At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Planet of the Apes “01”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi/ Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Estella Warren, Kris Kristofferson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Paul Giamatti, David Warner, Lisa Marie, Erick Avari, Luke Eberl, Evan Parke, Glenn Shadix, Freda Foh Shen, Chris Ellis, Anne Ramsay, Kam Heskin, Melody Perkins, Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison/ Runtime: 120 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by taking you back in time to showcase a period where we as filmgoers had to witness as the remake flu hit 20th Century Fox, if you can remember when THAT was its own studio, to the point that they literally and frantically started digging through its immense catalogue in order to make sure they still had the rights to their iconic slice of cinematic pie from 1968 Planet of the Apes so they could bring a remake to the screen. A shame really since, due to being regarded to this very day as one of the more iconic and influential movies made in the late 60s to say nothing of still being insanely rewatchable and popular, Planet of the Apes wasn’t exactly screaming out to be redone even if the story was one that with a bigger budget could have been fairly well done. Be that as it may be, this slice of cinematic pie did manage to get together some terrific ingredients for something truly special to be made and given to the world. I mean not only did this take have the iconic source material to play with, but it also had a terrific director at the helm in Tim Burton and a dependably strong cast with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Imagine my shock then when something, much like what happens to the protagonist in the film, went slightly awry and the movie turns out to be something that neither Fox nor the fans of this franchise could have anticipated. I say that because the 2001 take on Planet of the Apes is not even close to being a horrible movie, but it also doesn’t respect by and large the original movie either.  Put another way dear reader: this slice of cinematic pie does try too hard to carve out its own identity whilst sharing with the original movie only a title and a basic narrative hook whilst tossing on the proverbial bonfire a lot of what made the 1968 slice of cinematic pie such an iconic and legendary movie with particular regard to the social commentary contained in that film. As such, the 2001 take on Planet of the Apes is fine if you just want something to watch on a rainy day, but in regards to being worthy of being part of the Apes legacy this tragically is not quite up to snuff (which given the ups and downs that the original series had says quite a lot).

The plot is as follows: This take on Planet of the Apes starts its riveting yarn courtesy of taking the viewer into the distant future of 2029 onto a space research base for a group of scientists in the U.S. Air Force known as the Oberon. However despite things seemingly appearing to go smoothly, things take a turn for the weird when the base comes into contact with an odd electromagnetic phenomenon and a chimp astronaut in training by the name of Pericles is set to investigate. However when he vanishes from the radar, his handler Captain Leo Davidson decides to disregard his superior’s orders, and commandeers a pod of his own in order to try and find him. It isn’t long though before our intrepid hero finds himself also sucked into the phenomenon and is catapulted into the future and crash lands on a mystery planet. Yet before Leo can even begin to take stock of his situation, he finds himself in the middle of a group of people who are being hunted by apes on horseback and wearing old-school battle gear. We soon witness as this Patton Primate Patrol is able to capture Leo and some of the others and promptly ship them off to a lively city that is full of super smart and super chatty monkeys of all kinds and sizes. It soon becomes apparent that the apes utilize people as a slave labor of sorts and it is this revelation that sees our hero, alongside a frightened female by the name of Daena, to be sold off to a female ape by the name of Ari who, unlike the majority of her species, actually cares about people and sees them as more than mere dumb brutes. Of course it isn’t long before we see Leo pull off an escape and recruit a group of both people and apes including Ari to journey with him back to his ship so he can radio for help. Yet when the most gung-ho of the apes in the form of one General Thade and his most respected advisor Attar find out that Leo is not just one of the typical simple-minded people they usually round up, they soon form a posse of their own to annihilate Leo and the members of his group both ape and human alike before he is able to leave the planet and hopefully make his way back home…

Now although this 2001 take on this iconic property is better made than any of the original series of movies, I feel the question should still be asked: does a modern touch, updated music, a bigger name cast, and a helmer who is quite talented make this film just as good if not better than the original? No. I mean don’t get me wrong: this movie is a decent enough little film that is not only better constructed than I expected whilst also possessing some decent performances and a distinct visual flair including sets that actually look like they are lived in by a roving group of super intelligent simians. Yet although that is all well and good the problem here is that the original, despite its astonishing ape make-up effects, was infinitely more about the substance contained within the narrative rather than the style that was utilized to tell it. This one on the other hand, especially when taking into account that Tim Burton is at the helm, is one that is most certainly not lacking in the style department, but sadly is when it comes to substance. Thus without a whole lot of substance to give this movie the meaningful impact that it should, the style (no matter how well done it is) does feel a bit too much and quite unnecessarily so over the top.

Ultimately, if there is an arena where this take on Planet of the Apes manages to come even remotely close to doing on the level of the original it would have to be found in the cast that has been assembled to monkey around with this material (pun intended). Indeed the cast’s performances in this might not be on the same level of Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, or Charlton Heston (though he does make a cameo appearance in this), but this take’s cast is still fairly strong performers in their own right. Indeed in the lead, Markie Mark does make for a decent enough action hero who, for all intents and purposes, is Taylor from the original 2.0.  Yet while we also get decent enough support work from no less than Michael Clarke Duncan, Helena Bonham Carter, Kris Kristofferson, David Warner, and Paul Giamatti among others, it is the performance given by Tim Roth that is this film’s standout. Indeed Roth manages to do a brilliant, albeit over the top in every way possible, job at showcasing Patton if he were a primate better than anyone else could have save for George C. Scott. I mean not only is his attitude, physicality, and ruthless stare all wonderful components toward defining this character, but he is also able to vocally and in action prove to be just as wicked of a character as the movie needs him to be.

Now this take on Planet of the Apes is perhaps at its most intriguing when comparing it to the original from 1968, and in that regard we are able to find that this slice of cinematic pie contains a pair of distinct narrative differences that help to make the 2 easy to distinguish between, but which also highlight in their own way why the original is still the superior version. The first of this duo is that in this slice of cinematic pie no time is devoted to really exploring this alien world or showing our main hero wondering just where in the heck he is. Instead the film just goes straight from his ship crashing immediately to introducing us to both the evolved apes and the devolved humans during a species-reversed hunting sequence. Now I understand why they streamlined this in that matter, but in all fairness that vibe of befuddlement mixed with anxiety and awe at the new world that we, alongside Charlton Heston and his two fellow astronauts, had just dropped into was a key element of what made the original so riveting as it was their performances and the astonishing work done by the movie’s visuals department that hooked us in right from the start. In all fairness I guess that since the original did have a trinity of astronauts to work with rather the singular individual in this one, omitting that did make a little bit of sense in regards to the movie’s tempo, but it is worth noting that it does take away a lot of the build-up and initial shock value the original managed to utilize quite successfully. The other huge difference this film has is that, unlike in the original, all the humans in this one are actually able to talk unlike the seldom few who were able to do so in the original canon’s first 2 movies. This was a bit more problematic for me dear reader because you see the ability for a man to talk was not only a huge narrative ingredient in the first movie, but also a huge cog for the original series of films to operate on as well. This is because in the world set up by this series apes were the more intelligent species whereas humanity had regressed significantly to the point that we were incapable of spoken dialogue. Therefore a human who has the ability to do just that really throws a wrench into the apes and their supposed superiority over man. Yet by having all the humans in this one right off the bat be able to talk, it really takes away from a key point the first series of films tried to make and makes you wonder how in this world apes were still able to take over like they did.

All in all I think it is safe to say that maybe just maybe were this slice of cinematic pie a novel concept instead of a simple rehash of a timeless entry in the world of movie magic, it may have functioned a lot better and been the recipient of more love and regard from both critics and audiences in equal measure. As it is though, I’m sure I’ll get some flak for saying this, but in my opinion this slice of cinematic pie is fine for what it is even if at the same time it is a wee bit of a disappointment especially when taking into account both how iconic this story has become to say nothing of the clearly talented people who were involved in making this film. Suffice it to say then that that this 2001 take on Planet of the Apes is a decent slice of cinematic pie that is one best viewed on a rainy day and/or when your memories of the iconic original have started to fade perhaps more than they ought to and you unfortunately don’t have a copy of that to refresh those memories, but hey at least you do have a copy of this….On a scale of 1-5 I give Planet of the Apes “01” a solid 2.5 out of 5.