Revisiting Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes

The film that even Tim Burton would probably admit wasn't his finest hour: it's the remake of Planet Of The Apes...

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!” – Colonel Attar

The Recap

After ending the 90s on the hugely successful Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton was to follow up with what could be considered a very unusual project. Becoming widely known as the first re-imagination of a movie, Burton took us back to the Planet Of The Apes.

In the near future (2029, to be exact) astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is working with primates on the spaceship Oberon, who have been trained specifically to deal with space missions. When one of Leo’s favourite primates, Pericles, enters a storm in his pod and disappears he soon chases after him, Leo loses contact with the ship and crashes on a planet in the year 3002, which he soon discovers is ruled by humanoid apes that treat humans as slaves.

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Leo is caught and sold as a slave with another human Daena (Estella Warren) to chimpanzee Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) who disagrees with the treatment of humans and soon joins their cause and allows Leo to escape with the other humans and form a rebellion. They are soon chased by General Thade (Tim Roth) and Colonel Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) who want to stamp out the trouble makers swiftly.

The humans come across Calima, a holy site for the apes. Once inside, Leo discovers the remains of the Oberon and the sign ‘Caution Live Animals’ which the name of the temple comes from. From the logs he ascertains that the ship has been there for many thousands of years and that the humans had been taken by surprise by a mutiny by the apes whose decedents now rule the planet.

As battle lines are drawn between the apes and the humans a space pod comes down from the sky carrying Pericles. When he lands, the apes take it as a sign that he is the first ape, effectively their god, who has come back to their planet. They bow down and the bad feeling between humans and apes is no more.

General Thade, however, is still unhappy with the human’s defiance and chases Leo through the body of the Oberon, where he is trapped in the pilot’s deck. Taking the working ship that Pericles arrived on, Leo leaves to go back through the electrical storm to take him back home. He crashes into Washington D.C only to find the Lincoln Memorial is now a monument to General Thade and he is soon arrested by a swarm of ape policemen.

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Thoughts & Reaction

I could just finish this piece by saying this film isn’t particular very good and if you want to see a superior film then check out the original but that would be unfair to those who actually took the time to read the above!

A bit of a poisoned chalice, the remaking of Planet Of The Apes started life off in 1988 when director Alan Rifkin pitched an idea for an alternative sequel to the first film to 20th Century Fox. Enthused with the idea, they fast tracked it into production with Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen both in contention for the leading role. However, before the project got put in front of the camera, the movie was axed by the new executive of the studio.

The project was abandoned by Rifkin but soon picked up again by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh but, again, the idea did not come fully to fruition due to executives’ lack of interest.

In the early 90s, director Oliver Stone was linked to the project and got as far as fleshing out a script and attaching a big name star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to star as lead character Will Robinson. Again, studio involvement in wanting to change the movie to more family friendly fare resulted in Stone leaving the project.

The next director to sign on was Chris Columbus, who after doing some ground work, which included tests of apes skiing. He left the project to produce Jingle All the Way, ironically starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Fox next offered the director’s role to Roland Emmerich with James Cameron as writer and producer. Both turned the offer down. The role was then offered again to Peter Jackson, who had since lost interest in the project, Sam Raimi, Michael Bay and The Hughes Brothers, all of whom turned it down.

By 1999, a new script began to float around Hollywood that caught the attention of Burton and once he was signed up the film was quickly green lit and pushed for a summer 2001 release.

Burton has mentioned in various interviews after the film was released that he was far from happy with the finished product, and after viewing it you can see why. The script feels like it needed something else to it to make it more dimensional. Although both this version and the 1968 original are about the quest to get home and escape this alien reality, there just seemed to be so much more at stake with the original and the threat was far greater than that in the reboot. I rarely felt the character of Leo was in immense danger, while the character of Taylor in the original was always almost one step away from death.

The script isn’t helped by the cast put in place for this movie, all of whom seem to be almost awkward in their roles. But it is the actors behind the masks who actually pull off the more convincing performances. Tim Roth is very pantomime villain as General Thade and Paul Giamatti is good as the comic relief in the form of Limbo. However, I am still uncertain if this is the type of film that requires such a comedic character.

I have to say none of the other actors really do much for me and this isn’t a total criticism of their performance, but the lack of an engaging script and plot which makes them all rather forgettable. Mark Wahlberg was never and is never going to be as fine an actor as Charlton Heston and he doesn’t try to be. Thus, he is just your run of the mill action hero.

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Thankfully, however, this movie has one saving grace which is the creation of the apes which rule the planet. Sticking to his guns as he has done so much in the past, Burton insisted that the apes’ makeup needed to be prosthetic and not computer generated. He also wanted the actors playing the primates to move, run and sit like them, making them all attend ape school before filming began. This does make the world of difference on screen and is the only thing that is superior to the original movie.

Filming wrapped on Planet Of The Apes in April 2001 and with a release date of July looming ahead the movie was rushed through the final stages of production and was released to much financial if not critical success right on time. Although Fox mooted a sequel, one never arrived, which may have to do with the fact Burton stated he would rather jump out of a window than revisit the franchise.

Burton’s next project would be an adaptation of a book about the power of storytelling and the bond between a father and son. Next time I will be looking at Big Fish.

Planet of the Apes Key InfoReleased: 27th July 2001 (US) / 17th August 2001 (UK)Distributed By: 20th Century FoxBudget: $100,000,000Box Office Gross: $362,210,000Best DVD Edition: Planet of the Apes Definitive Edition