Planet of the Apes
Part of the joy of cinema is that you can watch a film in which, say, talking, armor-clad simians ride horseback and terrorize packs of stringy-haired human mutes--and in which a macho, hammy windbag like Charlton Heston chews up the scenery as if it were a yummy hors d'oeuvre--and it can transcend the limits of kitsch and sci-fi. The 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, which was based on a Pierre Boulle novel and spawned four sequels and a TV series, paralleled the anxieties of a society in tumult. The original Apes mirrored the ascendancy of reason and science over spiritual faith, the nation's fever-pitch tensions over civil rights and Vietnam and civilization's shifting order, and the limitless but frightening potential of space travel.
The real dilemma in neo-goth director Tim Burton's updated Planet is whether or not this familiar premise can still deliver, or be regarded as relevant. Apparently, it can't. Souped-up and glossy, Planet of the Apes features Mark Wahlberg in the bland equivalent of the Heston role as astronaut Leo Davidson, who zips through a time warp (unlike the original, Burton's version makes no bones that the Planet is a futuristic landscape) and crash-lands in an ape-ruled dystopia. Forced to assimilate into the subjugated human underclass, the enslaved Leo captures the attention of human-rights activist and spoiled politician's daughter Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). She agrees to help the studly time traveler (for reasons that are, well, kind of icky) and a ragtag passel of homo sapiens escape their captors.
If this new Planet were judged solely on surface detail, it would be a friggin' masterpiece. The ape makeup, designed by legendary latex whiz Rick Baker, is incredibly detailed and convincing, and yet malleable enough to allow the actors to convey expression and emotion. (Tim Roth's turn as fierce human-hater General Thade is particularly striking.) And the thrumming score by Burton stalwart Danny Elfman is a perfect fusion of anticipation and menace.
What Planet of the Apes is missing is just about everything else: The screenplay by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal is appallingly lazy. The new film not only relies too much on the original version as source material but also manages to dis the memory of its earlier, superior incarnation. Planet 2001 features cringe-inducing retreads of catch phrases from the original movie and other such unsubtle nods. (Although a cameo by Heston as an aged chimp, in which the real-life National Rifle Association president touts firearms as the pinnacle of human cruelty, offers some welcome irony.) And the twist ending is a cheesy, ludicrous ripoff. Maybe the Apes' keepers should have allocated less of their budget for FX and more to pay writers with talent. (Adele Marley)