Planet of the Apes

on July 27, 2001 by Michael Tunison
   You'd think if the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule applied to a single sci-fi film, it would be the 1968 fan favorite "Planet of the Apes," a magical blend of speculative ideas and B-movie creature action that holds up remarkably well three decades and several generations of special-effects technology later. Undaunted by "Ape's" exalted position in the genre canon, fantasy stylist Tim Burton ("Batman," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow") has put together an artistically cranked-up remake that improves on many aspects of the original--most everything, in fact, except the simple, clear storytelling that made it a classic in the first place.

   The updated setup follows a fearless pilot ("The Perfect Storm's" Mark Wahlberg) from the year 2029 as he accidentally travels through a strange outer-space disturbance and crash-lands on a topsy-turvy world where apes have evolved to be the dominant species, with humans as their cowering pets and slaves. Like Charlton Heston's bare-chested astronaut from the original, Wahlberg's hero quickly uses his advanced intellect to rebel against the oppressive, iron-age ape establishment, aided by a human-sympathizing simian (Helena Bonham Carter, "The Wings of the Dove") and the inevitable scantily-clad human female sidekick (supermodel-turned-actress Estella Warren).

   While the Cold War-era "Apes" worked the concept for all the post-apocalyptic doom and gloom it could muster, director Burton's more idiosyncratic version takes almost the opposite tack, playing situations for goofy, self-referential humor and treating even the action sequences only half-seriously. On the visual side, Burton, production designer Rick Heinrichs and creature makeup master Rick Baker push the depiction of the leaping, amazingly expressive apes and their distinctively Burtonesque dark-storybook environment to a level filmmakers could scarcely have imagined in 1968. But for all the impressive creativity and craftsmanship that went into their cutting-edge visual monkeyshines, this "Apes" never generates anything close to the narrative power of director Franklin J. Schaffner's more streamlined original. Damn these dirty humans and their need to get their paws on what should be left alone! Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren and Paul Giamatti. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck. A Fox release. Sci-fi/Action. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence. Running time: 119 min

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