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Planet of the Apes

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Planet of the Apes

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: July 2001
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi-Fantasy


*Also starring: Glenn Shadix, Luke Eberl, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Duncan, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Charlton Heston, Lisa Marie



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

George Bernard Shaw, a lifelong vegetarian, once said that when he died he would be greeted enthusiastically in heaven by 100 cows, sheep, goats and pigs. That's good news for Shaw--we hope that in 1950 when he expired at the age of 94 he found the reception he predicted. But it's bad news for the 98% of us that are carnivores. Tim Burton now shows us what it must be like to be a human being, having enjoyed steak and bacon, zoos and caged pets, when finally the tables are turned. This time the apes, who considered themselves victimized and oppressed by the human race which had hunted and caged them for a time, turn the tables. The tyrannized becomes the subjugators themselves, treating homo sapiens as inferior forms of life on the titled planet that they rule. I suppose you could see "Planet of the Apes," yet another of the sequels spawned from Franklin J. Schaffner's classic 1968 movie, as an animal rights advocate's wet dream, but such an interpretation would be reductionist, though valid. The current version taken loosely from Pierre Boulle's novel with a screenplay by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, is at once a sci-fi drama with no small amount of action and adventure and a misanthropic view of world history. Revolutions come and go. The victims become the victimizers, then the victimizers are defeated and once again either killed, enslaved or humiliated. In the Twentieth Century we've seen revolutionists by Communists and fascists, fundamentalists and secular governments, all promising freedom and equality of opportunity for all. But extremism breeds reaction and so the cynical cycle of history continues.

If you're looking for symbolism, you'll get some, but nothing of the depth of the 1968 version, a visual delight thanks to John Chambers's make-up department whose costumed actors would pass muster even by today's special-effects and costume standards. Schaffner's innovative film was clearer in its allegorical implications, taking on both race and class as he displayed the orangutans at the top of the heap as administrators, the gorillas as soldiers and the chimps as doctors. The divisions are caught vaguely this time around, mostly through dialogue rather than display, as one of the ruling apes, perturbed that a human being calls him a monkey, corrects him violently by stating that monkeys are at the bottom of the status heap just a little higher than humans.

The drama takes off as astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), disturbed that his favorite and highly trained chimp is in trouble in space, pushes off in his space pod on an unauthorized flight to recover his pal. He runs into an electo-magnetic storm that pushes him from the year 2029 to a future time, his pod taking a hard landing on a planet unknown to him. He soon discovers that the apes are in charge and humans are enslaved, some people doing the favored indoor work (house slaves--does that sound allegorical enough?) and others putting in hard labor. He gets together a family of his own species, including the human leader Karubi (Kris Kristofferson), Karubi's nubile daughter Daena (Estella Warren), and convinces one female chimp who is politically on the left, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) to join the humans. If Ari is the peacenik of the group, her diametrical opposite would be the fascist-like defense minister, Thade (Tim Roth), as villainous as "Sexy Beast"'s psychotic Don Logan and quite a bit hairier. As the rebellion picks up steam, Thade is granted plenary power by the planet's senate, determined to capture all the mutinous humans and to treat leader Leo with extreme prejudice.

"Planet of the Apes" is not without entertainment value, a pleasant enough way to kill some time in the theater's air- conditioned auditorium surveying the desolate and almost bare scenery (especially that provided by Estella Warren). But--to coin a critics' cliche--oh, it could have been so much more. After all didn't Tim Burton promise to deliver not a remake but a rethinking of the simian series? Think back to Mr. Burton's surprising box office hit, "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," meant for the little ones but considered by many to stand out for its visual inventiveness and originality of concept. Recall Burton's "Beetlejuice" and "Batman," the former unfolding some dazzling special effects with Michael Keaton's pulling out the stops, the latter, hitting the screens just one year later, a sizzling adaptation of Bob Kane's comic book. Nor is there much of the imagination Burton evoked in his "Edward Scissorhands," featuring a man-made boy whose creator had died before attaching palms to the lad's arms.

Instead of psycho-villains like the one played by Jack Nicholson in "Batman" or quirky characters like Johnny Depp's in "Scissorhands," we get a Tim Roth who is wholly bereft of the kind of wit that villains are wont to have and Mark Wahlberg, a 30-year- old fellow who is all too earnest, humorless and generic. What passes for the kind of repartee that allows adults to enjoy the stuff they take the kids to, we get a leaden take-off on Barry Goldwater's statement that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, while the only allusion made to current politics (it's a stretch) would be a display of what President Bush's missile shield could do if it worked.

In one scene, the wide-eyed Daena plans a big kiss on Leo, asking him to return to the planet real soon. Maybe he will, but in a surprisingly adept final scene, we're sure that he's going to have his hands full.

The film has inevitably generated some discussion of its alleged allegorical import. Critics together with a segment of the general audience have already challenged the film on a racial basis (check the OFCS.ORG website for a growing number of messages about this aspect). Says one OFCS member "there's something very striking about the dichotomy between a bunch of very dark-looking apes and very white-looking humans....with the exception of the 'token black guy'...all of the human are white...."Apes"...deals with issues of race, especially a predominant white fear; black dominance of society....it's not something everyone is going to think about, but it's still there." Unlike the old "Apes" film in which apes are shown have technology and science, the new one in that critic's view shows the simians as "a bunch of primitive, self-destructive, drug-addled bush beaters...during showing of the film when Mark kisses Helena...boils down to the taboo of inter-race relationships, and the film encourages prejudice instead of confronting it by using the idea as titillation....The most disturbing image of all near the end of the film [is of] the primitive, unevolved chimp happily crawling back into his prison cell."

OFCS welcomes contributions from the general public on this and other issues presented by films such as Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes." Access ofcs.org, click forums, click "critics discussion forum," and post away.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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