Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Planet of the Apes (2001) (Movie Review)

    Almost 30 years after the sequel “Battle of the Planet of the Apes” concluded the "Apes" franchise in 1973, there was a remake of “Planet of the Apes” in 2001, which brought the series back to the theater. Around the mid 90’s, Hollywood had tried to remake just about any classic that would probably make them a lot of money, and even though remakes have been around for ages, it’s the current generation that’s really trying to exploit any classic they can. This remake in-particular is often regarded as one of the lesser remakes to come out in recent years. Personally, I have a soft spot for this film, as it was the movie that introduced me to the franchise at a young age. I was a young third grade student at the time of this films release, I had no idea it was a remake of any sorts, and all I could pay attention to was how awesome the advertising looked. Truthfully, I don’t think this film is nearly as bad as other modern remakes that have come and gone. It certainly isn’t as good or as smart as the original “Planet of the Apes”, but in all honesty, I find this one a little more fun to watch.

    The movie begins with an awesome opening credit sequence, with a foreboding overtone, eerier music, and lots of cool imagery. The story begin on a deep-space science station, where astronauts are training apes to fly shuttle pods. It doesn’t take long for me to get suckered into all these simple, Sci-Fi charms, as the sets are cool, and the visual effects are impressive without going too over bored. Forgive me for getting a little off-topic here, but there’s something that I quickly want to address. So many Sci-Fi’s today are so bloated with over the top special effects, and over the top action scenes, but it’s such a breath of fresh air to see a film like this, where it’s a spectacle to look at, but in a simple way. The design for the space station is cool, but it’s not over blown with too much stuff to look at. For whatever it’s worth, I hope more blockbusters take this simple, impressive approach, rather than trying to be the biggest, most explosive Sci-Fi ever made.

   Back to the plot, there’s an astronaut named Leo who’s tired of sending chimps out to study space anomalies, and after one chimp disappears in an electromagnetic storm, he takes it upon himself to retrieve his ape, and study this mysteries phenomenon. The storm then triggers a wormhole that sends him thousands of years into the future, where the planet is over run by apes, and the humans are being trampled underfoot. There's a subtle visual metaphor with the crashed ship resembling an egg, as if to say our hero is being re-born in a new world. Just like in the original, our stranded astronaut makes friends with two apes, escapes the ape city with a small group of humans, and ventures across the planet into a forbidden area, where they learn how all of this came to be. Meanwhile, an evil ape named Thade is determined to hunt him down, and kill him to ensure that no other ape learns the true origins of the planet.    
     As you can tell, the plot is similar to the original, but there are significant changes in this version. First of all, the humans talk in this movie, and aren’t the same mute creatures from the original. These humans can also organize their own culture, and even armies. The apes on the other hand still intelligent and can talk, but they also behave like animals. They leap around, crawl all over things, make strange monkey sounds, and always explode in crazy, animalistic states of rage. It doesn’t make any logical sense when the apes argue that their superior to humans, because the humans are just as smart, if not smarter than them. Remember how I said that the original was a smart film with thought provoking questions regarding our culture ... well, this film is the polar opposite. It’s far sillier, with more of a man versus monster story, and lots of B movie overtones. In this regard, I can slightly appreciate this remake. Anyone wanting a smart, logical, thought-provoking Sci-fi can watch the original, and anyone wanting a fun, action packed Sci-Fi can watch this instead ... so they both balance out.  
    Now that’s not to say that this film doesn’t have some big problems either and one of the most obvious is the lead character Leo. He’s bland and dull but he’s also a really selfish jerk. Throughout, most of this film, he just wants to get back home and I honestly can’t blame him for that but at the same time, he gives no thought or concern for anyone else on this planet, he doesn’t really care about the situation that the humans are in, he doesn’t really care that he has the capability to help the others in this crises, even when the ape characters try to talk to him and understand him better, he just brushes them off and gives direct, even harsh responses to them. Now there is a moment later in the film when he acknowledges that he’s been a selfish jerk that only thinks of himself but it comes so late in the film and “Planet of the Apes” isn’t supposed to be a redemption story in the first place, so why bother make his character like that. 

    The remaining characters are either okay or just forgettable, Helena Bonham Carter in-particular dose a good job in the role of the lead female chimpanzee but her character is only lead by the nose and only occasionally offers something significant to the film.The late Michael Clarke Duncan also plays a big, tough Gorilla and is honestly the best character in the film, but that’s simply because Michael Clarke Duncan is the perfect actor to play a mighty ape soldier. The villain Thade is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the enemy from the first film and is far wilder, like a savage monster. However, his makeup is great and Tim Roth dose a good job in the role but at times, this character is just a little too over the top for the films own good.  

   There’s lots of nods and tributes to the first movie that might annoy some people but others may enjoy these little in-jokes. For example, there’s a scene when one of the gorillas say’s “Take your filthy hands off of me, you damn dirty human”, which is a throwback to Charlton Hesston’s classic line. Speaking of Charlton Hesston, he makes a brief cameo in this film as an elder ape who says he “damn’s all humans to hell”, gee that line also sounds familiar.  

    I suppose I should mention that this film was directed by Tim Burton of all people, who just doesn’t fit with this kind of movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tim Burton's movies but he’s more of a surreal, innovative director, not one who dose big budget Sci-Fi blockbusters. But he uses many of his trademark quality’s, Danny Elfman dose the music and it’s the first of his movies the feature Helena Bonham Carter, who would later star in every one of his movies that followed after this. On a personal note, even though none of Tim Burton’s movies aren’t directly connected to each other, I always like to believe that all his films took place in the exact same universe. “Planet of the Apes” unfortunately renders that statement impossible.      

    One great thing that can be said for this film is Rick Baker’s stellar ape makeup. The original had some great makeup too, but in this film, the detail and aesthetics are so precise and cool that you honestly begin to forget that there people in costume. The action is exciting and fun to watch but it's nothing jaw dropping either. None of the action will blow you mind but it’s just enough to keep you entertained. The climax is also quiet good, with plenty of explosions and brawls with armies of apes fighting armies of humans, a most of it is very practical. It's far better then the final battle in "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" and leads to a relatively strong final dual between the hero and villain. 

    Unfortunately, the ending is one of the stupidest I’ve ever seen and that’s quite an accomplishment. (Spoiler Alert) At first it doesn’t seem too bad, the apes and humans make peace with one another, Leo is excepted as a friend among-st them and even an attractive young girl has fallen in love with him. But for some reason that’s not good enough for him, so he leaves the planet in a functional shuttle pod in hopes to find his way home. Too bad for him because he gets caught in the storm again, which sends him to an alternate reality Earth, where apes live in Washington and at the Lincoln memorial, the statue of Abraham Lincoln is now Ape-raham Lincoln. Remember how the first movie ended with the frightening image of a sacred landmark like the Statue of Liberty in ruins, well, this is just plain stupid. 

        Overall, this isn’t a good movie by any means, but I don’t think that this is all that terrible either. It has its problems and stupid scenes but it still has it's worthwhile entertainment, plenty of B movie charms that easily win me over, some note worthy production qualities and for all the films short comings it doesn't ruin the series.  Plus, the next movie is so good that this movie just doesn't mater, but I'll talk about that next time. 

I give the 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes” ... 3 stars.   

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