February 3, 2018

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth

What it's about. Mark Wahlberg is an American astronaut who crash-lands on his own planet after travelling through time several hundred years. Because it is a movie, he immediately encounters a tribe of stone-age humans hunted by Renaissance-age apes with comic book super-strength. Wahlberg is captured, along with elderly Kris Kristofferson and hottie Estella Warren. They are sold by ape slave trader Paul Giamatti to Helena Bonham Carter, the troublemaking daughter of high-ranking official David Warner.

Wahlberg and his new friends flee the city for Wahlberg's rescue space ship, which has landed nearby. On their trail is murderous general Thade (Tim Roth) and gorilla second banana Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan). Events move in predictable fashion toward a showdown by Thade's army and the human tribes, who have rallied around heroic Mark Wahlberg.

How others will see it. The Planet of the Apes reboot had a high budget but proved a box office smash, commanding more than 350M worldwide. Critics were mostly unimpressed, and the user ratings at imdb.com were middling at 5.7 out of 10. The user vote total, though, is impressive at nearly 200K. User reviews complain that the original did not require a remake (aside from the commercial necessity of a studio summer blockbuster) and that the story has been watered down for mass consumption.

How I felt about it. The film is considerably different from its more highly regarded 1968 predecessor. The earlier film had more consequential dialogue, a more credible plot, and a more complex philosophy. In this film, military conquest is bad, and so is cruelty and slavery. While all this is inarguable, it is perhaps delivered home without subtlety. Different also is the hero astronaut: Charlton Heston exudes manly righteousness, while Mark Wahlberg reacts as if he is trapped within a bad dream.

What hasn't changed are the two meaningful female roles. Estella Warren looks like a model in need of acting lessons, while her 1968 counterpart, Linda Harrison was a model whose mute character hardly required acting lessons. In the 1968 film, Kim Hunter played the liberal chimp, similar to Helena Bonham Carter here, but with inferior makeup.

But the 2001 remake isn't really any better or worse than the original, merely different. The pretentiousness of the 1968 version has been replaced by camp, epitomized by Paul Giamatti's rapacious slave trader Limbo. We are supposed to laugh at Giamatti, and find him human despite his apey get-up. We are also supposed to discern the worst human traits in power-mad ape Thade.

Meanwhile, the subjugated humans are nothing if not noble, aside from momentary sneering at house servant Erick Avari. In particular, a boy (Luke Eberl) is so determined to show bravery that he nearly gets Mark Wahlberg killed, though there is never any doubt that Wahlberg will drop everything and risk his life (and those of a thousand humans) to rescue Eberl from his own misguided and disobedient actions. Sadly, there is also never any doubt that Wahlberg will save him, and never make a pass at Estella Warren.

It's not such a bad movie. Sure, the humans should get slaughtered at the end, the pet chimp makes an improbable appearance, and the space ship log takes all of two minutes to locate and play. But while it is dumb, forgettable entertainment, everybody knows better than to take themselves seriously. And that helps.