'Planet of the Apes,' Burton combo falls short of hopes

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001

Give an infinite number of chimpanzees an infinite number of film crews, and odds are none will make a movie that looks as cool as Tim Burton's ''Planet of the Apes.''

A few of those chimps might come up with something more interesting, though.

Maybe it's wishful thinking that Burton's take on apes and humans could prove the salvation of a summer of blockbuster wannabes that have turned out tame and lame.

But it's natural to wish for more from the old apes premise as revisited by the talents of Burton, Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter and an estimable supporting cast.

The combination of the two -- ''Planet of the Apes'' and Burton, the director who reinvented ''Batman'' -- sounds like the perfect match to produce something bold and engaging. The trouble is: While Burton does give a great, gloomy look to his ape planet, the movie mostly brachiates wearily in the wake of the original film.

Many highlights hark back to that 1968 chestnut. At one point, a gorilla paraphrases Charlton Heston's first line of dialogue among the apes: ''Take your hands off me, you damn, dirty human.''

Heston pops up in an uncredited cameo as an ape, uttering one of his best-known lines from the original.

Burton viewed his revival of the ''Apes'' franchise as a reimagining, not a remake or a sequel. Yet with all the new trappings Burton throws in courtesy of today's makeup and special-effects wizardry, the movie still feels like a retread of the same old thing.

The main plot points are disappointingly familiar: A stranded astronaut; humans rounded up by militant simians; good deeds by a compassionate chimpanzee; a journey to ancient ruins in a forbidden zone; ruling apes who harbor a secret about their early history and the danger humans pose.

Burton and screenwriters William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal toss in a few mild twists but offer no ideas that haven't been done to death in previous sci-fi tales.

And you'll see the surprise ending coming a light-year away, especially if you've read the Pierre Boulle novel that this film and the original were loosely based on.

Wahlberg plays Leo Davidson, catapulted to ape central in an elaborate but forced opening sequence. There, Leo encounters Ari (Carter), a chimp preaching for human rights; Thade (Roth), a ferocious ape general who apparently wakes up on the wrong side of the tree limb every day; Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), Thade's loyal gorilla lieutenant; and Limbo (Paul Giamatti), an orangutan who provides scant comic relief.

Leo's new human pals include the beautiful Daena (Estella Warren) and her father, played by Kris Kristofferson, who's out of the movie so quickly he amounts to just another name on the marquee.

The story is so simple it's downright dumb in places. You've got your apes who hate humans and your apes who pity them, with the two sides clashing in an empty-headed exploration of prejudice and tolerance. At one point, an ape even gushes, ''Can't we all just get along?''

Longtime Burton colleague Danny Elfman's score is uncharacteristically ponderous and tiresome.

Rick Baker's makeup artistry lends far more individualism than the primates had in the five previous ''Apes'' flicks. But expressive facial features and hairdos go for naught when simians are stuck aping such human cliches as ''I'm having a bad-hair day.''

The dialogue is no richer for the humans, who suffer the additional handicap of playing their roles so flavorlessly they seem like statues next to the feverish apes.

Wahlberg is so bland it's hard to care what happens to him. In the original, Heston's astronaut had a brooding, misanthropic edge, a man who rues his words when he ventures into space hoping to find something better than humanity.

The campy story aside, Heston got to play a character with some depth and demons. This time out, ''Planet of the Apes'' delivers an assemblage -- human and simian -- a few rungs down the ladder of Hollywood evolution.

''Planet of the Apes,'' a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence. Running time: 120 minutes.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.

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