Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Planet of the Apes (2001)


I hated this movie when I was dragged to see it in the theater, and I really didn't want to revisit the experience. However, I am a bit of a completist, so here is Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes.

What kind of movie is this? Tim Burton claimed it was a "re-imagining," not a remake. That's good, I guess, since it gives us a little more distance from the original. Really, it's a testament to what happened to science fiction in the 30+ years between the two. It's more visual than cerebral, and it's more fighty than thinky. Basically, the original lamented the destruction and devolution of mankind, while the remake celebrated it.

We begin on a space station orbiting a planet with rings. Saturn, maybe? Not important. Look, pretty! The year is 2029 (which is pretty optimistic, even in 2001). Our hero, Leo Davidson, trains chimpanzees to fly spacecraft. Why they don't just use computers or remote pilots is never explained. Although they do claim that the monkey is sort of an early warning system, like a canary in a coal mine. So basically, they're spending a lot of money to train apes to fly expensive spacecraft on doomed missions into unknown phenomena. Okay. Hee hee! Look, a monkey in a spacesuit!

Conveniently, an unknown phenomenon appears not far from the station. And it's early enough in the movie that we don't have time to reflect on the nonsense we've heard so far. They send a chimpanzee to investigate the scary space storm, and he goes missing. Leo jumps into another craft and chases after him, and he goes missing as well. A few flashes of light, and suddenly Leo crash lands on some distant alien planet (which has between two and four moons, depending on when you look at it).

Almost immediately, he's swept up in the rush of humans fleeing Apes. These Apes are not hunting for sport, but rather capturing slaves. And the humans are not mute; they speak rather well, actually, especially considering their preference for loincloths. But no time to think about that now; look at the cool Ape make-up!

Leo is captured. Leo befriends Ari, an Ape who supports human rights. Leo escapes, brings some human and Ape friends. He's chased by the bad guys: Thade, the military leader Ape who hates humans and seems to have a secret, and Attar, the military second-in-command who hates humans and doesn't have a secret.

Leo makes it back to his crashed spaceship and retrieves a homing signal and a handgun, two things no space traveler should ever be without. The homing signal tells him that his space station has come to find him, so he's just got to follow the signal to reach it. Of course, it's in the Forbidden Zone, and Attar has an army blocking the way.

They make it past the army and discover the space station: crashed! And old! And isn't it weird how it has decayed to look like the spikes on the crown of the Statue of Liberty? Yep, it turns out that all of these Apes are descended from the monkeys he used to train on the station, which somehow crashed on this same planet thousands of years before. What a drag. But hey, at least the power still works. Science! It's fun!

There's a fight or something. Attar's Ape army attacks, adamantly. Apes and humans fight and die. Suddenly, a space craft appears. It's the chimpanzee Leo chased after at the beginning! This plus the crashed space station is a revelation to all except Thade, who knew it all along. Attar doesn't like that, so they fight and he kills him. Humans and Apes will play nice together now! "Welp," says Leo, "My work here is done. Time to be headin' home." He hops into the newly arrived spaceship and does just that. Science! It's convenient!

Just one quick hop into the scary space storm, and Leo is heading to good ole' Earth. He makes radio contact, but is forced to crash land on the Washington Mall. He exits his little pod on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as police arrive. He climbs the steps, looks up, and... OMIGOSH! It's not Lincoln! It's Thade! He turns around to see all the police are also Apes, pointing their guns at him. Roll credits. What a twist!

Of course, that twist is completely out of line with everything that happened in the movie. It's as if at the end of Titanic the deep sea divers discovered that the iceberg was actually artificial and piloted by cyborgs. But who cares? Gotcha!

This was just awful on so many levels, I don't even want to talk/write about it. It had boring and predictable allusions to the first film, but more for camp than out of respect. Actually, it had little references to pretty much all of the first five films, but none of them are worth calling attention to here. The Ape make-up was good, I'll give it that. Well, except for Helena Bonham-Carter. She looked like a cross between Michael Jackson and a gelfling. Why don't I just end this with that disturbing image.

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