Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Planet of the Apes" Review

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An Air Force astronaut crash lands on a mysterious planet where evolved, talking apes dominant a race of primitive humans.
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Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Planet of the Apes" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (some sequences of action/violence)
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: July 27, 2001
Directed by: Tim Burton
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

The year is 2029, and astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is out in a space pod, enjoying the celestial scenery and boldly going where few men have gone before. Suddenly, he is sucked into a vortex that takes him into another galaxy where he lands on a planet ruled by talking apes, which sets the stage for "Planet of the Apes," a remake of the 1968 classic.

Once Davidson's pod crash-lands, it doesn't take long for the apes to realize that an unwelcome visitor is on their planet. Davidson is soon picked up by Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), a warrior ape with a huge mean streak who doesn't appear to have much love for humans. Attar quickly contacts a slave trader named Limbo (Paul Giamatti), who is hilarious despite his shady job, to sell Davidson for profit along with the beautiful Daena (Estella Warren) and her father Karubi (Kris Kristofferson). These three make a formidable trio who ache to find freedom from the oppressive apes. When Limbo sells the humans to Ari (Helena Bonham-Carter), they think they may have found a way to escape from captivity. Though Ari is an ape, she is also a human sympathizer with powerful connections in the ape world. With her help, Davidson, Daena, and Karubi escape to try and find the mythical Forbidden Zone, where they believe they may find freedom and possibly a way off of the planet.

When the evil General Thade (Tim Roth) gets wind of the trio's plans, he kicks the movie into high gear by sending out his best men to find the humans. This sets the stage for a battle and possibly a war between the powerful apes and the humans, who have determination and years of pent-up anger and oppression to help them through the battles. This all leads up to the climax of the film, which features many action sequences, a few winking nods to the original film, and a surprise twist that leaves the door open for a sequel, potentially breathing new long-term life into the franchise.

The original "Planet of the Apes" was an unqualified success that spawned four sequels after its 1968 release. After the fifth film, the franchise petered out and most felt like that would be the end of the series. The movies were so iconic, though, that several directors had remakes or "re-imaginings" in the works, trying to vet whether it would be feasible to do a sixth film. Director James Cameron was attached to the potential project for years before "Titanic" gave him the Hollywood clout he needed to make other, more ambitious films. Enter Tim Burton, who has never shied away from reinventing a character or story, as evidenced from 1989's "Batman." Here, he guts the original down to the screws and makes a movie that has the architecture of the 1968 film but a fairly different facade.

One of the biggest differences is the technology available in 2001 compared to what was around back in 1968. The planet, which is not Earth this time like it was in the original, looks much more like one would imagine an ape-ruled planet would look. Burton relied heavily on CGI to help create some of the very picturesque and sweeping landscapes featured in the new film, which helps give it the epic quality needed for a summer blockbuster. He also took advantage of the faster pace that modern-day moviegoers like and made an often frenetic, break-neck movie, full of action sequences. It's a far cry from the comparably meandering pace of the first five films in the franchise. Even the music keeps up with the new pacing, with frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman creating a fantastic score that matches the tone and scope of the film perfectly.

Of course, Burton does keep some elements of the original film while also paying homage to it. He gave small roles to some of the original actors, including Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston, and he saved the iconic Heston line "damn dirty apes" for Attar, who actually mutters "damn dirty humans" in an almost shocking reversal of easily the most famous line from the first film. Burton is something of an iconoclast, which is probably why he pays his respects to some elements of the series and completely reverses or eliminates others. It makes for a fun film for those who aren't familiar with the original movie, while still playing to the nostalgia of those who are fans of the famous franchise.

Rating: 3 out of 5