Thursday, June 5, 2014

Planet of the Apes (2001)

In 2001, when it was announced that Fox had brought on Tim Burton to helm the remake of Planet of the Apes, I’d become a bit interested.  Especially in seeing that we’d come a long way in movie technology, specifically in the special effects realm of it, I had actually agreed silently that the film had garnered the need for a reboot.  Of course it was no surprise that Danny Elfman would take the music score position, as he has done on most of Burton’s films, but it definitely sweetened the deal that he was brought on board.  However, the one addition to the production of this film was the one and only, Rick Baker—make-up artist extraordinaire.

At this point in my life, I’d been familiar with the 1968 original, knowing full well it was a Charlton Heston vehicle that’s been world renowned as a classic.  Besides seeing bits and pieces of it over the years, when it happened to be on TV, I’d never fully watched the original from beginning to end (about a year ago, I did, so please, no hate mail).

Seeing it as a golden opportunity, I decided to go out and purchase the book that the films were based on.  Upon doing so, I’d learned a bit about the novel and the author who had written in.  Turns out that the author, Pierre Boulle, is French and the book was originally written in French.  Only after its popularity had it been translated to English and other languages around the world, where it had become established.  All that aside, I found the book to be very interesting and entertaining, keeping the original film in my head as I’d gone through the book.  Now, I know I’d mentioned that I’d never fully watched the original movie, but I knew enough about the look of the characters and sets to plant it firmly in my brain so as to enjoy the novel even more.

Without giving anything away—I don’t want to give up any spoilers in this review—I knew one thing about the original film and that was the ending.  After finally seeing the 1968 original a while back, I was able to see how this would be a big shock to the moviegoers of the late 60s.  If you do venture out to rent the 1968 version, one cool thing I had read about the ending to the original was that it was Rod Serling’s idea.  See, the ending in the original film differs greatly from the ending of the book.  Both are shocking, but after knowing how the film ended, the ending in the book shocked me quite a bit.

So, anyway, I had read the book pretty quickly and finished it well before the 2001 remake was released to theaters.  The trailers I had seen looked good and the announced cast excited me a bit, so I set out to watch Planet of the Apes on Friday, July 27th, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The film opens on the space station Oberon in the year 2029.  Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) works on the ship, training primates—mainly chimpanzees—for space exploration.  As an electromagnetic storm is seen approaching the station, one of the chimps, Pericles, is sent in one of the space pods to investigate the
storm.  Suddenly, the pod disappears off the radar and no sign of the pod can be seen from the station.  Seeing that Leo was very close to the chimp, he goes against orders and takes another pod out to find Pericles.  As Leo flies into the space storm, the pod’s gauges and controls become erratic and nonfunctional.  He finally comes out of the storm, still not being able to locate Pericles’s pod and tries to communicate with the space station.  With no luck, Leo takes the pod to the nearest planet he sees and crash lands in a body of water on the surface.  Upon exiting the pod and swimming to shore, he finds that apes rule this alien world while humans are the hunted animals.

Before I go any further, I’ve got to say that this film seems pretty passé now that we’ve seen the awesome 2011 film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and I’m sure we’ll all be watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  With the realistic-looking apes presented in those films—thanks in whole to the near perfect motion capture and CGI meshing technology—the 2001 version seems very outdated.  But if you can forget that you’ve seen the latest Apes films and pretend you’re seeing Tim Burton’s movie for the very first time, you may be able to enjoy it for what it was.

First and certainly foremost, the make-up work by Rick Baker is phenomenal!  His involvement in this film is probably the one reason I had gone to go see it.  The two main actors who play apes in this film—Tim Roth as Thade and Michael Clark Duncan as Attar—look incredible!  Even Paul Giamatti as the Orangutan, Limbo, looks amazing.  For using practical effects and staying away from CGI, Baker did a magnificent job in making these actors into primates.

Danny Elfman’s music scores are usually hit or miss with me and I usually don’t pay attention to it one way or another.  However, Elfman hit it out of the park with this film, perfectly giving us a sound that goes with the subject matter of the film.  Heavy on the percussion, it’s easy to believe this would be the music of the apes as it sounds like music you may hear within a Native-American tribe or in the deepest part of the amazon jungle.  I’ve got to say that this is the most fitting score to a movie I’ve ever heard from Elfman.
As for the leading man, Mark Wahlberg, he’s probably the weakest link in this reimagining.  It’s just that we get the same “say hello to ya mutha fuh me” character, so it’s tough to get past the fact you’re watching Wahlberg as a futuristic astronaut going up against talking apes.  But he holds his own and has a good chemistry with the rest of the cast—I’ll say that much for him here.

In comparing the 1968 to this 2001 version, there are many points I can make about both, making it a tough decision as to which is the superior film.  Certainly the make-up effects are above par in this newer version, making the 1968 film look like a bunch of people in cheap Halloween masks.  But the story in the older version is more intriguing, with a much better pace set up until we get to the ending.  Each film has a surprising ending, both equally in what it represents, but I may side with the newer version for its shock value.  I definitely saw it coming as the 2001 ending comes straight from the source material.  But it was well played and I think most people won’t see it coming.

Now, I won’t tell you what precedes or ensues the scene I’m about to describe, but it’s something I had a little problem with.  As a bit of thanks and a way for Mark Wahlberg’s character to bid farewell to the character of Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), who happens to be a female ape in the movie, he gives her a lengthy kiss—no tongue or anything slobbery, just a kiss.  I guess it seemed appropriate for the story and
what the characters had been through, but it still seemed a bit cheesy and I think they could’ve gone with a hug or a hand-hold.  The scene caused a bit of unintentional laughter throughout the theater when this was first screened in my neck of the woods and it definitely caused me to groan when I saw it playing out.

After watching some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes, I gained a bit more respect for what was done for this film.  The training the actors had gone through to learn how to walk and act like primates was impressive as they certainly didn’t just make up a bunch of people to look like apes and told them to have at it.  The work they had done shows and positively pays off in the film.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Planet of the Apes?

2001’s Planet of the Apes was certainly a huge undertaking for Tim Burton to pull off—especially the way they did it.  If it weren’t for Rick Baker’s make-up effects wizardry, the film probably wouldn’t be as good as it was.  Like I’d mentioned, the sets were awesome, making you believe you’re really watching events happen on another planet.  The look of each and every actor in gorilla, chimpanzee and orangutan costumes was fantastic, making you believe it’d be possible for apes to evolve, one day, into an intelligent race who can easily dominate humans.  Pretty scary thought, huh?

That’s all I have for now…thanks for reading and, as always, I welcome your comments.

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