*½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A+
starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Estella Warren
screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
directed by Tim Burton
by Walter Chaw A failure of sense, a failure of cohesion, and, most remarkably for director Tim Burton, a failure of atmosphere, Planet of the Apes is a messianic space opera fantasy in the Dune mold that never goes anywhere and takes its time getting there. Rick Baker's special effects make-up is spectacular, no question, but the screenplay by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal is a trite, bloated thing further crippled, ironically, by the make-up (which tends to slur speech), and by the abominable last-minute slap-dash editing that condemns Planet of the Apes to a conspicuous lack of poetry. The script's failings should come as no surprise: These three hack screenwriters have produced between them such cinematic dead weight as Apollo 13, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Jewel of the Nile, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. What does come as a considerable shock--as well as a considerable disappointment--is the almost total lack of anything resembling the quirky neo-expressionistic ethos that has made Tim Burton one of our most vital and interesting directors.
Mark Wahlberg's air force space jockey/primatologist Leo Davidson is attached, sometime in the distant future, to a spacecraft engaged in the dual tasks of training chimps to fly exploration vehicles and, apparently, examining deep space electrical storms. When Leo's favourite chimp, Pericles, is lost to one such storm/wormhole, Leo impertinently jumps into a pod in pursuit. (If you're familiar with the historical Pericles and his importance to Athens, incidentally, the monkey Pericles's role suddenly becomes exceedingly predictable.) Leo is deposited on a mysterious planet that is ruled by the highly evolved variations of three primate species: ape, chimpanzee, and orangutan. That there is such an egalitarian caste system established amongst the species, with each group represented in positions of power in the military and the government, calls into question the central conflict of the film concerning the plight of humans forced into servitude.
Word somehow spreads of Leo's presence and his ill-defined mystical "difference" and, along with sympathetic chimp Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter), Leo unites large numbers of humans in a desperate battle against their monkey oppressors, who are led by evil chimp General Thade (Tim Roth) and noble gorilla Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan). That the presence of humans (and horses) at all on this planet is never adequately explained is but one of several startling lapses in logic that riddle the plot.
To match Baker's remarkable prosthetics, the actors were rigorously trained in the subtleties of primate speech patterns and movement to decidedly inhuman results. The highlight of the film comes in an all-too-brief seriocomic vignette involving the humans running through bed chambers of apes engaged in all manner of alien mating, vanity, or hygiene habits preparatory to slumber. Unfortunately, once all the technical wizardry buffering its lifeless centre has been stripped away, Planet of the Apes assaults its audience with a collection of interminable set-pieces, banal monologues, guillotine-edited and perplexing transitions, unbearable strains of credulity, and a dedicated avoidance of satirical or sociological relevance. One has a right to expect more than tired second-hand PETA slogans and watered-down Animal Farm irony from the director of such a dark and intellectually complicated fable as Edward Scissorhands.
When not listless and sodden, Burton's Planet of the Apes offers repetitive action sequences and, ultimately, a twist ending that is astounding for the extent to which Burton takes his audience for granted. The film as a whole is sloppy and very boring (once the "wow" of Baker's work wears off, which is quickly) and, with the exception of Helena Bonham-Carter's militantly liberal chimp and Tim Roth's militantly conservative chimp, possessed of zero performances of particular resonance. Worse, Planet of the Apes seems content to rest on the majesty of its special effects and neglect the necessity for placing those effects in the context of an interesting story peopled (monkeyed?) with compelling characters. The über-bland Michael Clarke Duncan in a hi-tech ape suit, for example, is just that.
In a film at least ancillary about evolution (the fifth this summer behind Evolution, A.I., Jurassic Park III, and, arguably, The Animal), it seems piquant that this Planet of the Apes is actually a good deal dumber (with the exception of a wry cameo by former NRA-head Charlton Heston) than the 1968 original, its stupefaction affected to accommodate, I suspect, Hollywood's prevailing view that the viewing public has gotten denser in the intervening years. Judging by the relative box-office failures of 2001's equally dim-witted Pearl Harbor and A.I., I wouldn't be so quick with that assumption.
by Bill Chambers There are basically two types of Special Edition DVD: the promotional (for new releases) and the retrospective (for older, proven titles). The former tends to be a lot fluffier--its extras aim to put you at ease for purchasing a disposable film but don't have much merit in their own right. In the latter, there's little at stake, the participants can and do say whatever they want; witness William Friedkin's acerbic comments within The French Connection: Five Star Collection's supplements. There are exceptions to both, of course, and Fox's 2-Disc SE of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, from this site's favourite DVD producer David Prior, is a glaring one to the promotional kind: Although there's not a lot of self-criticism going on, the bonus material has a breadth and depth that is an endangered species now that the masses have started to embrace DVD and demand the format's dumbing-down.
The first platter sports a top-drawer THX-approved transfer of Planet of the Apes in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Burton's oeuvre seems to alternate between diffused and razor-edged in appearance; Planet of the Apes boasts of softer images from acclaimed cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (A River Runs Through It) that look lovely here, with the often-dim picture having superb definition. (Be sure to run the THX signals from the main menu for optimal quality.) While they both sound terrific, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is outperformed by the DTS track, which gives a necessary boost to the volume of dialogue and adds some dimensionality to the discrete surrounds. If you're hungry for a great demo piece, try Wahlberg's crash landing on the Ape planet--prior to that, I had been lamenting the lack of aural fireworks (Danny Elfman's main title theme is sonically 'small'), but not after.
Also on Disc One, an "enhanced viewing mode" that's a combination of 'white rabbit' (click when the symbol pops-up to watch making-of vignettes, many centred around the film's CGI-work) and picture-in-picture pods that contain soundbites and other items of interest, glimpses into the construction of sets and such. The only drawback is that you can't kill two birds with one stone by having Tim Burton's or Danny Elfman's commentary playing between items. On that note, Prior coaxes one of Burton's better yak-tracks out of him, though the director pauses often and doesn't stick to the action at hand, a defensible trait when one considers the mental prowess it would take to intellectualize the none-too-coherent Planet of the Apes. Elfman's (excellent) commentary shares space with his score plus isolated sound effects. Cast/crew profiles, NUON stuff, and a DVD-ROM script-to-screen/storyboard function round out the disc.
The above in itself would've qualified as an outstanding DVD for such a mediocre, if profitable, film. But Prior, a filmmaker in his own right, loves process (as his Fight Club and Die Hard: Five Star Collection DVDs showed)--he comes at Planet of the Apes from every angle: We're shown the backstage rigours with a completeness that might be unparalleled, and with an intimacy that definitely is. The second platter is divided into six rotating sections (it's a neat bit of animation), each one assigned a different aspect of the film's inception. A brief summary:
1.THE MAKING OF THE APES
Simian Academy (24 mins.)
Every effort was made to transform the human players into primates; this documentary takes us inside former Cirque de Soleil star Terry Notary's "Ape School" as well as a subdivision for the apes. ("Human School," natch.) We learn that putting gloves on a chimpanzee ain't easy ("How much videotape you got in that camera?" trainer Mike Alexander asks) and get to see and hear a good-humoured Helena Bonham-Carter, who wasn't exactly Notary's star pupil, attempt to master breathing techniques and poor posture.
Face Like a Monkey (30 mins.)
I had high hopes for the Rick Baker segment on the Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Collector's Edition DVD, but it was found wanting. Baker's other large-scale assignment of late gets the definitive treatment here: a tour of the make-up guru's workshop, early prostheses tests, and various condensed sessions in the make-up chair are interspersed with a forthright Baker lamenting the casting of Tim Roth (his nose was too big for the application Baker had devised) and even confessing initial qualms about working with Burton on the project, fearing the director would demand overstylized--i.e. Burtonian--simians. (Aside: One of the Polaroids decorating Paul Giammatti's mirror depicts him as Andy Kaufman's alter ego, Tony Clifton.)
Ape Couture (7 mins.)
Costume designer Colleen Atwood discusses the stress that Planet of the Apes put on her sewing machines. A glimpse of Bonham-Carter's dreadlocked "princess" drag (the character was later revised to be a senator's daughter) makes one wish the film had stuck with it.
Dry runs at make-up, costumes, group shots, stunts, and movement--four for each--are organized in respective quadrants, à la Mike Figgis's Timecode. You can listen to whichever window you please with a few simple clicks.
Chimp Symphony, Op. 37 (10 mins.)
It's two months until Planet of the Apes' theatrical release date. Danny Elfman is conducting a hodgepodge orchestra on the same recording stage that Jerry Goldsmith used for the original Planet of the Apes. Though Elfman claims to create from an emotional place, he rationalizes his motivations very well.
On Location-Lake Powell, Arizona (12 mins.)
Lake Powell stood in for the site of Taylor's violent arrival in 1968's Planet of the Apes. Burton and co. went back there in hommage, albeit to shoot a dissimilar set-piece. We discover that Mother Nature is no match for teamsters with a propane tank.
Swinging from the Trees (10 mins.)
Stunt co-ordinator Charlie Croughwell gives up a trade secret to our awe in this examination of the primitive mechanisms devised to put spring in the apes' steps. Perhaps the most shocking revelation, however, is that all those apes Braveheart-ing towards our heroes were filmed against a bluescreen--matting has come a long way, baby.
Multi-angle/multi-audio behind-the-scenes perspectives of four sequences from Planet of the Apes. An innovative "navigation bar" enables you to view the appropriate art or script passage for the sequence or the sequence itself in finished form.
Five wise trims from a non-linear source. In the best one, Estella Warren asks Leo if he thinks Ari is jonesing for him--she's obviously trying to find out if Leo and Ari's attraction is mutual.
HBO's "The Making of Planet of the Apes" isn't as thorough as any of Prior's featurettes, but it has a gritty style that's a welcome change of pace as these things go. (Call it Michael Clarke Duncan: Truth or Dare.) This is also where to go for trailers (2--4 if you count Moulin Rouge and Dr. Dolittle 2), TV spots (6), posters (with all due respect, the film had a hideous marketing campaign), a reproduction of the press kit, a commercial for the soundtrack album, and Paul Oakenfield's so-lame-it's-cool "Rule the Planet" remix.
Information on Disc One's exclusive ROM content in addition to Disc Two's: kid-geared DVD-ROM excerpts from "Leo's Logbook" and the "Jr. Novella" of Planet of the Apes.
Step through "scenes" and "props" still galleries, fifteen in total.
This DVD is more fun than a barrel of puns. Don't hate it for being attached to a rudderless "re-imagining" of an allegorical classic. (Friend and FILM FREAK CENTRAL contributor Vincent Suarez hit the nail on the head when he called it a "de-imagining" in passing conversation.) David Prior's exhaustive package verifies that an enormous amount of elbow grease--and genius--went into conceptualizing this Planet of the Apes, contrary to the film's aggregate value. Originally published: November 10, 2001.
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