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Planet Of The Apes (2001)
Director: Tim Burton

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Touted as a 're-imagination' of the ape-planet concept, the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes aptly demonstrates that there is little imagination left in Hollywood. Indeed, this film is a classic example of style over substance. What is most disappointing, however, is that Tim Burton appears to have sold out to the Hollywood machine. Given that the man’s last creation was Sleepy Hollow, a quirky yet compelling dark fantasy, I cannot believe that this is his take on the Pierre Boulle novel or the original 1968 production.
   Rather than give a brief synopsis of Burton's version, I will instead focus on how the original version was vastly superior to this waste of celluloid. Visually, the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes is beautifully executed, but this eye candy has no substance. The ape makeup was designed by Rick Baker, no stranger to ape work (Greystoke and Gorillas in the Mist, among others), and as a result the face appliances are incredible. The costumes are interesting (these were done by Colleen Atwood, who worked with Burton on Edward Scissorhands), as is the music by Danny Elfman (Batman).
   My principal problem with this version of Planet of the Apes is its meandering, superficial approach to storytelling, particularly when compared to the original. There is no imagination in this picture and, far worse, it takes away completely the social significance crafted by the original ape series. The following four sections compare the 1968 version to the 2001 version.
Comparison 1
   In 1968, the apes had established a class system: chimps were intellectuals, gorillas were militaristic, and orangutans were administrators. These classes were based on natural observations. For example, gorillas have great strength and chimps are curious and intelligent. This class system bred interspecies discrimination. Remember Zira’s evaluation of Dr Zaius? She says, "you know how he looks down his nose at chimpanzees." It also explains certain predilections, such as why chimps are more tolerant of humans (they are curious about everything, including human behavior). It also shows why the apes are so easy to judge humans as inferior — if racism exists within their own species, then it must exist to a greater degree when judging another species.
   No class system exists in the 2001 version. Instead, Burton paints a broad canvas of good and evil. To be good, you must want social change, and as a result Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) drips with political correctness. Why does Ari think like this? The film never explains. To be evil, you must be militaristic, and as a result Thade (Tim Roth) is made to reflect the most psychotic of soldiers, power-hungry and murderous. Why is Thade like this? The film never explains.
Comparison 2
   In 1968, the apes despise humans because of their destructive nature. During the film Dr Zaius has many lines that reflect his contempt, and more importantly, his fear of humans. When Zaius tells Taylor that humans "make battle with everything around them," he is letting Taylor know that if humans ever regain their ability to think as humans — and not merely live through instinct — they will destroy the world. Here’s another Zaius line: "The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise; your breed made a desert of it."
   In 2001, the chimps aboard the star cruiser rebel for no unknown reason. The apes rule over humans, but their hate is unfounded. Racism does not exist in a vacuum, but Burton is unwilling to explore why the apes hate humans so much. Complicating matters is that humans talk. Why are the humans weaker, given that they have a language? According to the film, the human once had technical knowledge — did they forget it? Remember the lengths to which Zaius went to in the original film to quell talking? The good doctor lobotomised Landon!
Comparison Three
   In 1968, Charlton Heston created Taylor, a caustic, hermit-like human who believes that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than mankind. Ironically, Taylor must defend the human race he despises so much. He also discovers what loneliness really feels like, at one point telling Nova, "Imagine that, me needing someone." Taylor is 'dead' at the beginning of the film, and as the story progresses, he learns to live again.
   In 2001, Mark Wahlberg plays Leo Davidson like a cardboard cutout action hero. Walking through scene after scene, showing very little emotion, Davidson’s only interest is to leave the monkey planet. Along the way he stirs up a revolution he really doesn’t want a part in and in the end leaves for home. Davidson never comes alive. As for a love story, Burton blows it, having Davidson peck Ari but then turn and 'tongue' Daena (Estella Warren). Neither love interest is developed, so the kisses come out of left field.
Comparison 4
   In 1968, Dr Zaius did what he had to do to preserve his breed. When Lucius asks Zaius, "what about the future?" Zaius responds: "I may just have saved it for you." This is a powerful line, given that Zaius is attempting to suppress the truth so that humans never again seek dominance.
   In 2001, there are no secret conflicts. Apes hate humans; it's that simple. As a result, there is little tension, just a lot of senseless violence. Boring!
   As you can see, Hollywood movie-making has fallen apart. Instead of focusing on the script, modern filmmakers focus on special effects. Although described as camp by many critics, the original Planet of the Apes had much more to say than this re-imagining. This is a horrible trend in Hollywood, particularly when it comes to science fiction films. I can only hope that it stops.

Related pages:
tZ  - read an overview of the orginal Planet of the Apes film series
Planet Of The Apes
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