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Planet of the Apes

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Planet of the Apes

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth
Director: Tim Burton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: July 2001
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi-Fantasy

*Also starring: Glenn Shadix, Luke Eberl, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Duncan, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Charlton Heston, Lisa Marie

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2½ stars out of 4

Because the press screening of "Planet of the Apes" was one day past last issue's deadline, I was afforded the opportunity to see the film a second time, listen to audience reactions and read a heap of reviews before writing this piece. The chief complaints of those who disliked the futuristic adventure appear to be that the movie focused on visuals instead of substance, that the story was thin, that Mark Wahlberg's character was colorless and that the surprise ending sucked.

To those people I would like to say -- What the hell did you expect?

This is a Tim Burton movie, boys and girls. Tim Burton movies have great art direction and thin, clunky stories. For the blissfully nasty, disjointed and underrated "Mars Attacks!" (Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader and I were two of the only critics in America to praise the movie) Burton reportedly tossed vintage "Mars Attacks!" trading cards onto the floor and based his story on the ones that landed face up.

Burton's re-imagining of the 1968 story of an astronaut that lands on a planet where apes rule men looks great. The apes, courtesy of make-up magician Rick Baker, are dazzling and Ape City is a wonder to behold. Like astronaut Leo Davidson (Wahlberg), the film hits the ground running, whisking viewers through a head-spinning series of solid one-liners and engaging vignettes and establishing a sense of thrust that carries us through the more traditional fight scenes that come later.

As for Wahlberg, consider what Burton does with his character. From his start as a filmmaker, Burton has shown his fascination with colorful misfits (Pee-Wee Herman, The Joker, Ed Wood, the ack-acking Martians, etc.) and lack of interest in standard issue heroes. So Leo Davidson spends most of the movie getting the living shit kicked out of him before the biggest guilt trip in history is dropped on his shoulders. As for lack of color, remember, Leo only launches into space to get his monkey back. He doesn't want to lead humanity and he isn't looking for romance from a pretty, but dull human (Estella Warren) or a dynamic ape (Helena Bonham Carter, terrific as an equal-rights activist). As a man who just wants out, Wahlberg is focused, subtle and sly.

The surprise ending provides the requisite shock (and some more dandy visuals, particularly of the approaching authority figures), but admittedly isn't nearly as satisfying as the one in the original. For the original ending to work, we only had to make one simple connection, for this one, we have to write a whole new screenplay.

The 1968 "Apes" boasted a handful of great scenes, cool looking monkeys, a deliciously hammy performance by Charlton Heston (who appears uncredited here as an aged chimp on his deathbed, re-delivering a classic line) and a killer ending. But viewers had to suffer through numerous dull stretches punctuated by social and political messages delivered with the grace of a wrecking ball. The 2001 "Planet of the Apes" offers a different set of great scenes, much cooler looking monkeys, fine acting from Wahlberg, Bonham Carter, Paul Giamatti and Tim Roth, and a not so good ending. It also gives us another chance to experience the skewed vision of Tim Burton and that's nothing to complain about.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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