It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad Planet

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Directed by Tim Burton

(Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Michael Clarke Duncan)

Rated: PG13


“When you say Planet of the Apes and Tim Burton in the same breath, that idea is instantly explosive, like lightning on the screen.” Producer Richard D. Zanuck put into words what I could not, summing up my expectations for a film that, I hoped, would ultimately breathe life back into a dying summer movie season.

The opening titles accompanied by Danny Elfman’s main title score only fuel this anticipation. Elfman’s main titles prove why this man excels at his craft, an aggressive, visceral arrangement including 76 percussion tracks that rattles the teeth in your head and presses on both your bladder and adrenal glands.

Burton’s Apes begins when Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) – after evacuating a United States Air Force space station in a rescue mission for his lost chimp – is tossed around by an electro-magnetic space storm that causes him to crash land on an unidentified planet. Ruled by apes with a highly-structured government and army, the planet proves to Davidson that humans are the lowest primate on the evolutionary chain, and treated as so.

Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is not a remake of the 1968 film of the same name. And thankfully so – it is bad enough having once to endure Charlton Heston in a loin cloth. Although Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a wholly re-imagined vision of the classic Pierre Boulle novel, he does not completely allude to the fact that he is the second to envision Boulle’s work on film.

Burton pays homage (or is it mock tribute?) to the 1968 Charlton Heston classic several times, once in the early minutes of his film. After Davidson crash lands on the unknown planet and is herded into capture with a stampede of other humans, his hand brushes the leg of one of his captors. The largely intimidating Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) grumbles, “Get your stinkin’ hand off me, you damn, dirty human.” An un-credited and expected-as-they-come cameo in the role of General Thade’s gun-owning father is another nod to the ’68 film as well as the actor in the role.

Heavy on foreshadowing, Planet of the Apes overflows with thematic material. The film touches on everything from religion to politics to human rights to evolution. When one ape questions Davidson on both human intellect and technology, he responds, “The smarter we get, the more dangerous our world becomes.”

The film shows insight to these issues while keeping the banter short and simple, lending more of its energy to the overall product. Burton uses these ideas, such as the apes’ version of a religious birthplace, CALIMA, to hint at how he shapes up the end.

The cast is well-rounded from the stoic to the humorous. Tim Roth menaces as General Thade, the head of the simian army bent on ensuring martial law. Roth owns the screen in every sequence, a strength-based character that Roth fulfills in every aspect.

On the flip side of spectacular roles is the comic relief of Paul Giamatti as Limbo, the con-artist and slave trader of the apes. Giamatti’s Limbo has a joke for every occasion, and crawling out of a cage after a ferocious ape attack claims, “I was just about to make my move.”

The actors in the roles of the apes, as strong as they are, owe much of their performances to the costume and make-up teams that devised and applied the visual parts of their characters. Especially in the cases of Michael Clarke Duncan and Tim Roth, it is easier to imagine there are really talking apes than it is to imagine there are human actors beneath these facades.

Planet of the Apes did not prove my expectations wrong for the film. But if you set expectations too high, you have to get used to being a little disappointed. Every story has to start somewhere. But not every story has to end like a hokey episode of The Twilight Zone.

-Michael Goller