The UnPopular Opinion: Planet of the Apes
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Back in 2001, we got the first new PLANET OF THE APES film after decades of attempts to restart the franchise. Everyone from Sam Raimi, Oliver Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Phillip Noyce, Stan Winston, James Cameron, and Chris Columbus were attached before Tim Burton stepped in to bring the project to fruition. The original vision for the film was closer to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES but through various permutations of the project we were left with a bigger budget take on the original novel by Pierre Boulle.
Tim Burton's PLANET OF THE APES was a box office success but a critical failure. Even castmembers and the director himself look back on the project with disdain. I have fond memories of the film and even think this version is the most fun of any chapter in the series. Despite flaws in the plot, PLANET OF THE APES was a fun summer action movie full of well designed set pieces and excellent special effects.
Mark Wahlberg does not like Wet Willies.
Back in 1968, PLANET OF THE APES was something that had never been seen before. It featured make-up effects unrivaled at the time along with an excellent screenplay developed from a draft by TWILIGHT ZONE mastermind Rod Serling. Combined with the original twist ending, PLANET OF THE APES was unlike anything released. The 21st century update does everything bigger, louder, and faster, holding true to most Hollywood action movies.
I recently criticized Mark Wahlberg for being the most boring part of THE FIGHTER because all of his supporting actors upstaged him in terms of performance. As one of the lone human characters in PLANET OF THE APES, Wahlberg does a great job of relating the fish out of water scenario for the audience. His Captain Leo Davidson is a more realistic portrayal of a man in an alien world than Charlton Heston was in the original movie. But, this is not a movie about the humans. Estella Warren, while super hot, is not exactly a top notch actress. She serves her purpose as eye candy here as Linda Harrison did in the original. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES needed a strong performance from James Franco because that movie was relating the downfall of Earth to the apes. Wahlberg is our gateway into this world and simply needs to take it all in as a surrogate for us. This movie is truly for the actors playing the apes to shine.
Man, Jennifer Aniston has let herself go.
Burton knew he was going to have to deliver a level of special effects in his PLANET OF THE APES that would rival the revolutionary effects in the 1968 version. He succeeds wonderfully. Where the primates all looked the same aside from some different fur color in the first movie, the remake gives us orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and more. The varied species on display in this movie is quite extraordinary. Even in the battle sequences where the apes go from a standing position to attacking on all fours, there is never a moment where you can see the zipper peeking through or the mask coming loose.
Much like Burton's MARS ATTACKS!, PLANET OF THE APES has a level of self-reference built into it. The actors all know they are playing a bunch of monkeys and they chew the scenery like crazy. Paul Giamatti and the late Michael Clarke Duncan in particular offer moments in the movie of cheezy perfection while Tim Roth's General Thade is a sadistic villain of the highest order. While Roth turned down the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series for this role, I think the end result was better for both films. No one can compete with Alan Rickman and Thade needed someone small and unpredictable to make this role work. Roth knocks it out of the park.
Are you-ooh-ooh-aah-ahh not entertained?!?!?
From a cinematography standpoint, Tim Burton is exceptionally restrained here. PLANET OF THE APES followed his work on SLEEPY HOLLOW and he would continue after this movie to make BIG FISH and then CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. This movie does share some classic Burton camera shots and set design, but PLANET OF THE APES is by far the least Burtonesque of the director's movies. But, I think if PLANET OF THE APES had all of the hallmarks of a BATMAN or a BEETLEJUICE, it would have been too hard to watch. Burton does retain some of his hallmarks, like the Danny Elfman score, which work well here as epic soundtracks go.
In the end, literally, the movie sets up one of the most batshit, out of left field cliffhangers in movie history. While Kevin Smith would accuse Burton of plaigarizing the Ape-raham Lincoln closing scene from a comic he wrote, it was a moment that sparked a lot of discussion. Tim Burton himself said the scene was not meant to make sense but rather set up a sequel. Burton has been quoted as saying he would rather jump out a window rather than make a sequel to this movie, which should give you an idea if we will ever see another in this style. With the massive success of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and the already scheduled DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, I doubt we will ever get a follow up to this version of the franchise. PLANET OF THE APES ranks as one of the better movies in the entire series and should be worthy of repeat viewings.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!