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'Planet Of The Apes'

Makeup man steals the show from Burton in mediocre 'Apes' remake:

Friday, July 27, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

My interest in the remake of "Planet of the Apes" rested almost entirely in the identity of its director, Tim Burton. His imaginative visuals and his strong personal vision, darkly humorous and sympathetic to outsiders, make even his mediocre films ("Sleepy Hollow," "Mars Attacks!") interesting to watch.


Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence. Players: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter.

Director: Tim Burton.

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars


Alas, no Burton movie contains less of his personality or style than "Planet of the Apes," a high-concept action film in which the real artist is the six-time Oscar winner Rick Baker, who might as well start clearing room on his mantle for another golden statue. His impeccable ape makeup, painstakingly applied to the performers, allowed Burton to avoid the inferior option of using digital simians.

If only he had used his considerable talent to the utmost. Instead, he gives us a film with a bland hero (Mark Wahlberg), a relentless one-dimensional villain (Tim Roth) and just a dollop of the intelligence and social satire of the 1968 original.

I liked many of the new film's nods to its predecessor, especially a very funny cameo by Charlton Heston -- the human hero of the first film. Here, he plays an ape, the villain's father, who goes on about the perfidy of humans in a scene that plays off his image as the godfather of guns and allows him to repeat, in a different context, one of the more famous lines from the original movie.

Burton's offbeat sense of humor comes through in other scenes as well, especially those featuring Paul Giamatti as a craven simian slave trader who has some of the best lines in the film. We get just a taste of Burton's playfully grotesque visual sense in the scenes set in Ape City. But his dark sensibilities, his strongly felt affinity for his lead characters and even his spooky atmospherics are largely absent.

And for all the studio hullaballoo about how Burton's "Planet of the Apes" is NOT a remake but a reimagining of the first film, all I can say is that screenwriters William Broyles Jr. ("Cast Away"), Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal ("Mercury Rising") succeed mostly in stripping the story of its most intriguing elements. What's left is a tables-turned critique of racism that is too ironically lightweight to be effective.

Wahlberg plays Leo Davidson, an Air Force pilot on a space station anchored near Saturn. When an electromagnetic storm disrupts operations, Leo impetuously defies orders and flies into the maelstrom. His shuttle gets buffeted through space and time before crash landing. He discovers the ape society -- or, rather, they discover him -- soon enough.

Desiring only to find a way back home, he leads a group of humans and a couple of sympathetic apes (Helena Bonham Carter and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) toward the forbidden zone, home to the secret of the origins of the ape society. To do so, they must evade the pursuit of the maniacal General Thade (Roth), whose hatred of humans seems pathological. Roth plays him with enough viciousness to overcome his lack of complexity.

Michael Clarke Duncan portrays Thade's trusted assistant, which seems a nebulous honor under any circumstance. Estella Warren plays the beauteous human female, but she's all pout and no clout.

The film winds up devolving into a series of pitched battles between apes and humans. The explanation of how apes came to dominate humans on the planet, while lacking the shock value of the original film's celebrated ending, seems clever enough.

I wish I could say the same for this movie's ending, which seems destined to infuriate audiences. I know it steamed me with its lack of logic, explanation or necessity. It clearly sets up the sequel, which will no doubt clear everything up.

But whatever happened to the concept of allowing a movie to tell a complete story? The ending does violence to the movie we have just seen for the sole purpose of enticing us to see the next installment. The same motivation spoiled much of the enjoyment of the original "Jurassic Park" -- like that hurt the box office for any or those films.

That's a more chilling thought than anything Tim Burton conjures up in "Planet of the Apes."

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