Remakes Vs. Originals: Planet Of The Apes

It's ape vs. ape in this simian showdown between a classic Heston SF outing and a much-feared second attempt by Tim Burton...

In 1963 a writer named Pierre Boulle published a book named La Planète des singes, which translates from French as Monkey Planet. It followed the story of a man crashing a spaceship on a planet where humans are treated like animals, and aes are the dominant species.

It wasn’t long before the book was adapted for a screenplay, and only five years later (in 1968) Planet Of The Apes hit our screens and proved itself as an instant cult classic. The film captured the imaginations of people worldwide and only two years later we received the first of four sequels, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. This was quickly followed by Escape From, Conquest Of and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes.Apes mania’ had truly taken over, and after the films the public was treated to a further two Apes television series (both a live action, and an animated one).

It is safe to say that these films ruled the 1970s and changed the face of science fiction forever. So you can understand the horror brought to fans of the original by the announcement the film was being remade in 2001.

Tim Burton’s remake, or so called ‘re-imagining’ did well at the box office, but didn’t fare too well with critics, currently holding only a 32% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes and being viewed as an average film by many.

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Today I plan to revisit the two films, and find out which one comes out top trumps…

Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Planet Of The Apes actually doesn’t open with quite the bang it ends with (but I will get to that later). It instead opens with a small monologue from the star, Charlton Heston, who portrays an astronaut named Taylor. Taylor is accompanied by fellow astronauts Landon, Stewart and Dodge as they prepare for a long voyage back to Earth.

It isn’t long, however, (in typical science-fiction fashion) before our protagonists are faced with an impossible obstacle, as their ship plunges out of the sky and into a lake situated on a very desolate planet. Stewart is, surprisingly, killed in these first few minutes after Taylor discovers her hyper sleep pod has leaked and she has subsequently died. It seemed like all chances of a romantic sub plot had surely been killed (thank goodness).

The three remaining astronauts make their way to the shore and they swiftly find themselves hiking through the desert in search of fresh water; Heston takes this time to give Landon a lecture about how much he hates the people back on Earth. I really enjoyed the irony of this, the fact someone in search of something better than people could actually end up finding something worse!

The astronauts (after taking part in a rather amusing scene in which their clothes are stolen while they swim in a pool of fresh water) find their way to a large field of tall crops. Taylor instantly notices a group of humans dressed in rags and eating from trees, one of which is the beautiful Linda Harrison as Nova; it looked like the romantic sub plot was back on then, eh?

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The astronauts make their way to the field, but are interrupted when a group of apes come charging out of nowhere on horseback and wielding guns. Although this film does feel a tad dated in areas (such as the special effects and make-up) this moment still has something a little chilling about it. It’s something you really have to see to understand, as I struggle to find the right words.

Dodge fulfils his purpose in the typical use of the ‘black guy’ in a genre film, and is the first to be killed, after being shot by one of the apes. Landon follows in similar footsteps after being clubbed over the head and plunging off a cliff, only to be dragged away by one of the apes.

Taylor is finally taken down when he is shot in neck.

When Taylor awakens he finds that he has become temporarily mute due to the injuries he has sustained and is now housed in a small cage with Nova. At this point we have become fully aware that the humans are unable to talk, and the apes have somehow evolved to a stage where they are able to.

We are now introduced to an ape called Zira (who is a veterinarian); she quickly becomes intrigued by Taylor after he attempts to communicate with her. It is not said exactly how long Taylor is unable to speak, but we are shown a number of his attempts to convince Zira he is intelligent. An orangutan named Doctor Zaius soon shows his face, though, and as an audience we are made quickly aware of the fact he wants to prevent Taylor from letting Zira know he is intelligent.

Anyhow, Taylor eventually convinces Zira he is intelligent by writing his name on a piece of paper. Zira and her husband; Cornelius then mistakenly alert Zaius, who doesn’t hesitate to order that Taylor is castrated.

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Even though this film wouldn’t exactly be considered a horror film, and much of it is set in daylight, there is something surprisingly scary about it. I think it’s the persistence of the apes to see Taylor suffering and the fact it really does seem like there is no escape, no matter where he goes.

This doesn’t stop Taylor trying though, and we are treated to a rather thrilling chase scene in which Taylor is pursued by apes as he races through the city. Along the way he discovers Dodge’s stuffed body and when finally captured speaks probably the most memorable quote from the movie: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

Taylor is quickly put to trial by the apes (in a parody of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial). Taylor announces that he came to the planet with two other astronauts, and insists that Landon may still be alive. The apes have, sadly, however, got to him first, and Landon has been subjected to a primitive lobotomy, rendering him useless to Taylor’s case. This moment has always disturbed me for some reason, as it confirms the brutality of the apes. The idea of ever being given one of their homemade lobotomies really does scare me.

In order to save Taylor from his punishment, Zira and Cornelius take him and Nova to a small cave in ‘The Forbidden Zone’, the area outside ape city where Taylor originally crashed (this area is explored further in the sequel). The build-up for the explosive finale was now well under way. After taking refuge in the cave, Zira, Cornelius, Taylor, Nova and Zira and Cornelius’ rather annoying nephew (who just seemed to pop up from no-where) are surrounded by apes from the city, all of which are wielding guns. Heston emerges from the cave, and quickly disables an ape, stealing his weapon. A couple of shots later and Heston prevails (it really is amazing how a small army of apes can be frightened off by a couple of shots from a very dodgy looking gun).

Everyone knows what happens next, and I have to admit I had become a little fidgety in those last few scenes just waiting to see this part. Taylor and Nova travel along the beach on horseback, and in a moment that truly made cinematic history, Heston discovers the top half of the Statue of Liberty emerging from the sand.

This end was spectacular, and all in all, the film was pretty much flawless (the same can’t be said for the sequels unfortunately, but I will save them for another time). Although some of the effects didn’t live up to today’s standards and some of the acting was just average, it still proved for a very interesting watch and as much as I really love this film, I still felt that a remake wouldn’t do much harm.

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How wrong could I be, though?

Planet Of The Apes (2001)

Before reviewing this film, I would first just like to say I am fully aware of the problems this film suffered during its production, and although I feel that being aware of this can help you understand a film a lot more, today I will be looking at it purely on its own merits, taking little of this into consideration. I’m reviewing the film, not the situation.

This version opens on a space-station named the Oberon where we are introduced to the film’s hero, Leo Davidson, who is portrayed by Mark ‘Wooden’ Wahlberg, whose performance. I am sad to say, really does nothing for me.

Don’t get me wrong here, he fulfilled his duty, but just brought nothing fresh to the role; he failed to do anything with the lines he was given, instead choosing to just read them out as they were written, providing what I thought was a very poorly executed performance.

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Anyway Leo’s partner (a chimp named Pericles) finds himself hurtling through space in a small vessel and Leo wastes no time in chasing after him in order to save him. I feel they did this to replicate Taylor’s clear dislike for humans in the original. However, this was never confirmed, leaving me baffled as to why Leo would risk his own life to save a monkey.

What happens next doesn’t deviate from the original very much. Leo is sucked into a small portal in space, and crashes his vessel on a mysterious planet. When Leo emerges he is introduced to a very lush and green environment.  

This is something which does deviate from the original, but for me made more sense. After all, it’s a lot more likely an ape would reside in a jungle rather than a desert. After only a few more minutes Leo is introduced to the primitive humans who are being hunted by the more intellectual apes. One thing I did notice here was the fact that the humans could actually speak in this version, which almost defeats the point the original was attempting to make.

After Leo is rather predictably captured, he has his first encounter with Michael Clarke Duncan as Attar. I think Duncan really was born to play this role; there is something about it that fits so well. He looks brilliant in the gorilla make-up, and manages to bring a lot of anger to the role, which is exactly what’s needed. He also manages to squeeze in the line “Take your dirty hands off me, you damn dirty human”, which was a nice tribute to the original line spoken by Charlton Heston. (It was beginning to seem like not all the casting in this film was bad.)

Another good performance shows up in the form of Helena Bonham Carter as Ari, an ape who protests the treatment of humans by the apes. Ari buys Leo and another slave, a woman named Daena. A love triangle is quick to be formed between the three, and although being a good idea, was never really explored as much as it could have been.

The three of them set free a number of other humans, and together they form a rebellion against the apes, planning to escape to an area similar to ‘The Forbidden Zone’ in the original, where Leo believes his ship is waiting for him.

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It was clear by this point that this film really lacked a lot of the depth the original had, and rather than following the mysterious ape society, it chose to follow the humans as they ran away from it, which, to say the least, was a tiny bit of a mistake in my eyes.

Kris Kristofferson makes a surprising appearance as Daena’s father, but doesn’t last long as he sacrifices himself to help the others escape. He is disposed of by the formidable Thade (portrayed by Tom Roth, who gives a terrifying performance).

When Leo and his band of humans finally reach their destination they discover a large black structure emerging from the ground. This is later revealed as the remnants of the Oberon, which, although being a good twist, was a little predictable.

Leo discovers that the apes the ship was originally housing went mad for some reason after the ship crashed and escaped onto the planet, meaning the apes Leo has encountered are their descendants.

The highlight of the film finally arrives when the humans go to battle with the apes, which is eventually interrupted by Pericles who shows up in his small vessel. Roth takes centre stage now as he has one final showdown with Leo, in which Pericles is dramatically killed. Thade eventually ends up trapped in a small room on the ship, and is last seen huddled in a corner.

I feel this film had generally been average until this point, but the ending I was provided with really failed to please me. In fact, I won’t hold back on this one, it was diabolical.

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Leo uses Pericle’s craft to travel back through the portal he entered through, and lands back on Earth, only to discover the humans have all been replaced with apes. This was extremely stupid, and I would rather they had just nicked the ending from the original.

Although featuring some brilliant performances, some brilliant sets and some brilliant costumes, this film is sadly overwhelmed by the lack of depth or explanation the original had. The characters are never fully explored, nor are their relationships with each other. The apes society is also only briefly touched on and it just generally felt like the producers were assuming I would understand everything.

There is no denying this film features a lot of nice little touches, such as a cameo from Charlton Heston, a brief appearance by Linda Harrison and plenty of quotes from the original, but to truly appreciate them you really do need to watch that 1968 version.

So for the second time in a row, the original has prevailed and the remake is left looking rather embarrassed in a corner.

Will the remake stand triumphant next time? You’ll have to wait and see…