Planet of the Apes (2001): How To Miss the Point of the Source Material and Waste Good Talent

Planet of the Apes (2001)

What were the studios, the actors and Tim Burton thinking when they made this film? Cause it is a while since I have been this entertained from such a bad film. It captures so wonderfully what not to do…which is a shame considering they had 5 movies of inspiration to call upon. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

First, the premise of the film. The premise is Capt. Leo (played by Mark Wahlberg) is following after his Chimp partner Pericles in the future of 2029…Pericles is investigating a giant electromagnetic storm in space but goes off course causing Leo to go in after him. As he crosses through the storm he is transported to the future where Apes now rule Earth when his ship crash lands.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Ape Design – I actually liked the updated Ape design, the special effects are updated so they actually look more like humanoid Apes than the ones of the Original Franchise. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is good.

The Music – It’s Danny Elfman, he doesn’t really have any bad soundtracks, and same goes here.

Got give this movie what pros I can since it is downhill from here.

Okay: Leo – Mark Wahlberg is pretty flat as a character, but he at least has characterization, which is more than can be said in regards to most of the other characters. He isn’t bad, but the script makes him pretty bad. He’s essentially generic, like Brent in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”

Colonel Atter – He is General Thade’s second in command but should have been the primary antagonist. They at least had the intent to give him some depth…as seen by his former mentor becoming an enemy (Krull) and the arrival of Pericles at the end (Semos’s second coming to him which lead to them all learning the truth of Semos being bad). Michael Clarke Duncan deserved better than this…

General Krull – The General who Thane dishonors and overthrows and is living with Ari. What he represents is never fully explored and most what we know about him is told to us…at least he doesn’t go against what we are told…if that he would be a con.

Cons: The Script – The Screenplay was written by 3 people (William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal), and it shows. There is a reason this is usually a bad sign. It means there are competing visions and conflict between the director and studio…even barring this though. The dialogue is so flat and there is nothing unique about the characters and civilizations.

The Apes – The Ape Civilization has no depth to it. They have senators but we see not senate or conflict between ideologies…There are different types of apes but all we really see are Gorillas and Chimps getting any sort of exploration. There is religion but we don’t see this…

The Humans – There is nothing here…they are tribal but as blank as the humans who couldn’t speak in the first “Planet of the Apes,” film. If you are going to have character’s speak give them a reason to be. If generic Wahlberg is deep by comparison (in this film) you have a major problem. Their fighting back makes no sense either, or how they find Leo in the Forbidden Zone. We saw no contact with humans on the way there. They had a good reason to fight obviously, but they had no fear of the apes…I guess they knew this movie was a joke too.

The Characters – The characters are all one note, some notes just have slightly longer length than others making them okay and bearable…but the rest are horrible tropes…from loving the mysterious alien (Ari – Helena Bonham Carter’s character), reforming out of nowhere (Limbo and Attar), hatred for no discernible reason (General Thade – Tim Roth’s character, and his father Zaius guest appearing as Charlton Heston) and love interest (Daena played by Estalla Warren) and quite a few other forgettable characters too.

General Thade – He isn’t the worst of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect,” baddies so far, but he is still pretty bad. Don’t know why Tim Roth signed up for this. This is ironic a bit too since I just reviewed him in “The Incredible Hulk,” where he was in fact incredible as The Abomination. This time he is just a one note violent, angry general who has no purpose but power…why anyone follows this fool remains a mystery. Most of his actions put his troops at risk or show him as someone who could not stay a leader for long. When he isn’t screaming like a chimp he is angry and doing violence to others. He also never felt like a threat because of how incompetent he was throughout the film.

Victimization of Women – Daena and Ari are the only characters we see get branded. The writers try and fail subverting that when they both see the branding…missing the point that they never choose for themselves, or when they do it is usually at another character’s behest. Ari even offers herself up for sex to Thade who has abused her up to this point.

The Message – What message? That humans and apes should get along? That bad people should die? There was no coherent theme or point…at times it seems to be referencing slavery or animal abuse…but it never goes anywhere with it. They even have Paul Giamatti play a slaver who joins the slaves…but it makes no sense. He abuses them and after is just their friend? Nothing made any sense which accumulated in the ending. How can you miss the point of the source material (and actually having a point) so badly?

The Ending – Pericles arrives…even though he had dropped through the portal first…he saves the day even though him being a Ape who can’t talk isn’t seen as a threat to everything the apes have built their lives on…and suddenly peace? Colonel Attar’s change makes no sense since he is beating up humans and is threatened by them and was fighting them a moment before…and after Leo goes through the storm only to arrive in another future or this future? Where Apes rule the Modern World and Abraham Lincoln was a Chimp…I don’t think I need to say anymore there.

This movie was terrible and had no discernible message or point. What redeemable moments there were existed as “So Bad they were funny.” For example the writing is so flat that when it is hammed up by Tim Roth or spoken sincerely by Mark Wahlberg it feels like an unintended comedy. Thing is it has an even less  coherent narrative than “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” and no likable or interesting characters…where “Beneath” at least had Zira, Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, Ursus and George Taylor. If you want see how not to make a “Planet of the Apes,” film or how to make a bad film, go take a look at this. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this much talent wasted, considering most of the main characters in this film were played by Oscar Winning actors.

My final Score for this film is 2 / 10.

2 points for the only 2 pros of this film.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – Not Enough Time with the Apes

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“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” was the last of the original “Planet of the Apes” series I saw. I remember how much it weirded me out initially and when I heard about the time travel plot of the next movie didn’t have much desire to watch on. Now that time has passed, it is better than what I remember, but still has a lot of problems.

The premise of this movie picks up where the first film left off. Taylor has seen the destroyed Statue of Liberty and that humanity destroyed itself and he and Nova continue deeper into the Forbidden Zone. While they are there Taylor goes missing and a new astronaut named Brent arrives on the planet to find the astronauts who went missing. The story picks up with him as he finds Nova and the story unfolds from there.

Pros: The music – The music is once again great and haunting. It captures the post apocalyptic feel really well.

Zira – Zira is once again one of the strongest characters. The sad thing is we only see her in the middle of the film when she takes in Brent and Nova and helps them escape. She is the one who is idealistic and lives through action. She doesn’t speak up when Cornelius hits her though (which is one of the horrid themes in this film). Great job, once again to Kim Hunter.

Dr. Zaius – Dr. Zaius is once again one of the strongest characters. When he and General Ursus enter the Forbidden Zone, it is he who risks the illusion of the burning and bleeding lawgiver to reveal to the army it is an illusion. Maurice Evans is once again one of the strongest actors.

General Ursus – He is simple but is great in his own way. He is the first named Gorilla to appear in any of the films and is the primary protagonist of this film (Dr. Zaius didn’t want to conquer the Forbidden Zone). He is Xenophobic and and a tyrant showing the dangers of unchecked military power especially when it is backed by religious authority (Dr. Zaius). James Gregory does a great job.

The idea of the Mutants – I think the Mutants in execution weren’t done so well. But they are needlessly evil and crazy. I would have liked at least one good mutant just like we see good apes via the Chimpanzees. The idea of people twisted by Nuclear War and worshiping death is pretty cool though. I think they were trying to critique the worship of death that can happen in some religions, it just wasn’t executed very well.

George Taylor – For what little time he is around, Charlton Heston does a great job. He has a lot more emotion and character than Brent who is a character akin to Nova except he can speak.

Okay: Cornelius – His character is the one once again trying to save face, though still carry on the knowledge of the past. He hits Zira for no reason though and threatens to do so again which is why I will not put him as a pro. It is like needless character assassination to have his character do that.

SPOILERS

The Ending – Everyone dies. This would have been more powerful if we’d had more time with the characters we cared about or Nova and Brent had actually been fleshed out as characters. The Bomb that the mutants worship is used to destroy the Earth.

Cons: The violence against women – I bring this up because it happens a lot in this film. From the mutants using Brent to abuse and rape Nova…to Cornelius hitting Zira. The women are only in this movie to be victims…accumulating in Nova being killed by the apes when the apes invade the Underground.

The Execution of the Themes – The execution of the themes was very poor. I can see them trying to critique religion via the worshipers of the Bomb but no religion worships technology and their words ended up being more comedic than meaningful or critical. “The Holy Fallout.” As an expression for an example. They also could have used how religion can turn people against one another…but all they manage to capture is the hypocrisy of some religious claiming their religion to be peaceful while condoning or acting with violence. The military as a weapon of corrupt authority is never fully explored either since we don’t know what happened to the Chimp protesters since we never see them after their appearance and Ursus never does anything to Zira or Cornelius even though they are heretics.

No Protagonist and Lack of Focus – There are a few people who drive the plot at different points…Taylor at the beginning and end, and Brent through the middle and Zira at one point too. We also have Dr. Zaius drive it at a few points as well whether for or against Ursus. This lack of focus took away from the narrative of the story.

Brent – Is a cipher. He is an uninteresting hero who is easily used by everyone around him. In that way he is comparable to Nova. The script didn’t help flesh him out as a character (he’s the standard hero looking for the group that had landed on the planet before) but the acting doesn’t help. He’s a very forgettable character.

Nova – Is the victim and empty vessel again. She is kidnapped countless times, strangled and near raped by Brent when is being mind controlled by the mutants and in the end killed by the apes. Victimization is all her character is.

Plot holes – Zira and Cornelius were supposed to be charged with heresy as of the end of the last film. This is never brought up again and instead they are made to be leaders of the Academy when Dr. Zaius joins Ursus’s expedition. This is never explained.

This movie is a bit of an unfocused, at times sexist mess with some really intriguing ideas that it doesn’t give full credit for. It was an okay movie and would have been stronger if more time was spent with the apes. It really goes downhill once we’re with the Mutants since that is where the weakest critique and the most grotesque violence is. The Mutants have no complexity and no Chimpanzee faction which takes away from the critique too. Every group as members that are agnostic or against the philosophy expressed by the dominant group. I would still tentatively recommend this film. It didn’t need to made since “Planet of the Apes,” is a solid film on it’s own…but it has some interesting ideas and the time with the Apes are mostly fantastic. More time with the Apes could have made this a good film.

Next we’ll be doing the 3rd movie in the Original Series in this Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect – “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”

My final score for this film is 6 / 10. Slightly above average.

Planet of the Apes (1968) – We Are the Apes

Planet of the Apes 1968

The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a movie that I remember a little about going in…I remember the iconic scene at the end and some of the memorable lines voiced by Charlton Heston…but beyond that I could remember very little of the details because it had been so long since I’d originally watched it.

“Planet of the Apes,” was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and had make-up design by John Chambers who won awards for the design of Spock in Star Trek and for the groundbreaking design of the Apes in this film and franchise.

The premise of the film is that three astronauts crash on Earth, losing the only woman in their crew. They don’t know what planet they have landed on but come to discover the world is dominated by Apes with an advanced social structure and civilization and full of humans who are mute and like small brained animals. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the primary protagonist and from whose eyes we see events unfold.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The World – The world of the “Planet of the Apes,” is fascinating. We see a world with complex social structures (Orangutans as Priests, Lawyers and Judges, Gorillas as workers and military and Chimpanzees as scientists and intellectuals). There is conflict between the chimps and the other social classes as expressed through the Chimpanzee protagonists of Zira and Cornelius.

The Make-up – There is a reason that this make-up was so groundbreaking. The prosthetics show the diversity of the Gorillas, Chimps and Orangutans and when they speak it looks like they are actually speaking. Emotion is seen in their expressions.

Zira and Cornelius – Zira and Cornelius are great. Zira is the idealist who takes chances and risks and in the process finds the truth of who George is. Cornelius is fantastic as well. He begins as fearful because of how he was punished for entering the Forbidden Zone where a past simian species was located. He comes around though as he comes to know George. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter do amazingly as their characters.

Dr. Zaius – Is the primary protagonist of the film who has some idea of what happened to humanity on this world. He uses religion to suppress free thought and punish heretics who go against the holy book. He is authority corrupt and a complex antagonist which makes him interesting. Maurice Evans does great. His final critique of humanity is perfect (The place where you were was once a paradise, not it is a wasteland…giving us our first hints of the truth of this world).

George Taylor – The anti-authority figure does a great job of fighting the power as represented by Zaius. He is able to build a bridge with Zira and attempts to with Nova…his actions drive the plot. He also sees the truth of his astronaut companions such as one who was seeking immortality as a reason for leaving Earth on the voyage.

The Trial of George Taylor – I really liked the trial scene. We have a tribunal of Orangutans who ignore every claim put before them. We also see them silence George when he is putting up a good defense. It is the perfect corrupt trial and we see later that it was all a ploy to get Zira and Cornelius charged with heresy and to find out where George’s tribe is in order to exterminate them.

The Reveal and Ending- The Planet of the Apes is Earth. We destroyed ourselves with Nuclear Weapons and war leading to the rise of our ape brethren. It is brilliant and desolate and a great warning about the future. Fact is another movie didn’t need to be made after this since the ending is so complete.

We Are the Apes – We are the ones who fear truth and discovery like Dr. Zaius. People in our species wish to suppress thoughts that go against their religious ideology and people are still killed for heresy today and science in the classroom is replaced by myths in some extreme religious settings. This message is profound and warning. In our fear of truth and knowledge and want for power we could destroy ourselves…We create structures where abuse can happen and ideology and can. We are the apes the movie presents as the antagonists except for those who are seeking knowledge and truth.

The Music – I loved the music. It captured the primitive world that Earth had become and gave a sense of discovery and urgency. Jerry Goldsmith did a fantastic job.

Cons: Nova – She is an empty character who is just their to love the protagonist. Here is to hoping she gets development in the other movies. She is a blank slate.

The Crew – The astronaut crew isn’t all that interesting. They are there just to die. (Also the black astronaut dies first). They were never fully fleshed out and seem to represent ideals. None of them receive the development George does.

Lucius – Another example of an idiotic child actor. All he does is whine and say that he’s a rebel. He doesn’t do anything but help Zira and Cornelius and more often than not needs to be rescued. Whenever he is helping he is whining.

The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a classic for a reason. It provides an excellent critique of some of the problems today as well as some of the problems in the past and even shows us what it sees as the way out…giving it’s desolate ending a bit of bittersweetness. I would definitely call it a favorite film.

My Final Score for this film is 9 / 10. Definitely recommend.