And so 10 or so years after it was in the cinema and I paid my £5 (or however much it was back then) I thought it might be time to take another look at Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes ‘re-imagining’ and I may also have been inspired by the release of (the far superior) Rise of the Planet of the Apes, that has led me to watch the original run of films as well.
While the 1968 original Planet of the Apes managed to combine being a credible sci-fi action adventure movie with an allegory of the civil rights movement that was peaking at the time, its 2001 ‘re-imagining’ couldn’t be anymore different (despite still featuring astronauts, talking apes and some ropey make up).
The film starts, like many Tim Burton films, with a somewhat retro-feeling title/credits sequence and like some of Burton’s other films this sets the scene well — unfortunately the scene it sets is one of soulless plodding pointlessness with a hint of confusion.
Throughout, Planet of the Apes (2001), is a film with no clear agenda other than to “ape” its forebears. The first dialogue scene with the apes features the line “Get your hands off me you damn dirty human,” so it’s also clear from the off subtlety isn’t going to be on the menu here.
While no Shia LeBeouf (who I could see taking the part if this film was made in 2011) Mark Whalberg remains pretty much devoid of any discernible charisma and therefore at no point do I care what happens to him despite his, and his companions, supposedly epic quest to find the mystical land of CALIMA.
So with the leading man a near charisma vacuum its down to the apes to grab the interest but sadly here the film also falls down, though clearly more developed than its 1968 predecessor, the make up here still removes much of the acting possibly by the ape actors, reducing them all to bland 1 dimensional stereotypes that at times seem to verge on blatant racist stereotyping (all the gorillas are characterised as black guys who are overly aggressive and all in thrall to the smaller leading ‘white man’ ape, is that really something a blockbuster in the 2000’s should be saying? Sounds like something that you wouldn’t really have got away with since the 60’s to me!)
As the film progresses the plot descends into a confusing mishmash of ideas that never really seem to be anything more than trying to progress the same story of the original but not directly copying it and this is summed up in its last scene, a shocking reveal like its 1968 counterpart, but don’t worry I won’t spoil it for the few of you who don’t know, suffice to stay it still left me cold.
In the end Planet of the Apes isn’t a bad film, it’s just not a good one either and coming from a director I admire greatly, it is a real disappointment. It seems to sit in a period of sci-fi cinema when everything main stream felt a bit plastic, particularly the Star Wars prequels which were at the their peak at the time, and before films like Moon attempted to get some credibility back into the genre or Dawn of the Dead proved that a good remake isn’t impossible.
Unfortunately the one thing I was left thinking once the film was over was that the best performance in the film was probably that of the chimp who played Pericles who actually seemed to transmit a sense of emotion in his final moments. It’s also sad to see that many blockbusters have continued the path this was part of developing that has left us with the likes of the Transformers movies ruining memories of past glories and bringing a very real sense of racial, sexual and almost any form of intolerance to the screen all in the name of getting money from the pockets of teenage boys – I know Star Wars was cynical but at least the original three were fun!
And the trailer even contains the words “In a world…” need I say more?