Directed by Tim Burton
Written by William Broyles Jr. and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
The Planet of the Apes franchise is such a strange beast, a relic of weird 60s / 70s sci-fi that managed to honestly work way more than it ought to have. Of course, the sequels had a little higher hit or miss than the Charlton Heston original, but the thought to remake the film 30 years later seems like such an odd decision to me. In 2001, this is also before our current foray into IP, sequel, remake land we largely find ourselves in with the current studio strategies. But if you were going to remake a weird film from the 60s in 2001, Tim Burton does at least seem the perfect choice to direct it. Burton and I have a very mixed bag relationship. For the most part, I usually do not take well to his aesthetic. However, there have been occasional spurts of brilliance where I can see what most others already do: genius. So can he resurrect this franchise by using his creativity and imagination?
In this iteration of the Pierre Boulle novel, quite a lot of the details have changed, but the essence of the story remains. Captain Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is part of a space exploration mission, using monkeys to help explore space, when, after losing one of his apes, he steals a pod to go after it. Caught up in a galactic storm, Davidson is sent through a time warp to the future, where he crash lands on a planet run by apes, where humans are slaves. He meets up with the curious Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), who eventually helps him and other humans (Estella Warren) escape the wrath of the militaristic Thade (Tim Roth). With the help of both Ari and the weak, but aptly named Limbo (Paul Giamatti), the humans make a final stand against their ape oppressors.
As I said, they changed an awful lot in this film compared to the original, which is both a blessing and a curse. Creating a carbon copy would have been a pretty useless approach, so I appreciate the attempt to put a new spin on an old story, but ultimately the changes that were made pull the rug out from under everything that worked so well in the original, principally the on-the-nose allegories. Thade, as a chimp, should never have been made the military zealot. The way the original makes clear differences between chimps, gorillas and orangutans works so beautifully, it should have never been touched. The other HUGE change was making the other humans be able to talk. They are still the slaves of the apes, but by making them speak, it does not make Davidson stand out, and does not create the same amount of shock and confusion that Taylor experiences.
All of these changes make it easier for the filmmakers to get into the content of the film they are trying to communicate, but that’s merely a sci-fi action blockbuster that just doesn’t work. Wahlberg is not yet the star he became later, and doesn’t have the charisma to carry this action movie. And Estella Warren as the Nova equivalent is not nearly as interesting or impactful in the love interest role. So what Tim Burton manages to accomplish with Planet of the Apes is to throw away all the things that worked with the original and made it interesting, and instead insert a lot of inane blockbuster cliches that don’t work, especially with a largely wasted cast. Overall, the cast is incredible: Wahlberg, Roth, Bonham Carter, Clarke Duncan, Roth, Kristofferson, Giamatti, etc. But none of it is enough to save this trainwreck of a film. I can’t believe how much they went away from what made the original great. A shame.