Planet of the Apes

There’s a scene early in director Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” where disoriented astronaut Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) encounters a large gorilla, who backhands him and sends Davidson sailing into the underbrush.

planet of the apesIn his attempt to get away, Davidson accidentally puts his hand on the leg of another ape. Disgusted by the contact, the ape cries “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty human.”

Anyone who has seen the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” will smile, even laugh at the reference. It’s one of two classic lines from the original film that make an appearance in Burton’s revisionist remake. Surprisingly, you don’t have to be a fan of the first film, or even seen it for that matter, to appreciate Burton’s take on the Pierre Boulle novel “Monkey Planet.”.

I wasn’t expecting much from Burton’s “Planet of the Apes.” I just hoped that he would respect the original. Burton and writers William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal not only respect the original, they use it as a springboard for their own vision. The result is a marriage of old and new, a “Planet of the Apes” that recalls the past yet contains enough twists and turns to make the film feel fresh again.

When the original “Planet of the Apes” came out, I was eleven years old, much too young to understand the film’s social message but old enough to appreciate the film’s action, make-up and role-reversal plot. I was also one of those “humans” who sat through a marathon of “Planet of the Apes” and its four sequels when they played at the old Vogue Theater in Oxnard.

There was something about apes making monkeys out of humans that caught my whimsy. There’s plenty of whimsy in Burton’s film, little pockets of humor that help balance the constant action and adventure. “Planet of the Apes” also benefits from a sturdy performance by Wahlberg as the space man with a plan.

Wahlberg stands tall as Davidson, a United States Air Force pilot anxious to fly but grounded on a space station orbiting Earth. When he’s not busy training monkeys to do his job, Davidson dreams of soaring into the Heavens. He gets his chance when a mysterious electrical storm approaches the space station.

Desperate to save a test monkey lost in the maelstrom, Davidson disobeys orders and commandeers a craft. He eventually crash lands on a hostile planet where apes rule and humans serve as slaves. It’s pretty much the same premise of the original film, but with some fascinating new characters and plot twists.

As ape military leader Thade, Tim Roth is pure evil. Always conspiring to do away with the humans, Thade commands respect from everyone but Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a smart and sympathetic chimpanzee who finds Thade’s treatment of humans inhumane. Thade is so frightening he has no problem keeping his brigade of apes in line.

That includes towering gorilla General Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), who could snap Thade in two but respects his motivations enough to follow orders with a vengeance. When Davidson and a group of humans escape from the confines of the ape village, Attar takes great pleasure in hunting them down and killing them.

The similarities between the original and Burton’s film are strong, but it’s the differences that give Burton’s film a voice of its own. I like the fact that the writers allow all of the humans to speak, giving the film a more balanced view. I also liked that Davidson isn’t a hero, just someone looking for a way off the planet.

He’s not there to make the human’s life better, or even save them. He makes that clear from the beginning. He just wants to go home. Davidson does heroic things, but he does them out of impulse. He’s not selfish, but he’s not altruistic either.

There isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. Wahlberg and Roth make terrific adversaries, while Carter, trapped beneath make-up that makes her look like Michael Jackson both before and after the surgeries, has some nice moments as a human rights activist who is attracted to Davidson.

The stand-out is Paul Giamatti as Limbo, a slave trading orangutan who is concerned more about the bottom line than human life. Giamatti, who has hovered around the fringes of such films as “Private Parts” and “Big Momma’s House,” steals every scene he’s in, and that’s not a bad thing. Giamatti is so expressive and funny that Limbo becomes real to us.

Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” is also a social commentary, but unlike the 1968 film, the writer’s don’t feel the necessity to shout it from the treetops. They work their message into the fabric of the film, creating a movie that has something to say but doesn’t do it from a banana crate.

Behind the camera, Burton gets impressive support from production designer Rich Heinrichs, who has envisioned a planet filled with treetop haciendas and barren wastelands. Director of photography Phil Rousselot (“The Bear,” “Dangerous Liaisons”) frames every shot for maximum effect, while Rick Baker’s make-up looks amazing on the men, not nearly as satisfying on the women.

Even with the tweaking and tampering, I believe fans of the original “Planet of the Apes” will appreciate what Burton and his team have done. Those new to the “Apes” franchise will find a world filled with remarkable experiences and fascinating ideas.

GORILLA MY DREAMSDirector Tim Burton monkeys around with a classic


Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG-13. 106 Minutes.


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