie than damn it.  Frankly, it's a matter of my own continued mental health: I don't relish devoting my time or energy to movies or TV programs I don't enjoy.  Not when there is so much out there that I do very much enjoy.

In some cases, obviously, it's just not possible to avoid a negative review.  Tim Burton's re-imagination of Planet of the Apes is surely one of  'em.  I first saw the film in theaters in the summer of 2001 and disliked it immensely. Then, in preparation for this review, I watched it again for the first time in a decade, hoping that it had aged in some fashion that would make the film seem more interesting or at least palatable. 

Sadly, that isn't the case, either.

Before I delve into the specifics of the  re-imagination, I'd also like to establish for the record that I'm a big Tim Burton fan, and that I admire many of his films, but especially Edward Scissorhands (1990),  Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Big Fish (2003). 

The following review isn't about any dislike for the artist or his oeuvre, only my dislike for this particular 2001 film.  I hope, in fact, to blog a Tim Burton retrospective, perhaps next summer, especially since he's involved with the re-vamp (pardon the term...) of Dark Shadows.

But his version of Planet of the Apes?  It's a missed opportunity on a colossal scale, and -- for long stretches -- a surprisingly dull and joyless film.  Many of the movie's egregious flaws can be traced back to the script, which focuses on off-the-shelf, uninteresting characters who prove almost impossible to care about.  Additionally, Mark Wahlberg is badly miscast in the lead role, and can hardly feign interest in even the best aspects of the material. 

Worse than those problems, this re-imagination of Planet of the Apes feels largely studio-bound and claustrophobic rather than epic, and the film offers only very little in terms of the franchise's trademark social commentary.  In fact, a central moment late in the film actually undercuts the original franchise's strong anti-war message.

In short, Planet of the Apes -- the re-imagination -- is an empty, mechanical exercise in blockbuster movie making, and one without a beating heart to call its own. 

Extremism in defense of apes is no vice

In 2026, the USAF Space Research Station Oberon encounters a strange electromagnetic storm nearby in space.  A test-pilot -- a chimp named Pericles -- launches a pod to investigate, but becomes lost in the space vortex.

Pericles' human trainer, astronaut Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) attempts to rescue Pericles, but is drawn into the phenomenon himself.   His tiny ship crash lands on a nearby planet in the year 5021 AD, and Leo finds himself on a world in which intelligent apes rule, and humans are slaves and second class citizens.

After his capture by the simian slave trader Limbo (Paul Giamatti), Leo finds himself a servant in the home of Senator Sandar (David Warner) and his "human rights faction" daughter, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter).  With  a group of slaves in tow, including the beautiful Daena (Estella Warren), Leo attempts to escape the city.

While Leo, Ari, Deana and others make for "the Forbidden Area" called Calima where ancient ruins from ape pre-history are located, the human-hating General Thade (Tim Roth) and General Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) attempt to hunt down the fugitives.  Thade's dying father also warns the General that humans once possessed fearsome technology.

In the Forbidden Area, Leo discovers the ruins of his home base, the Oberon, and learns that the station crashed on the planet thousands of years earlier, while attempting to rescue him from the temporal vortex.  The test pilot apes aboard the station then rebelled against their human masters, and a new order -- a planet of the apes -- was born.

Now, Leo must rescue the human descendants of the Oberon crew, who have gathered at the Forbidden Area's ruins in search of a leader, and defeat the forces of Thade.  Helping Leo in this cause, the great ape God, Semos (really Pericles...) puts in a surprise appearance during the final battle...

Can't we all just get along? 

There are many Planet of the Apes fans, I realize who disliked this re-imagination almost a priori because it totally discarded the familiar franchise mythology and went in a totally new direction.

I actually don't hate the film on that basis.  The screenwriters, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, and William Broyles Jr.  clearly studied the existing franchise and decided to go in a new direction that would -- despite the fresh take -- re-shuffle the  familiar ingredients already popular in the five-strong saga, 1968 - 1973. 

To wit, this re-imagination involves time travel, a human-friendly chimpanzee female, a spaceship crash in a lake, a hunt of humans by apes, desert scarecrows (!), an artifact from an earlier, technological era (a gun here, instead of the original's baby doll), and the secret of ape history...buried in the Forbidden Zone/Area.  The new film also boasts a surprise ending in the spirit and mode of the Statue of Liberty climax, and re-purposes much of the original film's most memorable dialogue, including "Damn them all to Hell" and "take your stinking paws off me..."

By purposefully re-using all of these familiar ingredients (down to a cameo by original star Charlton Heston), this 2001 version of the Planet of the Apes attempts to re-capture the vibe and aura of the original franchise, if not the narrative details. It's not a terrible gambit as far as "re-imaginations" go.   After all, would we want to see a shot-for-shot remake, or the same exact tale depicted again?  Either of those options would have invited only invidious comparisons to the 1968 film.  Part of the game in remakes is finding a fresh angle, and altering some of the narrative details so as to keep knowledgeable audiences off-base.   So I give the film it's premise, and it's invention of a new planet of the apes.  I would have preferred a straight-up sequel to the original franchise, or even a faithful adaptation of the Pierre Boulle novel, but okay.

And yet the re-imagination fails so dramatically because the people and apes who populate this new story are not interesting, unique, or well-written....even in the slightest degree.  In fact, everyone is a two-dimensional cartoon character, and that fact severely limits the narrative's capability to surprise, amuse or otherwise involve the audience.  If you don't care about the people involved in an adventure, the clever details of the adventure are almost unimportant.

The biggest problem is Leo Davidson. He's a test pilot who flies into a time vortex in pursuit of a rogue chimp and crashes on the planet of the apes.  He then spends the entire movie trying to get back home.  Because Leo's only purpose is escape and a return to space, he never truly engages or confronts the ape culture, at least not in the thorough, dramatic fashion that Taylor had to countenance it. 

In the original film, there was no escape for Taylor...and he knew it.  His ship was destroyed and he was 2,000 years beyond his own time period.  Where was he going to run?  Taylor had to stand trial before the apes and battle wits with the cunning Dr. Zaius.  The planet of the apes was his (very big) problem, and there was no avoiding it.  He had to be emotionally and personally involved in what happened to Zira, Cornelius and Nova because he was going to spend the rest of his life on this planet.

In the new Planet of the Apes, Leo breaks out of Ape City and just runs and runs until he can run no further.  He hardly countenances the apes at all.  They're just a temporary and bizarre inconvenience until he can track down a ship using his homing beacon.  His involvement with the politics and problems of the apes then, is nil.  And since he doesn't seem to care about the apes or the humans of this world, the audience doesn't care either.

Worse, Leo doesn't seem to have much happening in terms of his personality. As was immediately clear from the original Planet of the Apes, Taylor was a cynic, a misanthrope, and an acid wit.   He had a perspective on life that was evident in every action he took.  Leo is essentially a run-of-the-mill jock, a pilot who has haphazardly wandered into the planet of the apes and wants to get off, to quote The Simpsons.  There's absolutely nothing else to him.  What's his philosophy about mankind?  About space travel?  Why is he in the space service in the first place?  Any touch of color or differentiation would have appreciated.

Early on, there's the tiniest bit of attention given to the fact that apes get to fly spaceships instead of humans, and that this strategy irks Leo.  He wants to be an explorer and a leader of men, we intuit, and yet when he is thrust into this active role of leadership on the planet of the apes, he completely rjects it.  He denies and shirks his duty until the very last minute.  There's simply nothing unusual, interesting or noteworthy about this character, and since Leo is our surrogate in the picture, almost every aspect of the movie falls flat. 

At one point in the film, Ari notes that Leo is different from the other humans she has met; that he is unusual.  How so?  He hasn't spoken to her with greater sensitivity, revealed to her particularly much by way of superior intelligence, or even demonstrated remarkable physical agility.  We're just informed that he's special, and yet it just doesn't ring true with what the audience sees.   Why is he special or unusual?  The movie can't be bothered to show the audience.  We just have to accept that he is unusual because Ari says that he is, and because he's obviously the movie's "hero."  It's lazy.

I like Mark Wahlberg.  I think he's a great actor, especially given the right material. Boogie Nights (1997) is one of my favorite films of the 1990s, and I think he's also terrific in last year's The Fighter (2010). 

But he's out of his depth, or comfort zone, or something, in Planet of the Apes, and just doesn't carry the film in the way that he should.  And he doesnt' get any help from the flat writing, either.  Wahlberg's "inspirational" speech to the humans before battle in the Forbidden Area is a career low-point for the performer.  It's  half-heartedly delivered...on top of being poorly written. 

Unfortunately, the other characters in Burton's Planet of the Apes are no better drawn than Leo.  The villain of the piece, General Thade (Tim Roth) is another  two-dimensional cartoon character, an ape who just really, really, really hates humans.  There is no motivation for his overhwelming, epic hatred for humans voiced in the film (except the flimsiest of excuses about them infesting the provinces outside the city...), so he's just a cog in the screenplay's wheel.  The film needs a human-hating bad guy, and Thade provides that.  But no more.  Roth is another great actor ill-served by the script.  Thade sneers and hisses and jumps and growls, but doesn't register beyond those over-the-top histrionics.

Ari is likely as bad, in the other direction.  She is the "liberal" daughter of an ape senator and part of the "human rights faction" but we never know or understand what drives her activism.  As much as Thade is bad because the movie requires a villain, Ari is "good" because the movie requires a friend to help Leo.  In the original film, of course, Zira got to know Taylor and came to understand and like him.    At first she was fascinated and a little afraid of him.  By the end of the film, they were friends.  Ari is automatically on Leo's side from her first meeting with him, and risks everything in her life to help him escape.  Again, it doesn't quite ring true.  How did the indulged, affluent daughter of a politician come to be such a fearless human rights advocate?  The movie owes the audience some kind of explanation.

Then there's Warren's Daena, a very, very pale echo of the Nova character in the original.  Only here, Daena clearly wears glossy lipstick in all her close-ups (where'd she get it?) and is good for nothing plotwise except casting jealous looks at Ari and Leo as they grow closer.  Daena inspires none of the action in the film, and isn't even a romantic interest in the narrowest definition of that word.  She's just eye candy.  And at the end of the film, Leo leave the planet without hardly a glance back in her direction.  She is probably the most useless and ill-used character in the film, and that's saying something.

Even ostensibly weakest of the original Planet of the Apes films, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, thought to add layers of individuality to the film's characters.  Caesar was gripped in an existentialist crisis about his decisions, and how to bring about the future he desires.  Mandemus was the custodian of Caesar's conscience, but one who was tired of being locked in the armory and yearned to be free of the grave responsibility.  Aldo and Kolp -- the film's villains -- were depicted in either reoognizable human terms, or at least quirky ones.  They had some semblance of personality or distinction.  The characters in the new Planet of the Apes are all drones who plug story holes, but aren't recognizable as individual personalities. We've got a hero, a villain, a love interest and the by-the-numbers comic-relief, Limbo.

Another big disappointment with the film is the betrayal of the Planet of the Apes' franchise's anti-war (and especially anti-nuclear war) legacy.  Late in the film, Leo discovers that the Oberon's nuclear fuel is still operational and conveniently powering the ruined ship.  He rigs it to deliver a death blow to the advancing ape army.  Where the other ape films expressed anxiety about the use of nuclear weaponry, here a weapon of mass destruction is merely a convenient tool to even the odds in combat.  We are encouraged to cheer when Leo pulps the attacking apes by the hundreds, and again, this simply isn't true to franchise history. This ape story is thus merely an adventure about a freak twist of time, and not a comment on man's self-destructive nature.  It's okay for Leo to kill the apes; there's no commentary or rejection of his actions.  Again, he's the "good guy" a priori, right?

In terms of social commentary, there's not much significant here at all.  One character, Limbo, gets to give voice to Rodney King's plea for civility, "can't we all get along?"  There's also a line about  a "human welfare state," but these are the limits of the film's social conscience.   This dearth of commentary or subtext is a double disappointment, because Tim Burton's films often feature commentary on what it means to feel disenfranchised; to be an outsider to the establishment.  Planet of the Apes could have been re-formed and re-purposed to adhere to this career-long obsession with a better, more knowing script.  Instead, Burton's familiar theme is just barely touched upon in Ari's predicament, since she's accepted by neither apes nor humans.

The re-imagination of Planet of the Apes also suffers from its look.   Matte paintings have replaced the life-size structures of the original Ape City, and studio locations have largely replaced exteriors.  Alas, these are two of the enduring delights of the original Planet of the Apes.  There, you had the sense of a full-blown world, from the arid Forbidden Zone to the green belt surrounding the city, to the simian metropolis itself.  It was a fully-realized world and not a closed-off movie world in so many ways.  This re-imagination forsakes those strengths.  It also forsakes any attempt at suspense or build-up of anticipation regarding the appearance of the apes themselves.  Where the original film took forty minutes to get Taylor captured and to Ape City, Burton's Planet of the Apes gets Leo and the apes together within just fifteen.  It feels rushed. 

The make-up work of Rick Baker is impressive, to be certain, but after a week of watching ape films, it doesn't seem to me that the work here is a quantum leap ahead of the sixties film.  Especially when the make-up is essentially the only truly interesting element of the film.  The new concept of the apes -- which puts them on all fours when they run, and allows them to jump and swing from trees -- is certainly a new wrinkle, but somehow it registers as being less civilized, which runs counter to the point of the whole enterprise.  I also must confess, I missed the idea of an ape social hierarchy or caste system here.  There's almost no thought given to the details of the ape culture in this film.

Planet of the Apes' surprise ending has been the source of much debate over the years.  In the climax, as you will recall, Leo returns to Earth and discovers that General Thade has been there and managed a coup.  Earth too, has become a planet of the apes, as the Lincoln -- now Thade -- Monument memorably attests.  

Since the movie concerns a time paradox in space, I don't find it impossible that Thade could have somehow, in some reality, accomplished this revolution on Earth.  Instead, what bothers me concerning the finale is that the ending carries almost no emotional weight. It feels like a trick or gimmick, not an outgrowth of the film's story.  Like so much of the film, there's just no emotional connection to it.  What does Leo learn about himself, human nature, or life in terms of this ending?  Nothing, really.  Unlike the joyless, interminable battle in the desert, at least the ending of the film in Washington D.C. boasts the distinction of being beautifully shot.  It just comes out of left field.

The 2001 re-imagination of Planet of the Apes lacks subtext, characters to care about, a connection to the franchise's past, and a driving narrative beat.  It almost seems to curl up and die on the screen while you're watching it, a veritable cinematic disaster. 

When General Thade grabs Leo Davidson and looks down inside his throat, asking "is there a soul in there?" audiences may want to direct the very same interrogative to this flat, lifeless "brand name" movie itself.

Is there a soul in there?  Anywhere?

25 comments:

  1. JKM,

    Your expert reviews are exhaustive. They cover every nook and cranny and leave no stone unturned. The James Cameron and Planet Of The Apes coverage has been immense.

    How do you do it? How do you keep up? How do you manage to write so many extensive wonderful entries? My praise is not insincere. I have trouble making time for dinner, re-arranging the sock drawer or carrying a load of laundry. : )

    With so much push and pull, no complaints by the way- it's all good and life is great- it's hard to find time to write nevermind read. So, I've had a tough time keeping up.

    Having said all that I've attempted a little catch up and may drone on a bit with a summation of thoughts. Sorry in advance.

    Your coverage of the Planet Of The Apes has been terrific. It's a series I was fond of as a child and it worked on two amazing levels as science fiction, as entertainment and societal and human behavioral commentary. Your isnightful reviews of these pictures captures all of that and reminds me of the things I gleaned even as a child.

    It is a series I hope to purchase soon to re-experience.

    Your coverage of the reimagined POTA really points out the sense of soullessness I felt watching it too.

    It looked pretty and spared no expense, but in the end never had the weight or the cultural horror that those original pictures so expertly captures even on their shoestring budgets.

    The mood or atmosphere of many of those wonderful pictures from the 1970s, like the ones you've covered here at your site [Fort Apache, The Warriors, ect] and the science fiction epic POTA will never be recaptured.

    I don't know if the human mind has been fed so much garbage and been stimulated so much visually that it can slow down to enjoy a classic series like this or if the creators are just lazy and pessimistic. Even the NEW film [2011], any improvements aside, just will not work because of the awful computer animation.

    Your recent review of Avatar was also a classic offering both side of the political coin too. I found your review to accurately reflect both sides and enjoyed all of the analysis.

    And while that film ranks as another milestone in cinema, my anti-CGI mind simply couldn't embrace the picture in the same way it could embrace Star Wars or the unforgettable Planet Of The Apes series.

    You put it perfectly, this version of the Planet placed the picture inside of the brand packaging, but somewhere along the way producers and creators decided to change the coke formula or the secret recipe and many of these films simply aren't the same.

    Sadly, they have left me something of a skeptic. I'm always open to the possibility of a strong story with properly applied CGI [District 9], and Avatar was good, but when Hollywood persistently sells us an empty bill of goods and you get knocked over the head enough, you begin to grow weary. This is why I have no interest int he new film. I'll have an interest in reading your review as you always offer an open-minded perspective.

    But how many times can they monkey with these films.

    Your amazing reviews, particularly on this Planet Of The Apes series may have me purchase the Blu-Ray set before I ever entertain the notion of another POTA remake.

    All the best J,
    sff

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  2. Hi JKM;

    I had hoped, as a Tim Burton fan, that somehow you would manage to find the hidden gold in this film that I had missed, as you have done before with other movies I have rashly dismissed. Unfortunately, it seems Burton's Apes is as worthless as I remembered. Watching it was like discovering that Hitchcock directed "Mars Needs Women". What I liked about it: Heston's cameo. What I remember about it: Heston had a cameo. I think the worst thing about the movie is that now whenever the Apes films are discussed it has to be part of the discussion. Can't we just forget it even existed? I bet everybody connected to it would agree.

    Oh well, the bright side: at least Beneath, which has a lot of good stuff in it, is no longer the most boring Apes movie. Fingers crossed for Rise.

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  3. I think Tim Burton sometimes takes on projects simply because he sees what he can bring to it visually (e.g., Batman and Mars Attacks!) and has little or no concern about the content. If he's given a good script (e.g., Ed Wood and Big Fish) and all he has to do is sprinkle his visual magic on it, the movie can be great. With POTA, the situation is the former. At the very beginning, I thought Leo was going to be emotionally attached to his apes and thus fascinated by the ape world he discovers. Quickly, I realized that wasn't the case and, once on the planet, he just shifts into soldier-behind-enemy-lines mode. A missed opportunity indeed.

    Hopefully, Rise will have more to say, but from the trailers, it doesn't appear so. Plus, movies built entirely around CGI make me nuts.

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  4. Excellent review. What bothered me the most about this film was that an act of compassion caused the creation of the ape world. If Leo had obeyed orders, and not gone after Pericles, then there would have been no 'planet of the apes.' That's messed up. What kind of cynical message is that? In the original films, it was mankind's darker nature that caused his downfall. In this film, the message seems to be one of random chance; that any action can cause horrible results even if the action in question is done for the best of intentions. To me, this theme of 'crap happens' is way more depressing then any of the bleak and violent moments from the original films. I've often wondered if the screenwriters meant to show this theme, or if no thought was given to this point at all.

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  5. And by the way, the existence of two remakes of the original series says something about the power of those films that continue to inspire yet nobody can get it right.

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  6. Wasn't this APES film a rush job and Burton called in at the last minute? It certainly feels like it. Sloppy and rushed and what I always felt was the decline for Burton. I think that commercial failure of ED WOOD, such a personal film for him, broke something inside of him that he's never fixed and he seems to rarely take any kind of chances anymore. At least, it feels this way.

    His APES film is just bad from the word go as you so eloquently point out in this awesome analysis/take down.

    I think that a Burton blogathon of some sort would be awesome and I'd be totally down with that. I've been meaning to write something about MARS ATTACKS for some time now...

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  7. Anonymous11:44 AM

    Instead of the last scene of his POTA movie, Tim Burton should have had the first scene in this movie be Leo crashing at the Lincoln Memorial and finding Earth ruled by the apes. It would have been the opposite of ESCAPE(with Cornelius, Zira and Milo shocked that the Earth is ruled by intelligent humans and touring it as celebrities...initially). Leo touring the Earth technologically advanced as we are today, but with intelligent apes society would have been fascinating. Leo finding out what is the fate of the human race on this ape ruled Earth and the history of humans v. General Thade. I would have gladly watched a two hour movie exploring this.

    SGB

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  8. Oh man. I hate this film. I agree with making the apes more "real." It did seem to rob them of some humanity. The much talked about make up FX were a mixed bag for me. Most were good, but I thought that Michael Clark Duncan's make up was horrible (otherwise I think he was one of the best things about the film). Cary Tagawa complains about no good roles for Asians in Hollywood (yet always takes the awful parts, actors gotta eat to you know?), here he gets a good role, but is buried under ape latex! The ape performances are mostly way over the top. Under all that make up, they should have less. Tim Roth is totally horrid, this guy was so good in Rob Roy. What happened? Notice how the apes seem to get pulled into the air before they make their jump motions? Awful movie, but I want whatever drugs Bohnam Carter was on.

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  9. I'm just going to check all of the boxes for all of the points you've keenly brought up concerning this train-wreck, John. I'd only add it was a bad role for Mark Wahlberg to take -- in fact, I'll even say the studio chose the wrong Wahlberg... Donnie would have made a better character in the piece. But the writing would still have tripped up whatever Wahlberg you had in place. For me, the only good parts were the make-up work of Rick Baker (the man is still a force... when studios let him) and Charlton Heston's cameo. His was the only inspired character and the only one with the inspired lines to voice. I'm sure the director or screenwriter(s), and Heston, noted the irony of the words they had him read with regard to his NRA affiliation. That he performed them in the way one would expect of this actor was to his credit. And that damn ending! Caught the last 15 minutes of this film last night on cable (everyone is getting ready for Friday's film release) and it is still lame, lazy, and the filmmakers didn't even bother to buy the audience dinner before they screwed them, to boot!

    Always enjoyable to read these, my friend. Thanks.

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  10. I'd like to echo what The Sci-Fi Fanatic said. The quality and quantity of your work is amazing. Also, thanks for taking one for the team by re-watching Burton's "Apes".

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  11. Hi everyone,

    I'm loving all these comments on Burton's Planet of the Apes. I appreciate them very much, and just wish we were all together discussing a better or more interesting film.

    SFF: You are making me blush, sir, with your effusive words.

    Seriously, your words of praise mean an awful lot to me. In this instance, I've had the good fortune to be able to intersperse older reviews of some of the films (Escape, Conquest) with new material (Beneath, Battle, the re-imagination). That balance of old and new has made it possible for me to keep the ape-o-thon going strong, I think. Also, the Planet of the Apes saga lights my fire, as I'm sure you can guess.

    I like how you used the phrase "cultural horror" in relations to the original Planet of the Apes saga. That's a great way of describing it. Planet of the Apes looks at all the things roiling America in the late 1960s and late 1970s and then spins this incredible sf tale out of them. The films are incendiary, anxiety-provoking and unforgettable.

    The thing missing from the Burton film, most clearly, as you say, is a sense of heart or soul. It's not really a response to anything in the culture, except Hollywood's ongoing desire to wring bucks out of older brand names. It's craven commercialism, but not artistry.

    Thank you for a wonderful and supportive comment, my friend. I truly appreciate everything you wrote. I'm also glad you felt I was even-handed in terms of Avatar.

    Warmest regards,
    John

    (more to come...)

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  12. DLR: Man, I do wish I could have in some way rehabilitated this Burton re-imagination. That's always my goal when watching a film fresh, especially when I talent I appreciate, like Burton, isinvolved. I seek to excavate those nuggets of goodness and make a case that they make a difference.

    This film is just...bad. I wish that weren't the case. I wish there were something I could latch onto here and really argue for. But there isn't. The film is every bit as terrible as you remember it, I fear. Deeply, deeply disappointing.

    I did enjoy the Heston cameo as well, and like you, I'm really holding out hope for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'll be reviewing it here on the blog on Sunday.

    All my best,
    JKM

    (more to come...)

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  13. Neal P:

    I agree with you that Burton is a great visualist, and that, in some senses, that should have given us at least a great looking APES movie. But either he was rushed, he disliked the material, or he just didn't find his groove. I don't know which.

    But the problem is very much as you relate it. Leo in "soldier mode" as you insightfully termed it, isn't very interesting. It keeps the guy from really countenancing and experiencing the Planet of the Apes at all. A film like this needs a hero who is passionately involved in the culture he interfaces with.

    I am trying hard to deal with the CGI aspects of Rise. I know it's the way films are being made now, but I do have some of that discomfort. I'm trying to tamp it down! :)

    Thanks for a great insight on this movie.

    Warmest wishes,
    JKM
    (more to come...)

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  14. David Hamilton:

    Your comment is just another reason I love the give-and-take of blogging.

    You saw an even deeper flaw in the film than I recognized. But you're right, Leo's good deed, essentially, is punished! By rescuing an ape (Pericles), he destroys all of human civilization. Man...that's a bummer -- crap happens -- as you write. It's totally cynical and much more bleak than the original saga.

    I don't think, however, this was the intentional message. I just think that the script was so bad, it inadvertently delivered this message. Another reason why this film is damn bad.

    Excellent thouht on the film, and like I said, one I wished I had caught!

    best,
    John


    (more coming...)

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  15. Hi J.D.

    I do know that Burton came on the picture after other talents such as Oliver Stone and James Cameron departed. I would love to see what either of those two talents could have made of the project.

    We should definitely do a Burton retrospective/blogathon at some point. I'd love to revisit Mars Attacks and many of his films. I really think he is an amazing filmmaker...and that Planet of the Apes is far and away his worst film (though I didn't see Alice in Wonderland).

    "Sloppy and rushed..." -- that about sums up the film. It takes no time to build characters, suspense or even modest interest.

    Great comment!

    best,
    JKM

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  16. SGB:

    I agree with you that the Lincoln Memorial "surprise" works far better as an inaugural scene than as a climactic one. The story you just described sounds a lot more interesting to me than the one we got. An astronaut returns from space, unawares, and finds all of reality has shifted. This would FORCE him to countenance the Planet of the Apes. He couldn't just run away from Earth and his own history/family/culture.

    That actually could have really, really worked. Great idea!

    best,
    JKM

    more to come...

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  17. davidfullam:

    I agree with you that Duncan's performance was one of the better aspects of the film. He's got terrific physical presence, and that booming voice...wow! He "sold' his character well, but again, was in mostly a supporting role.

    I'm glad to see we're in agreement about the jumping apes. It diminishes the apes, somehow, and after you've seen the action four or five times, it loses its interest and you begin to see exactly how the stunt was accomplished.

    I was disappointed with Roth too. He just chewed the scenery. Then again, I'm not sure what else he could have done because there was no character to play there...just a mad monkey.

    I'm glad you mentioned Carter too. She seems really spaced out in this movie, as your drug comment aptly suggests. Maybe that was her way with coping with a terrible script! :)

    Thank you for another excellent contribution here.

    All my best,
    John

    (more coming...)

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  18. Hi Le0pard13:

    We're in agreement about this one, indeed, Michael. Heston and Baker both bring interest to a largely joyless film. The idea of Heston -- the NRA spokesman -- voicing the dialogue about guns, is pretty brilliant. It's really the only moment in the film that recalls the cheeky irony of the original 1968 effort.

    And I could never say anything bad about Rick Baker. He's a legend for good reason, and he always wows. But in some sense, even his great work isn't enough to pull this one off and breathe life into the stale story.

    Thank you for the comment, my friend.

    All my best,
    John

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  19. jdgriz:

    I love how you phrased that. "Taking one for the team!" That's great.

    Seriously, I had truly hoped to find something good to talk about in this film. That was my desire and wish. I hate it when I have to write bad reviews, but this one...well, looking at the comments, it's pretty clear the film is universally despised.

    Thank you also for your extremely kind words about the quantity and quality of my work. It means so much to me to see those words in print. Thank you for taking the time to write them, and letting me know how you feel. I always appreciate your comments, and your readership here.

    All my best,
    John

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  20. Hi John,

    Great review. Dull film. I couldn't relate to any of the characters. And while Rick Baker's work is great, as always, I don't like how they came out. The pic at the top, where the guy in the armor is choking Marky Mark, looks like they are both refugees from a Dungeons and Dragons film! And the picture of Wahlberg below, trying to drum up support with the humans...he looks like his walking, hunched over, as the apes in the classic films did!

    All the acting talent is wasted. I was unimpressed by Heston; only Michael Clarke Duncan stands out in my memory, and I felt they were trying to make Attar a black man. Okay, I know that's weird, but that's the impression I felt.

    The makeup work was good, as I said, but doesn't that picture with the ape strangling the human look like a CGI composition? I'm all for CGI...WHEN IT IS DONE RIGHT. Heck, these apes are a page out of the Jar Jar Binks category. Roger Corman should have directed this film!

    The film went downhill on me from the moment he splashed down. I liked the spaceship. Oh, but big continuity eff up here: why is this a project of the US Air Force? Sounds like they were remaking Project X, without Matthew Broderick (but Broderick would have been like his TriStar Godzilla character)... The project should have been NASA, if not ESA or the World Space Agency, etc.

    And until you hit it here in your blog, I'd completely forgotten about the shock ending. But since Thade conquered America, that should have prevented the Oberon project from happening at all, creating a major paradox.

    Round file this film, sad to say. It can't even qualify as a B movie. Why can't HBC (Helena Bonham Carter) pull off her award-winning magic?

    And wasn't Kris Kristofferson one of the humans? If so, more bad casting (or rather, more bad writing...)...

    Sorry to be negative about the film, but not every film has a lot of good parts....

    Gordon Long

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  21. I'm certainly not as knowledgeable as many of your fine readers here in terms of 'Apes' cinema (though this is something I'm going to rectify).

    However, that said, let me take a moment to point out one additional trait of this film that was at least, worthy of some praise.

    The other night, as I was tending bar, I found this on TV and just left it on for both of the showings. Why? Because it was head-and-shoulders above the swarm of Tuesday night reality shows.

    I'll leave off the ..ahem.. aping of the other discussion above as it's been quite thorough. (Though I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought he saw Kristofferson back there.)

    So there you have it : Burton's Planet of the Apes is 100% less nauseating than shows about pawn shops or repo.

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  22. Hi PDXWiz,

    I agree with your comments on the film. The film is dull, and there's something about the look of the apes -- a little too fantasy-oriented -- that doesn't seem right. You put your finger on it by mentioning Dungeons and Dragons. It's just the wrong look.

    I'm hoping the CGI in the new film will hold up; on the level of Avatar! Crossing fingers!

    best,
    JKM

    Great g

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  23. woodchuckgod:

    On your excellent point, there can be no disagreement. Burton's Planet of the Apes is definitely preferable to TV reality fare. Absolutely. It's also better than root canal!

    See, I'm not being negative!

    best,
    JKM

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  24. I've really been enjoying this Apes retrospective! I watched all the movies again last year with my neighbors, who'd never seen them before, and we finished it off with a viewing of this one. I remembered liking it when it came out, despite it being really disappointing as both an Apes film and as a Tim Burton film. Most of your criticisms here are obviously on point, but it felt like one of the highlights of that summer as far as the big-budget/action movies went, and some of that affection remained when I saw it last year. As far as I recall the people mentioning it being a "rush job" are right in that it was one of the wave of movies that year that were "pre-strike" movies, rushed into production when some guild or other had a looming contract negotiation (presumably the same reason we got a Jurassic Park movie that summer with no real ending). I'd always assumed, after reading that Burton came on to the picture and had to begin shooting immediately, that if he'd had time to work with a writer on an entirely new draft he might have come up with something that really featured the "commentary on what it means to feel disenfranchised; to be an outsider to the establishment" you mention. Instead, he pretty much shot the generic "Gladiator on the Planet of the Apes" script people had been talking about before he came on. He's talked in interviews since then about how the experience has caused him to stay away from taking on projects that have a release date set before he gets involved.

    I do think you sell the movie short on some points. You don't mention the score, but it's good! Particularly Elfman's main title cue. And I do think Baker's make-up work is pretty phenomenal in its variety, expressiveness, and detail (I don't follow the Academy Awards much but I couldn't believe the movie wasn't even nominated). The look of the film also isn't as epic-western as the original film (or as crazy imaginative as people demand of Burton) but it's a handsomely designed and shot film. Rousselot's photography is attractive, and while it is more set-bound and reliant on matte paintings than you'd prefer, the sets and matte paintings are good. Similarly, I think the ape performances (and the notion of making them less evolved and more simian in their behavior) lend the movie some dynamism that it doesn't have thematically or in its deadly-dull human characters. Certainly I don't think the issues with the story would be solved by having the apes run upright.

    Watching last summer, what struck me most was that, as you noted, they really assembled a lot of the elements that made up a good Apes story in the first five films. Intermingling of government and religion, history and buried secrets being integral to the current narrative (with time travel playing a big role), dominant population oppressing the other. All are represented in the new film but they aren't explored in any depth and they aren't connected to what's going on today. In a way, I wonder if they'd have had a shot at fashioning that narrative, with some tweaks, into something actually resonant a couple of years later once the country was again bitterly divided politically, debating the role of religion in government, and entangled in racially/culturally charged conflicts abroad.

    In any case, the praise that people have for Michael Clarke Duncan's performance ties in with one other thing that struck me last summer. While I don't think it really hooked in and resonated in the same way that the stuff about religion did in the original films, I do think his character's story is bold or unusual for a big-budget summer adventure film. He essentially is forced to face the fact that his religion is false and that it has been used by the political class to manipulate him.

    Sorry that was so long! But for all its failings I still find this to be an interesting film to talk about.

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  25. Nathaniel:

    I really appreciate your thoughtful comment, and your valuable insights on the Burton Planet of the Apes. It's always wonderful to read an alternate point of view, especially one written so well and so clearly. I'm glad that you wrote to point out some of the more interesting elements in the derided film.

    First, I agree with you about Elfman's score. It starts the film off with a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation, and really gets the blood pumping.

    I also think that you're right about the re-imagination mingling all the ingredients of the previous saga. I just don't think the final work of art was greater than the sum of those intriguing parts.

    It's true that Duncan's character undergoes a kind of religious transformation (discovering that the the story of Semos is a sham...) but this idea is not really explored in much detail. But it is present, you are right, and worthy of examination. I've long felt that Attar (and Michael Duncan's performance) are among the more interesting facets of the film, and you've helped me see why more clearly.

    Don't worry about your comment being long! Stick around, and keep 'em coming...

    best wishes,
    JKM

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