Film Reviews

PLANET OF THE APES

By • Jul 27th, 2001 •

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Unequivocally, the best plotted, acted, designed, and directed summer movie of 2001! From the opening shot, the movie careens with heightened aggression and sudden, raging violence. Nothing about the movie is typical and predictable. What a surprise! The screenwriters, William Broyes, Jr. and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (said to have rewritten most of it on set), should be singled out for their cleverness and attention to detail. The story doesn’t collapse and, for me, the denouement at the end equals the shock value of the 1968 classic. Damn! I even liked Danny Elfman’s music (his bombastic, overwhelmingly oppressive music for SLEEPY HOLLOW drove me nuts). On Earth, human intelligence arose directly from chimpanzee intelligence; on the planet envisioned here, we find out exactly what happened to upset the evolutionary blueprint. Ape society, mirroring our own, rules. Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is a US astronaut working with genetically enhanced chimpanzees abroad a spacefaring vessel. When Davidson’s personally trained chimpanzee is lost in space, he sets out after him and crash-lands on a lush planet. He falls right in the path of rogue humans who are being chased and rounded up by apes, led by the silverback Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan).

Humans, who are in the majority on the planet, are slaves and pets of the ruling species: angry apes. The apes have evolved a society not unlike our own: there’s a class structure and the powerful dominate the weak. There’s clearly a sense of species superiority based entirely on the prominence of ape testosterone-fueled intelligence. What is so provocative about this film is how easily the apes’ behavior is recognizable, understandable, and contemptible.

The characters are richly drawn and complex. The villainous leader of the army, Thade (Tim Roth), brings out the archetypal essence of the ape’s aggressive nature. Thade has only one weakness: his feelings for Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), the privileged daughter of a senator who is a human rights activist. Ari helps Davidson and a group of humans, led by Karubie (Kris Kristofferson) and his daughter Limbo (Estella Warren) escape slavery. It’s Limbo who notices the attraction between Ari and Davidson. Much has been written about whether or not Ari and Davidson were going to “hook up.” I think Burton & Company made a mistake by not giving the relationship a stronger sexual component. Given the set-up – Ari (60% human/40% ape) risks her life for Davidson (who, as a human, already shares 98 percent of his genes with the chimpanzee) as well as Ari’s advanced thinking on the dignity of humans, Davidson should have shown a slightly more enlightened interest in her sexually.

Burton has produced a terrific movie with actors who really inhabit the characters simian proclivities. This is one film I’m looking forward to seeing again opening weekend.

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