by Brian McKay
Tim Burton's vision of Planet of the Apes is something of a mixed bag. While it is a competent and entertaining summer sci-fi film, it gets bogged down by some hammy performances (With Tim Roth being a Triple-decker Ham on Rye) and some really screwball suppositions about time travel, paralell universes, etc.Having seen the original many times, I have to admire Burton for having the balls to take the story in completely new directions, rather than just do a basic re-hash (I still don't get what the point of Gus Van Sant's remake of "Psycho" was). While it isn't quite up to the quality of the 1974 version with Chuck "Please don't take my guns away" Heston (who has a brief cameo), it is a worthwhile sucessor and a decent homage to the original - so long as you overlook a plot hole or three.
"Marky Mark and a funky bunch of Apes"
Mark Wahlberg is the Heston-Astronaut character this time around. He does an okay job with a paper-thin character, as usual. While aboard a space station, he oversees the training of genetically enhanced monkeys who are serving as gineau pigs to fly missions deemed too dangerous for humans. (Plot Hole #1 - in this era of automated probes, why the fuck would the space program regress to shooting monkeys into space again? Because talking apes eventually have to come from somewhere, that's why!).
When a strange storm appears, they shoot a chimp into it, who disappears off the scopes. Our Hero follows, because he wants to see what's out there for himself, and because he wants his chimp back. Ooookay, ya know, it's alright to love your pets, but don't LOVE your pets.
Anyway, turns out this storm is some kind of space/time displacement rift, like the ones we've seen ad nauseum on Star Trek and all its ripoffs. He goes through and crash lands on a planet dominated by intelligent apes, where humans are enslaved. And, since he is the hero of the piece, he ends up leading the rebellion.
Most of the human characters are not at all interesting. The fact that they have the ability to speak, unlike the humans in the original film, makes them much less interesting somehow. They are too similar to the apes in their speech and intelligence, which brings us to plot hole #2 - if the humans are so smart, not a bunch of mute neanderthal motherfuckers like in the first movie, then why haven't they already gotten organized and kicked the apes asses? They supposedly outnumber them four to one, and the apes don't even have rifles in this movie!
The apes, on the other hand, are pretty interesting and fun to watch. The movements are much more simian, so they walk and look more like real apes, rather than people in ape costumes. Unfortunately, some get a little too far into the role. The worse perpetrator has got to be Tim Roth as the ape general. He grunts, growls, postures, and screeches through the entire fucking movie to the point of tediousness, and ends up being more of a parody than a nemesis. Others, like Michael Clarke Duncan and Helena Bonham Carter, play it with a little more credibility.
The film has a fair ammount of action, humor, and of course, social commentary, and many of the cultural role-reversals are amusing. There's also some kind of funky bestiality love triangle thing going on between the astornaut, the slave girl, and the Helena Bonham Orangutang. It would have been cool to see Marky Mark and the chimp babe get their monkey love on, but the film cops out in that department (hell, he doesn't even take the time to nail the human babe!). The fact that some of the apes have distinctively human features (like the hairstyled female apes, for instance) is a subtle indication that some species interbreeding may have gone on at some point.
While the film has several intriguiing ideas like that, it also asks you to take an awful lot of leaps of faith and logic. The ending especially, while somewhat intriguing, is completely confusing. Did he travel through time, or to an alternate universe? Is he on Earth, or back on the Ape planet? It doesn't make a monkey's ass of sense, and I'm sure the sci-fi geek conventioneers will be arguing about it for years to come.It's not as much fun as a barrel of monkeys, but it's still pretty fun. A tighter script with some of the flaky science taken out, as well as a bit of the Dues ex Machina removed, certainly would have helped. Nevertheless, it stands as a solid contender in the POTA universe, even if Mark Wahlberg is no Chuck Heston, and Lady Liberty doesn't make an appearance.
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originally posted: 07/28/01 21:00:00