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Published: 2005-05-03 - 01:27:00
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Planet of the Apes Review

By Joe Lozito

Schlock the Monkey

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Not since 1994's "Ed Wood" has director Tim Burton delivered a complete film, one with vision as well as a story. "Mars Attacks" was cute but silly and "Sleepy Hollow" went for shock over sense. Now with his "reimagining" of "Planet of the Apes, the 1968 sci-fi classic which itself was based on a novel, Mr. Burton has seemingly sacrificed his vision as well as his storytelling.

The problem with this new "Apes" is not that it's pointless (which it is), the problem is that it's so arbitrary in its choices since it has very little new to say above and beyond "cruelty to animals is wrong." One of the most interesting points in the original film is that Charlton Heston's Col. Taylor is shot in the throat and therefore unable to express himself to the apes. Since the other humans don't know how to speak, Taylor is caged with the rest of them. Why, then, did the writers choose to allow the humans to speak in the new film? It blows the whole evolutionary apes vs. humans role reversal. If humans found that another species could speak, let alone carry on a conversation in English, I dare say we'd listen.

It's clear from the start that this film knows its roots: "get your dirty hands off me you damn, dirty human," an ape sneers in a knowing wink to the original film. In fact, one of the few joys in the film is seeing Charlton Heston, in a delicious career cycle, as an elder apeman. But more attention has been paid to quaint details - ape hairdressers, apes getting stoned, ape punk rockers - than to the reason for telling this story in the first place. These moments play more like skits dreamed up by the "Saturday Night Live" cast while watching the original film. And, for the record, there's still something odd about apes riding horses. Where did all the horses come from anyway?

Instead of Col. Taylor, this time around we've got Mark Wahlberg as Leo Davidson. Mr. Wahlberg's boyish charm has served him well in films like "Three Kings" and "Boogie Nights" but here, lost in the role of an ineffectual action hero, he spends the whole film with a perpetual look of puzzlement. With no character to glue his charm to, Mr. Wahlberg is lost. He is a plot device to propel the movie from one set piece to another. Mr. Wahlberg's adversary is a snarling chimpanzee played by Tim Roth, who hasn't chewed this much scenery since "Rob Roy". He and Helena Bonham Carter come off best in the film by bringing out their inner apes through their prosthetics.

Of course, it must be said that Rick Baker's make-up artistry is incredible. The apes grimace and sneer, their eyebrows furl and their lips move. If only they had something to say.

It's clear from the start of the film that Mr. Burton isn't going to copy the famous "Statue of Liberty" ending from the first film. What he chooses to do for an ending, however, is infuriating in its insulting senselessness. There's a joke in here somewhere about one million monkeys at one million typewriters coming up with a better script. But that's just too easy.

What did you think?

Movie title Planet of the Apes
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Pointless, predictable and ultimately frustrating 'reimagining' of the 60s sci-fi classic that's heavy on the make-up and light on the imagination.
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