Most everyone involved in the world of film, be they cast, crew or journalists and critics, has a seminal film that was the first to impress and/or get them hooked on movies. While I have no idea what the first movie I ever "saw" was (as an infant or toddler), the one I remember most vividly, and that had the highest "wow" factor up to that time, was "Planet of the Apes."
Based on Pierre Boulle's novel, the film hit theaters in 1968, although that was not where I first saw it. Instead, that was on the network TV broadcast premiere several years later that aired sans commercials (if I remember correctly, 20 minutes or so of back-to-back commercials preceded the uninterrupted presentation).
For an impressionable youth, the concept of humans crash-landing on a planet ruled by apes was captivating, exciting and scary, and the ape makeup was unlike anything I had seen before. Sure, the subsequent sequels and eventual TV show also fascinated me - after all, I had yet to discern between the good and the bad - yet none held a candle to the original and its absolutely terrific and terrifying conclusion.
Thus, when I heard rumors and rumblings about someone remaking this sci-fi classic - at one point it was rumored to be James "Titanic" Cameron directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Charlton Heston role - all I could do was shake my head in disbelief and pray to the movie gods that something - anything - would prevent this cinematic travesty from occurring.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that I tried enough as the remake - excuse me, retelling - of the original is now upon us in director Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes." Now, some will argue that movies shouldn't be granted exclusions preventing them from being remade. After all, that's been happening to songs for a long time.
Yet, a film - especially when it's a classic - is so much more than a song that remakes - such as "King Kong" and "Psycho" - feel like they're violating some ancient movie temple, thus unleashing the possibility of some horrific cinematic curse. That, of course, usually results in bad or at least subpar films, although there are always the exceptions, such as "Heaven Can Wait."
Accordingly, I awaited our screening of the film with trepidation. While I've enjoyed most everything Tim Burton has helmed - such as "Edward Scissorhands," "Beetlejuice" and "Batman" - since he brings such a unique vision to his works, I was nevertheless nervous about how this film might play out.
It turns out my fears weren't unfounded, but the film thankfully isn't a complete curse-inflicted abomination. Using Boulle's novel as his blueprint, Burton and screenwriters William Broyles, Jr. ("Cast Away," "Apollo 13") and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal ("Mercury Rising," "The Jewel of the Nile") have fashioned a picture that, not surprisingly, comes across as quite similar in basic, underlying plot, yet feels different.
That's because Burton has taken more of a hyperkinetic action approach than director Franklin Schaffner did with the original, although it certainly wasn't lacking in that department. The 1968 picture simply used its action more effectively, where here it's thrown out in heaping doses, but not always efficiently.
In essence, the film boils down to the protagonist - played by Mark Wahlberg - crash-landing on a planet where talking apes rules and humans are treated as a species earmarked for servitude or becoming pets. He then escapes with the help of a compassionate chimpanzee, and heads for the hills - or in this case, the Forbidden Zone - where the answers to his and the apes past are to be found.
In this humble critic's opinion where comparisons between the two versions of the story are inevitable, Burton and his trio of scribes have made some tactical mistakes and errors. While I can understand their desire to get the story going once the landing takes place, the end result considerably pales in relation to what occurred, and how it was presented, in the original.
In it, the surviving spacemen slowly discover the facts of their upside down turned world, including that of the desolate desert setting progressively leading to more and more life (and then the big surprise of talking apes) and Heston's character eventually being the only human who could speak (after a throat injury temporarily prevented that, all of which was a nice touch that added to his character's nightmarish new world).
Here, there's no time for exploration as Wahlberg's character is immediately thrust into the world where all of the humans speak and don't come off as the primitive beings found in the first - an important point regarding how the apes viewed and treated them. Here, the humans are obviously more dangerous to the status quo and that storytelling approach is interesting, but not explored to any satisfactory level.
Whereas that first film then explored the world of the apes and their society, this one races forward into an elongated chase flick that isn't overly effective in getting the viewer's juices flowing. Instead of decently staged chase and fight sequences, there's just general mayhem, many shots of various apes jumping to and fro and knocking humans around, and a directorial approach that isn't very impressive.
The worst element of the picture, however, is the filmmakers' attempts to outdo the original in regards to the concluding, big twist and shock. For those who don't remember, Charlton Heston's character rides off along the shore, ignoring the warning of Dr. Zaius that he won't like what he finds. That, of course, is a famous site, submerged in the sand, which answers the questions raised during the film.
Here, there's a two-part twist. The first, which I won't give away, is far too easy to figure out once a crucial plot development is unleashed quite a while before the revelation, and few will probably be surprised. The later one, which closes out the film, is supposed to be as jaw-dropping amazing as the discovery in the first.
Unfortunately, it isn't, and instead comes off as more goofy than shocking. While audiences are clearly more sophisticated today than back in the '60s, the original film's ending is unparalleled and fits in perfectly as a logical extension of everything that was slowly unveiled before it. Here, the effect comes off as shock just for shock's sake - even if it poses some interesting time travel questions - and viewers will likely pick it up a bit too quickly once the scene begins for it to have as much of a payoff as intended.
Where the film is better than the original is in its costume and makeup designs. Although I wasn't particularly crazy about all of the various individual ape characters looking so different from others in their own species, they do look more realistic than the molded masks that may have looked terrific decades ago, but still possessed that mask look.
Despite the obvious work that went into creating the film's look and sets, I felt that the film failed in overall production comparisons to the original, with too much of this one obviously being set on soundstages rather than in the "real" environs. In addition, the score from Danny Elfman ("Good Will Hunting," "Men in Black") clearly isn't as effective as Jerry Goldsmith's simple, yet highly memorable one heard in the first film.
The performances also don't stand up that well, with Wahlberg ("The Perfect Storm," "Three Kings") clearly not being as impressive as Heston, and Helena Bonham Carter ("Fight Club," "Wings of the Dove") - despite getting in the most credible acting - isn't as compelling as Kim Hunter's take on the similarly compassionate chimpanzee. Of course, some of that could be due to her and other ape characters behaving and speaking in far too much of a human and contemporary fashion (such as one female ape commenting on having a "bad hair day").
While none of the male apes compare to Maurice Evans playing the wiser than he appeared orangutan in the original, Tim Roth ("Rob Roy," "Reservoir Dogs") is effectively menacing and moves in the best ape-like fashion of them all. Paul Giamatti ("Man on the Moon," "Private Parts") is amusing in his role as the comic relief simian, but Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Whole Nine Yards," "The Green Mile") surprisingly loses some of his large-scale intimidation in all of the gorilla makeup and garb.
On the human side, Kris Kristofferson ("Blade," "A Star is Born") isn't around long enough to make much of an impression - for good or bad - and Estella Warren ("Driven") is present in something resembling the role played by Linda Harrison in the original, but isn't asked to do much other than look pretty, scared and show off her cleavage. Various cameos include Heston as an older ape - with a funny twist on dialogue from the first film - and Burton's steady, Lisa Marie, who appears in many of the director's films.
For those who don't remember or never saw the original, I suppose this version may be interesting, compelling or even exciting to those who don't ever get out of the house. For everyone else - especially those who love or at least admire the original, 1968 sci-fi classic - however, this effort comes off as nothing but a loud, overblown, inferior and completely unnecessary remake/retelling that's simply not very impressive from a storytelling aspect. Accordingly, 2001's "Planet of the Apes" rates as just a 4 out of 10.