Because of the two recent well received additions to the POTA series, I decided to rewatch Tim Burton's much derided attempt at rebooting the PLANET OF THE APES franchise from 2001. This film is generally disliked by both hardcore fans and the movie going public but I enjoyed it pretty well when I caught it theatrically and have never really understood the level of hatred directed toward this it. I never thought it was anywhere near as good as the original but it wasn't the crapfest everyone screamed about, either. So it was time to revisit the movie in question and reassess it in light of the franchise's rebirth and new health.
First, I must say that the two strongest elements of the 2001 film are the amazing score by Danny Elfman and the brilliant makeup effects by the legendary Rick Baker. I really enjoy the apes effects in the new movies but the apes in this film are superior to my eyes. The reality of them is tangible in a way that even the best CGI will never accomplish- these are real actors in prosthetic pieces and costumes that look and bend correctly and add a level of realism to the images that makes for a better visual experience for me. At the very least, I'm not constantly looking for mistakes in the CGI rendering to see the sloppy spots that distract me. Real actors in real makeup will always trump CGI for me. Sorry.
But with those two elements noted I have to admit that I don't find POTA (2001) to be as enjoyable as I once did. I'll lay out my thoughts like this-
1. The script seems to have been tailored to be a Tim Burton film instead of an Apes film. By this I mean that there is an overuse of jokey dialog and silly remarks that constantly call attention to themselves. Dressing up standard human conceits (bitchy formal dinner parties, sexual humor, jokes about hormonal teenagers, concerns about fashion, etc) in Ape Talk is silly and insulting if all you are going to do is point and giggle. If you are not making a point, plot or otherwise, there is no reason for it. We don't need a dozen examples of this culture being a distorted mirror image of human culture- a couple will do fine. This is too often done just to illicit a laugh and this isn't supposed to be a comedy.
2. I remember thinking that the film had been seriously edited down because several transitions were too fast. By this I mean story information seems to have been cut out in an effort to keep the film under two hours. On this viewing I still think it may have been too brutally edited but I also suspect things were just not scripted that needed to be in the story. Where is the conversation between our human astronaut and his fellow captive humans in the wagon pen on the journey to
Where is ANY conversation with his fellow prisoners until he is placed in the
kitchen of his new owners? This is illogical and stands out as a major script
problem. No one would keep their mouths shut in these circumstances. Why are we
not given some time with the other humans to get a sense of them and their
world? These people are not dumb brutes like in the original film so they must
have stories to tell and information to impart to our fish out of water
protagonist. Why aren't they doing this? Tribes are later mentioned so why not
ask him where he comes from and about his odd clothes? Ape City
3. This may seem minor but I found it really distracting that characters would just disappear. For instance, when Paul Giamatti's slave-trader character shows up to reclaim his property he has two big enforcer gorillas with him but after Leo uses his blaster they are just gone. Poof! They weren't killed and we don't see them run off- they are just edited out of the picture somehow. Why not give us an idea of what the Hell happened to them?
4. If you are going to have two character make lovey eyes at each other there needs to be some payoff or you need to leave that aspect of the story out. If Helena Bonham Carter wants to get her freak on with the exotic human astronaut - fine. But do something about it or leave it out of your already complicated tale. If you are going to hint at interspecies sex either pull the trigger or leave the weapon on the shelf.
As you can tell from these remarks I don't think as highly as I once did of the film. It plays like a film that was pushed into production too soon and almost as if the script wasn't finished. I suspect that it was a patch job of several ideas done to get a movie made during a window in
Burton's schedule. He has
remarked that he had little control over the film from the beginning and I can
believe it. This is one of the least 'Tim Burton' looking movies of his career
and the Burton
touches all seem plastered on like the jokey dialog and silly
I can't say I dislike the film as I feel it has too many good elements to wave away, but it is a mess and unlike most viewers I love the bizarre out of nowhere ending of the film. It is very much a throwback to the source novel by Pierre Boulle and for that reason alone I would like it. But the questions it raises with its final image of General Thade as a revered founding father still puts a smile on my face today. What a wonderfully strange idea to end the film! Maybe I'm the only one this appeals to but I seriously love the possible mad futures this could have created if this film had not been so loathed.
This is my least favorite POTA film but I still like it a little. I guess I'm just a hopeless fanboy!