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PLANET OF THE APES (2001)

Tim Burton's first film of the new millennium was a reworking of the classic sci-fi film Planet Of The Apes (1968). The remake had been in development for a long time, with directors such as Oliver Stone and James Cameron attached. Burton was the name that finally got the project a green light, though. Apparently the original script was so full of action it would have cost over $200 million, and the studio had to significantly scale it back (though the film still had a hefty budget).

Despite the skepticism many had at remaking such a classic film, there were hopes that Burton would bring something unique to the projects, perhaps making it closer to the original Pierre Boulle story the original film was loosely based on. To get around the remake issue the film was even dubbed as a "reimagining" instead (a term that drew scorn later on).

Burton himself was a big fan of the original, as well as other films from Charlton Heston's classic dystopian sci-fi era, which also included The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). An apprehensive Burton later admitted it was better to remake a bad film rather than an established classic like Apes.

There was also some controversy about the rumours (later disproved) that the film would feature sex between man and ape. While some bestiality did feature in an early script, it was never seriously intended to be in the finished film.

It was easy to attract several big names to the cast, as many of them agreed to do the film before seeing a script just so they could work with Burton. Mark Wahlberg said he would do anything for Burton, except wear a loincloth like Charlton Heston had in the original film. Tim Roth, meanwhile, turned down the role of Snape in Harry Potter to appear in Apes, just because he wanted to work with the other Tim. Roth's old buddy, Gary Oldman, was reportely offered the role of the villain first, but backed out due to disagreements over his salary.

To prepare the actors playing the apes, many of them would attend ape school (or "Simian Academy") to get down the mannerism and body language of simians. Cirque du Soleil performer Terry Notary ran the school, and Tim Roth was reportedly the star pupil. The actors learned many different techniques to get into character. Helena Bonham Carter, who apparently flunked first time, pictured a full diaper between her legs to get the bow legged walk right.

Like many tent pole pictures, the film was rushed into production with a pre-set release date. As with Batman, sets were being built while the script was still being retooled. Burton and his cast and crew worked hard during shooting that took place in various sets and locations in the U.S.

The film almost didn't make its release date. Post-production work on the film (particularly the scoring) went on so close to the release that there was no time for any preview screenings and executives only saw the film days before the premiere.

As Burton said in The Guardian newspaper, "The first time they showed me the poster and on the bottom it said: 'This film has not yet been rated'. I said why not be accurate and say 'This film has not yet been shot'?" The trailers had been atmospheric and hinted at a lot more action than the original film, but few knew what to expect from Burton's vision.

The Fox logo fades into a field of stars. The main titles recall Edward Scissorhands with the almost abstract montage of images that will become important to the story later on. We see various shots of ape helmets and armour, finally ending on a close-up of an ape's face.

Burton's Apes sets out its intention to try something different from the original film right from the start. It opens with a chimpanzee flying a small space pod. The pod starts to crash, but it turns out to be a simulation. The setting is the USAF Oberon Space Research Station in the year 2020. The station is using apes as test pilots, and an earnest young man named Leo Davidson is teaching a chimp called Pericles to fly.

When Leo flies out after Pericles's pod he travels around 600 years into the future and crashes on a strange planet. The film doesn't pause for breath as Leo then counters several humans in primitive clothing on the run. Who should be the first to run out of the jungle? None other than Kris Kristofferson. Their pursuers soon appear. The apes are revealed without much fanfare, presumably because the filmmakers guessed everyone already knew the story.

Leo and the other humans are soon captured and we're introduced to the two main villains - General Thade and his brutal right hand gorilla Attar. The captured humans are taken into Ape City and we see the population engaging in simian versions of popular human past times.

Ari watches in disgust as the humans are hot branded with a symbol (that looks suspiciously like the shape of the Oberon). She grabs the hot poker and then Leo grabs her and asks for her help. Ari decides to buy Leo and a blonde slave girl from the trader, Limbo.

During dinner at the home of Ari's father, the talk soon turns to politics. Attar suddenly declares, "Bow your heads!" which sounded like a really dramatic moment in the trailer, but is actually just him requesting they say grace before eating. In a chilling moment, Thade pries open Leo's mouth and asks, "Is there a soul in there?”.

Meanwhile, two of Thade's troops show him the crash site of Leo's pod. Thade than inexplicably kills them before he even knows what crashed, presumably to show just how evil he is.

Leo agrees to rescue Daena's family and friends and there's a comedic sequence where they run through various buildings for no apparent reason. They pass by some stoned ape teens, Senator Nado and wife performing a mating ritual and an ape with false teeth and a wig.

Ari and Krull catch them before they can leave the city. She wants to take them home but Leo again asks her for help, saying that he'll show her something that will change her world forever (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more). She agrees to show them the way out of the city.

Thade has to meet with his dying father, who tells his son the history of their race - humans were once their masters. He shows his son a gun as proof of the human's superior technology and dangerous instincts. His dying wish is that Thade stop the humans before they get to the holy land of Calima, where the ape god Semos supposedly breathed life into the first ape. This scene features the "surprise" cameo of one Chuck Heston as Thade's dying father. His dialogue even manages to take (perhaps unintentional) potshots at his real life role as president of the National Rifle Association.

The heroes enter the forbidden zone, which has “scare humans” guarding it. They soon find that an ape camp lies in their way. The scene where the apes are playing cards and one cries out "Cheater!" may be a reference to Tarzan's chimp companion Cheeta. The ape encampment tents continue the circus motifs in Burton's movies (though he reportedly hates circuses).

Thade, still upset over the death of his father, literally goes apeshit when he finds out about the humans escaping on their horses, leaping about like pinball. Attar gives the call to march and the massive ape army heads for Calima. There are some subtle digital enhancements of the ape actors, such as making Attar's roar even wider than humanly possible.

There are several big surprises in this last part of the film, and while they don't hold up under much close scrutiny, they at least are worthy of debate. When the heroes arrive at Calima, Leo discovers the several thousand years old holy place is actually the wreck of the Oberon. Calima comes from the slogan "CAution LIve aniMAls". The first shot of Calima looks like the spikes of the Statue of Liberty, another homage to the original.

Leo works out a plan when he discovers the Oberon still has some fuel left. He gives a non-inspirational speech to the gathered crowds about how they can win this.

Thade's army arrives and he orders the first wave in. The sight of the apes loping on all fours is quite impressive. They have almost reached the Oberon when Leo fires the engines, burning them all up. They attack the remaining apes while they're still stunned. Thade breaks necks left and right. Not surprisingly, the black guy and the bald guy are among the first humans killed.

Ari rescues Daena, and they're now sisters in a way since they share the same brand. Thade uses his helmet as a weapon and gets his hair mussed. He is about to kill Leo when a pod starts to descend on the battle. The entire ape army stop fighting, believing this is the prophesised return of Semos. However, it just turns out to be Pericles, returning to the Oberon at last.

Thade is trapped behind bulletproof glass and Attar declares a new peace between human and ape (if only it was that easy).

Leo kisses both Ari and Daena goodbye (the latter more passionately) and then leaves to try and return home through the same storm, even though it seems he would have a better life on the ape planet. He travels back from the year 2682 to the year 2155 (at least according to the readout in his pod, which may or may not be reliable). He crashes in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, and everything on Earth seems normal. Or does it?

The much-maligned twist ending with "Ape Lincoln" is probably the best part of the film. It's certainly the most Burtonesque. One could almost imagine the Martians pulling a similar jolly jape in Mars Attacks! This perplexing turn of events will, barring the unlikely event of a sequel, never be explained.

There was a great deal of confusion about what exactly the filmmaker's intentions were with the final twist. Was it an attempt to top the shock ending of the original? A lazy set-up for the potential sequel? A surrealist dream sequence? Has Leo gone crazy? Or is it simply an absurd "fuck you" joke from Burton? The answer may well be all or none of the above. The ending is whatever you want it to be.

As in nearly every other Burton piece, it's the characters that drive the movie, even if there's a lack of a clear outsider protagonist this time. Mark Wahlberg gives a likeable performance as astronaut Leo Davidson, but he lacks the macho charisma of Charlton Heston's Taylor, or the quirky appeal of, say, Johnny Deep's Ichabod Crane. He just reacts to what's going on around him with a subdued distress, and even when he takes charge of the rebel humans at the film's end, he makes a less than convincing leader.

The rest of the humans are even duller and might as well be mute for all the impact their dialogue has. Having them speak good English also makes it somewhat unbelievable that they would be treated as mindless animals. Kris Kristofferson in particular is given little to do except sacrifice himself heroically. There's also a kid (Lucas Elliott) that Leo supposedly develops a mentor relationship with, but again this isn't given enough screen time to matter.

However it's clearly the apes Burton was interested in, not humans, which is as it should be. What's remarkable is how well rounded all the main ape characters are, perhaps more so than the ones in the original film. Aided by the expressive make-up, the actors all convincingly portray both the human-like intelligence and emotions of these genetically advanced primates, as well as their animal instincts.

The idea was that, unlike the more human apes in the original film, these ones would be 80% ape and 20% human. The only small problem is that, in many of the scenes, the actor's voices sound muffled because of their false ape teeth. The actors themselves couldn't understand what anyone was saying once they were in the ape makeup.

Tim Roth as General Thade provides the clear evil that was lacking from the first Apes. He's a furry ball of pent-up rage that explodes into savage and athletic violence at the slightest provocation. Some may find his snarling, black and white villainy a bit one-note, but no one can deny that Thade is definitely one chimp you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere for that matter. It's refreshing that the filmmakers chose a chimp for his species (rather than the original plan to use a white gorilla) since in real life chimps are far more violent than gorillas.

One of the subplots involves Thade's desire for Ari, and there's a creepy moment where his teeth chatter as he sniffs Ari's hand. Tim Roth reportedly had problems filming his scenes with Charlton Heston, due to the older actor's prominent role as head of the National Rifle Association. But in the end he was able to treat him just like any other actor.

Helena Bonham Carter is even better as Ari. Burton reportedly cast her by calling her up and saying, "Don't take this the wrong way, but you are the first person that I thought of to play this chimp". As a chimpanzee campaigning for human rights, she manages to be humorous, sensitive, intelligent, simian and appealing all at once.

The relationship between her and Leo goes a bit further than Taylor and Zira's ever did in the original (without going close to bestiality). The mutual attraction between them is mostly played for laughs, but their relationship (which is obviously based more on personalities than looks) still manages to be quite touching.

Her final words, and goodbye kiss, to Leo is far more affecting than his relationship with Daena (Estella Warren, who gives the type of performance you'd expect from a model) or any of the humans. There's clearly a love triangle going on (Ari and Daena bicker, and there's lots of jealous looks between them) but it's never resolved whom Leo prefers. Ari also fits the mold of the wild-haired Burtonite misfit his fans have come to love and could be considered the movie's real hero.

Next up is Michael Clarke Duncan as Attar. He manages to perfectly capture the incredible power and imposing presence of a gorilla, while subtly suggesting that his character, although opposed to the humans, also has a moral and spiritual side. His eventual redemption at the end may seem out of place to some, but it is a fitting evolution for his character.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa does a good job bringing out the sensitive side of gorillas with the character of Krull. His conflict with former pupil Attar carries surprising weight, considering how little screen time they have together. It's just a shame the buildup to their fight is more interesting than the actual fight itself, where they just pound each other until one of them is dead.

Paul Giamatti plays the orangutan Limbo and is that rare marvel - comic relief in an action film that actually works. His sleazy slave trader predictably, but enjoyably, turns out to be an old softy at heart.
David Warner, along with Burton regulars Glenn Shadix and Lisa Marie, also turn in amusing performances in smaller ape roles.

The dialogue is mostly unmemorable, except when it is referencing the original film, or Burton's own Mars Attacks! (Limbo asks at one point, "Can't we all just get along?") The first reference to the original film (Attar saying, "Get your stinking hands off me you damn dirty human!”) is quite an amusing inversion. The second reference, where Heston gets to quote his own, "Damn them all to hell!" line is funny when taken on its own, but rather undermines what is meant to be one of the most important scenes in the film plot wise.

Burton's direction is more "normal" than it's ever been. Whether this was the result of studio interference or simply the director trying to branch out is hard to say, but some of the scenes, especially the early ones on board the space station, could have been directed by anyone. Burton handles the action scenes competently, and there are a few well-directed dialogue scenes (such as the dinner table discussion) but overall it's definitely not one of his finest directing achievements. He did get very enthusiastic on set, though, even breaking a rib at one point while acting out a scene for the ape thespians.

The cinematography is rather muted compared to the more vibrant colors in the trailers. It gives the whole film a rather gloomy feel. Ape City is exactly what you'd imagine the apes to live in, pretty much the world's biggest tree house. The location shooting included Lake Powell, which was also a location in the first film. Colleen Atwood's costumes are exquisite, with lots of weird angles that emphasise the animal world.

Several alternative ideas were considered for the apes. There were early makeup tests done by Stan Winston before Burton became involved in the project. Other ideas considered were computer animated apes or even real ones (which certainly would have made the film a lot more amusing). Rick Baker was eager to get the job, though he was concerned that the director wanted "Burtonised" apes instead of realistic ones.

The eventual makeup designs chosen were astonishing, especially on the male apes, allowing the actors much more freedom to use their expressions than the generic masks in the original film. It's slightly disappointing that the female apes were given a more human look (that reminded some people of Michael Jackson post-plastic surgery) but overall it's one of the greatest achievements of Rick Baker's long career.

Five hundred different apes were created, in contrast to the generic masks used in the original film. Baker even worked around problems such as Tim Roth having a big nose that didn't really fit with the chimpanzee face. Each actor had to wait two to four hours to be transformed into an ape, depending on the complexity of the makeup. Baker plays the smoking ape that is glimpsed when Leo first enters Ape City.

The action is surprisingly well staged for a Burton film. The apes run, leap and break human bones in a way that has not been portrayed on screen before. A treadmill was used to allow the actors to outrun horses when they were loping on all fours. The wirework is perhaps a little overused in parts, since it's hard to imagine real-life gorillas flying through the air like Superman.

Danny Elfman's score serves the film well, offering startling percussive sounds that emphasise the power of the apes.

Unlike the original, which was very obvious an allegory of racism and other issues, there isn't much of a message to Burton's Apes. There is some commentary on the mistreatment of animals (especially by the scientific community) but even that isn't very in depth. As Burton said in a Playboy interview at the time of the release: "This one's a cautionary tale about trying to remake science fiction films from the late sixties".

There is some attempt to make the film a fairytale in the style of Burton's other films (Ari says, "One day they'll tell a story, about a human who came from the stars and changed our world") but this seem fairly perfunctory.

Of the many plot holes in the film, one people fixated on was where do the horses come from? They seem added to the story purely to reference the original film, since it's doubtful there were any horses being trained on the Oberon.

The ending is actually closer to Boulle's story, where the astronaut return home to an Earth populated by apes. There were rumours before the release that alternate endings were shot to throw off people trying to reveal the ending, but Burton later denied this, stating that the only other idea even considered was Leo arriving at a Yankee Stadium full of apes.

The real apes caused some tension on set. Burton recalls that one ape was looking at him in a disturbing way and making him think he "was in some weird gay bar and some sleazy person was checking me out".

It's commonly agreed that Planet of the Apes is the least "Burtonesque" of the director's oeuvre to date. The first 15 minutes, especially, are played very straight. Apes is more like a typical Hollywood blockbuster, with lots of action and comedy, but little logic or depth. As popcorn flicks go, though, it's better than most. The pace never drags for a second and the actors playing the apes all put on a fine show. But, by the end, it feels more like an entertaining warm-up for a possible sequel, rather than an outstanding piece of cinema in its own right.

Many have cited the plot as the film's major weak point, and while it raises some interesting points it ultimately doesn't hang together that well. It also has time travel paradoxes that would confuse Marty McFly.

One good thing about the story is that it keeps moving forward, never getting bogged down in lengthy dialogue scenes (something the otherwise superior Sleepy Hollow was guilty of). While this makes it a much faster-paced film than the original, it also gives the story a slightly antiseptic feel, with Leo Davidson rushing through his adventure as if he's been dragged along to a theme park and can't wait to leave because it's getting late and he has a long drive home.

Overall, Apes is solid but unremarkable film from Burton that, while unlikely to ever eclipse the original film, is better than remakes usually turn out. It was perhaps not the right material for Burton, but he did the best job he could with the time he had. It's a quirky and intriguing sci-fi fairytale that deserves to be held up alongside the original series of films, which were in their own way flawed but interesting.

The movie seemed to turn off a lot of critics - even loyal Burton supporters such as “Rolling Stone” magazine's Peter Travers had little praise for the film. While it could be argued that many viewers found it impossible to let go of their expectations based on the original film, it's clear that even on its own terms it didn't live up to expectations. Probably because the production of the film was so rushed, it seemed (at least on the surface) that Burton didn't get a chance to put his personal stamp on the film as much as he usually does.

The film earned $68 million in its first three days, the biggest non-holiday opening weekend ever in the U.S. (holding that title for, oh, about a week). It eventually made $180 million in the U.S. and double that worldwide, but was widely considered a disappointment. There was briefly talk of a sequel, but that idea soon seemed to be abandoned, especially as Burton had no interest in revisiting the franchise. As he said in an interview in The Independent: "The idea of doing a sequel - I'd rather jump out the window, I swear to God."

Around the time of the release of Apes, Burton's personal life was in a state of upheaval. Both of his parents died within a short space of time, and his relationship with Lisa Marie ended. Sometime later, Burton began dating one of the stars of Apes, Helena Bonham Carter. Their son, Billy, was born in October 2003. Carter would go on to appear in all of Burton's subsequent films. The next of which would be a very different film from Apes.

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