OF THE APES (2001)
Burton's first film of the new millennium
was a reworking of the classic sci-fi
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
CHAPTER: SLEEPY HOLLOW
CHAPTER: BIG FISH