Planet of the Apes
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Mark Whalberg, Estelle Warren, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Gimatti, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tim Roth.
The original Planet of the Apes is high on my list of “classic movies I must see someday.” Think about it. This film spawned the first true science-fiction franchise. There were four sequels, a short-lived TV show, and an even shorter-lived Saturday morning cartoon. Hell, it was even the first film to spawn an action figure line! And besides, we all know Charlton Heston’s classic catch-phrase from the film: “Get your stinkin’ paws off me yadda yadda yadda.” We’ve seen it spoofed on the The Simpson. And we all know the now-classic twist ending. With a franchise this successful, we all knew they’d try to revitalize it someday. So, who did they bring in to do this? My man, one of my favorite directors, Tim Burton. So, I walked into the theater somewhat excited. It was going to be my first exposure to this long-running sci-fi series, and the latest offering from a man who can do no wrong in my eyes.
It’s the future. We catch up with the USAF research vessel Oberon in orbit around Saturn. On this ship, in the classic NASA tradition, chimps and other forms of apes are being trained in how to pilot spacecraft, to test whether it’s safe for humans or not. Enter one of those humans, Capt. Leo Davidson (Whalberg). He’s training a chimp named Periclese to pilot his ship. All is going well, until the Oberon detects a mysterious electromagnetic storm. Periclese is sent out to investigate, but contact is soon lost. Davidson defies orders to go out and rescue Periclese, but he’s not prepared for the storm. It somehow throws his ship across space and time to a distant planet. His ship crash lands, and he’s startled by his discovery. On this planet, apes of various species have evolved into intelligent life, and humans, while seeming intelligent, are treated as wild creatures. Davidson is soon captured by the apes, and sold into slavery with a fellow tribe of humans, including Daena (Warren). Whether it be luck or fate, he’s sold to the chimp Ari (Carter), who’s a sympathizer to the human plight. With her aid, Davidson escapes, and, after getting some equipment from his downed vessel, he sets out to find the Oberon. Apparently, it found him, and is on the planet somewhere. And so, he begins his odyssey across the planet, with Ari, Daena, and a few other humans in tow. But, his trek is not to be easy. He is pursued by the power-mad General Thade (Roth) and his right-hand man, the spiritual warrior Attar (Duncan). Thade sees Davidson and all humans as threat to be wiped out, and will stop at nothing to kill Davidson. Will Davidson find the Oberon? Will he get home before Thade catches up to him? Will humans and apes learn to live together in peace? Will it be learned how the apes evolved the way they are? Is the new twist ending destined to become as iconic as the original?
I do so love Tim Burton movies, but sadly, this is not a Tim Burton movie. True, you can detect echos of his style, but it’s not as hardcore as you find in, say, Beetlejuice. And, as with all Tim Burton films, there’s a rockin’ Danny Elfman score. But, what about the characters? Whalberg plays Davidson as a character we’ve seen a lot of lately: a soldier who wants nothing to do with this war and just get home. Roth, however, is a wonderfully slimy, stop-at-nothing villain. And it’s very cool to see who plays his father. I loved Attar, and truly wish we got to see some more of him. And while this story isn’t as action-oriented as most of the other summer blockbuster fare out there, it did do something to me that only one other movie this summer has been able to do: it made me think. You actually will ponder our treatment of animals when you see humans being treated the same way. And yes, that ending does require some digestion, but that’s good. We can’t have all the answers spoon-fed to us, as one of my old enemies used to say. It had good effects, great acting, it made me think, and to top it all off, it’s Tim Burton. Will this one be as classic as the original? Only time will tell. But, I liked it.