Thursday, November 24, 2016

Needs More Johnny Depp, or Thoughts on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes

The most memorable aspect of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) is Rick Baker’s makeup, and the fact that there are actual human actors underneath all that latex and yak hair.  Similar to the 1968 original in many respects, the audience is transported to an alternate universe (literally an alternate universe in this case) where primates have developed into the dominant species and humans are their lesser-evolved cousins.
Mark Wahlberg portrays new character Leo Davidson as the movie spins off in an entirely new direction.  He works on a generic space station where he trains chimps in Lancelot Link-style space suits to fly drones, instead of say, actual drones.  Against orders, he follows his favorite chimp Pericles into an electromagnetic storm, encounters a wormhole and crash-lands on the ape planet. So far, so good.
Helen Bonham Carter, the future (and now ex) Mrs. Tim Burton takes over Kim Novak's role as Ari, the chimp scientist and human sympathizer with Tim Roth as General Pink (I mean Thade), the human hating gorilla.  Michael Clarke Duncan is Colonel Atar along with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as General Krull.  And look out for, or rather listen, because he is unrecognizable under his orangutan makeup for Paul Giamatti from Sideways (2004), The Illusionist (2006), American Splendor (2003) and Dr. Satan in The Haunted World of El Superbeasto  (2009) as Limbo, the sarcastic slave trader.
On the human side we have Kris Kristofferson, fresh off Blade (1998), but you may have forgotten his appearance as Mace Montana in Big Top Pee-Wee  (1988) playing Karubi, and Canadian supermodel Estella Warren as Daena.  The humans can speak in this remake; a critical miscalculation that I assume was added to distance this movie from the 1968 version.  Charlton Heston also has an unrecognizable and uncredited cameo as Zaius, General Thade’s father, along with Linda Harrison, who you remember as Nova from 1968, as one of the captured humans.
The movie has to be compared to 1968, a film that has since entered the popular consciousness.  The original Planet of the Apes can be viewed as a (kinda racist, if you think about it) civil rights metaphor, and Tim Burton does his best to continue the Chimps vs. Gorillas power struggle, but the larger issues addressed in the original quickly fall away.  Another disadvantage in remaking a movie where everyone knows the twist ending is that there’s no way to top it.  Ironically the new ending is closer to Pierre Boulle’s original 1963 novel but makes less sense in relation to the overall plot.
Mark Wahlberg has a certain physical presence but he’s no Ben-Hur.  Charlton Heston had a self-righteous arrogance as elitist movie star that he brought to every role; Mark Wahlberg has a cocky Boston working class persona that doesn’t work in a space opera.  Additionally, from a Tim Burton perspective, he’s too heroic and mainstream, he’s not a quirky outsider like a certain actor whose name rhymes with Donnie Jepp, or Lukas Haas in Mars Attacks! (1998) Michael Keaton in Batman (1989), or even Asa Butterfield in Miss Peregrine's Home for PeculiarChildren (2016).
And Tim Burton is not good with traditional sci-if, though Frankenweenie (2012), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and especially Mars Attacks! (1998) can be considered as sci-fi.  But Mars Attacks! is mid-century retro and those other movies are closer to steampunk.  Tim Burton’s vision of the future in Planet of the Apes is one we've seen already in a dozen movies, without referencing anything sentimental or visionary like 2001 (1968) or Alien (1979).  Though I will admit that the chimp spaceships from a contemporary perspective look like giant flying earbuds, much like the iconic design of the Star Trek communicators, so I’ll give him that.
The movie is far more comfortable at ape city where Tim can indulge in his affection for quirky architecture and grounds the audience in a more fully realized environment, and the costume design by Colleen Atwood is consistently great, and reminiscent of Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka’s work in Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).  The genius of this franchise lies in the title, this is a planet of the apes, and the audience knows exactly what they’re in for.  But it’s 15 minutes before the big reveal, that's almost 10% of screen time is spent on needless exposition and setup which has already been done for you before you even decide to watch this.
However Planet of the Apes is also notable for Tim Burton’s discovery of a money-making formula, diluting his considerable vision and talents for a more popular appeal and commercial success.  Like I said at the start of this review, the movie is worth watching for the monkey makeup, the only aspect where this version is vastly superior to the 1968 original.  And as for Mark Wahlberg?  He doesn’t even have blue eyes…

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).