The revised franchise of Planet of the Apes has certainly been a big risk worth taking. It has grown into one of the most thought provoking and striking film franchises of the 21st Century. However, not all revisions of the Sci-Fi classic have been successful; in 2001, the notable attempt by director Tim Burton turned into what was for me, a disaster. Sure, it has the production design, make up and music that will stand the test of time, but everything else was about as successful as the Sinclair C5.
I think the best place to start with what went wrong, is the story. Overall, it is largely similar to the original narrative of 1968; set in the far future, Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlburg) is separated from his crew on his spaceship in a freak Ion storm and travels 3000 years into the future and crash-lands on an unknown world. There, he finds that Humanity is now second to highly intelligent Apes who use them as slaves and treat them no better as humans would treat them. Outraged at what has happened, he and a sympathetic female chimp named Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) decide to find out the mystery to how this all happened and to avoid conflict with a sinister Chimp general named Thade (Tim Roth). This all sounds very exciting, except that it isn’t; the dialogue has no depth, the characters seem too simplistic and the twist at the end of the film, I won’t talk about, but not for spoiler reasons. The shame in this is that it was written by William Broyles, Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, all great writers, so what on earth were they doing when they wrote this?
On paper, this is the kind of story that plays very well to the strengths of Director Tim Burton; very strange, off beat, yet enough commercial appeal to entice audiences from far and wide and it did, but looking at it now, it just doesn’t have that appeal. It almost feels, like a B-movie, which is strange. Don’t get me wrong, Tim Burton is a good director, but when it came to doing this, he seemed to have gotten a little muddled up with the original movie and his own style. This seemed to have an effect on the acting of this film; overall, its crap. Most of the people portraying apes, including Paul Giamatti, Michael Clarke Duncan and even David Warner seem to have had their performances dulled down thanks to all of that makeup and costumes; there is no real presence or power in what they do, and it’s the same story with the humans. Thanks to lacklustre dialogue, Mark Wahlburg and Estella Warren turn what should’ve been brilliant roles to play, into boring ones. Off to a bad start then, and then things get worse…
For a big film that has quite a lot of VFX shots involved, the majority of the VFX aren’t actually any good. I can sort see some homages to the classic film, but this film was released in 2001, a decade when VFX really started to take off with films like Lord of the Rings (Fellowship of the Ring) and the first Harry Potter film (The Philosophers Stone); this was when CGI and visual effect were good, so why did they decide to make the VFX in this film so bad? Perhaps the reason is, is that this is more of a practical film; lots of real explosions, stunts on horseback and interesting action sequences, and those work very well throughout, but that isn’t the case for the rest of the effects.
At least the sound designers and mixers did their jobs correctly. Like the original film and the remade franchise, the sound illustrates the two worlds that these species live in. Whenever you see the Apes, the sounds of civilisation and oppression aren’t that far away, whereas for the humans, everything is very calm and naturalistic. When both parties are in the mix, you can hear both worlds colliding with each other, not mixing, colliding; through just the mixing of the sound, we can see the relationship between the two species is not a friendly one, you don’t get this every day.
As with nearly every Tim Burton film, Danny Elfman is the composer and with nearly every collaboration, the music he has made has been nothing short of masterful. And in Planet of the Apes, his music follows in the footsteps of the music giant Jerry Goldsmith, but gives it some degree of modernity to make it seem a little more accessible to audiences. He has given the score a very primal feel, lots of percussion involved with very visceral themes at the heart of the film, yet it leaves enough room for adventure to creep in, to drive the audience’s attention forward with the rest of the story, not that they should be bothered by that. It is a very nice score for a Sci-Fi film, I think Jerry Goldsmith would be proud of it, if only it worked well with the story.
The real genius and true talent that went into making this film is in the physical aspects of production; the sets and makeup and the visual look of the film. As I mentioned before, there is some proper old-school stunts and effects featured and this style of production extends greatly into the sets and locations of the film. The desert wastelands surrounding the crashed mothership, the desolate swamps and thick forests of the Apes, the interiors of the Apes homes and the ship itself, everything has vast amounts of detail and colour thanks to production designer Rick Heinrichs. Films today can learn a lot from this, this was before the age of green-screen, before the release of Alice and Wonderland (2010).
Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot made his first collaboration with Tim Burton on this film and cemented the visual style and flare he created when filming big films like this one. He had given it a surprisingly soft feel to the light and shadow which altogether heightens the atmosphere of the planet; dark, dangerous and confusing to other lifeforms. This technique has allowed for the look of the film to feel more cinematic, more like it is trying to tell a story and not just bombard the audience with effects and explosions. Thanks to superb pacing from the editors Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron, the look of this film far exceeds that of the story.
And then we get to that part of production that was probably the best thing of the whole film; the makeup and costume design. We all know that the original film had John Chambers doing all of this, the man who also invented Spock’s ears for Star Trek. With this film, they employed Colleen Atwood to create the costumes and makeup for the Apes and what she made was astonishing. The detail on the skin and hair of the Apes is amazing, worthy of Chambers himself.
But, despite its unique visual style, practical effects, makeup and score, the film is not a memorable work of Tim Burton. Sure, it may have its plus points, but, like a lot of remakes, it will have to be confined to the dusty remnants of history.
I give this film a 3.5/10.