Planet of the Apes
a film by Tim Burton

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Estella Warren and Michael Clarke Duncan. Directed by Tim Burton. Produced by Richard D Zanuck. Written by William Broyles, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

You might think that remaking Planet of the Apes gives Tim Burton an opportunity to engage in some pretty vicious satire. After seeing his version of the classic 1968 film based on Pierre Boule's novel, you might think he'd wasted the opportunity.

But don't judge Burton too harshly. Ultimately, Planet of the Apes boils down to a sort of evolutionary Trading Places motif. It didn't work too badly in the original, but whatever edge it once had has been seriously dulled over the years. It doesn't matter that Boulle's novel and Franklin J. Schaffner's original film took potshots at racism while Burton's version takes unfocused aim at the anthropocentric abuse of animals. It's still your basic sf'nal flip-flop, a trope that's been worked so much, in countless grade B movies and Star Trek: The Next to the Last Final Franchise episodes that it ranks somewhere between Inna Gadda Da Vida and Smoke on the Water as Most Tired Riff of All Time.

Don't get me wrong--Burton's not blameless here, not by a long shot. He seems to have systematically pulled the rotten fangs out of whatever bite may have been left in this old gorilla. You know, a guy like Snoop Dog or Banco De Gaia can sample a shopworn 60's rock riff and do something with it. But there are no surprises in Burton's movie. It's exactly what we expected--only less. Sentient apes at a dinner party mouthing human platitudes ("Why can't we all just get along?" being the most inevitable and most painful) does not a social satire make.

Burton's purpose seems to have been little more than rennovation--a touch-up, as it were. That's fine, although one hardly sees the need. The 1968 version isn't exactly clunky. And if homage was the point, why not stick to the original plot? There's too much to swallow in the current version. Our Intrepid Hero (Mark Wahlberg, in a competent though utterly forgettable performance) seems to have a preternatural ability to fall out of the sky in a tiny spaceship and survive without a scratch. Gorillas, chimps and orangs don't seem to have any interspecies friction at all--a possibility that was not ignored in the original. And at the climax, we're asked to believe that an entire pre-industrial civilization of apes would immediately turn their backs on their prejudice, their religious beliefs and their rage simply because they've been confronted with evidence that they're wrong. Hoo, boy--if it were that easy, we would long since have put cheeseheads like Ralph Reed and the Taliban out of business. Again and again, this film seems to inadvertantly bump into the brutal realities of the simian condition, and again and again Burton fails to take the shot, preferring to lapse into platitudes. The "plot twists" are so obvious you'll see them coming on the way to the theatre, and of course the final five minutes of the movie (Aperaham Lincoln instead of the Statue of Liberty) is nothing more than a setup for a new Apes franchise. But why?

A binary rating scale forces a critic into some tight corners. Sullydog wants to approve, on the basis of superior crafstmanship and a certain weakness for Burton flicks. This is a very watchable movie, and it has that inimitable Burton flavor that, I must confess, I truly enjoy. The makeup is extraordinary, the photography gorgeous. Aside from the performance by Kris Kristofferson, the World's Most Untalented Human Being, the actors do a decent job. Tim Roth, one of the best actors of his generation, obviously put tremendous effort into his portayal of General Thade. And he does make an extraordinary chimp. But his portrayal is a little too snarky--doesn't this guy ever stop growling?

This one is a tough call. Is it entertaining enough to be worth your time and hard-earned money? Maybe. Is it of historical signifance, worth watching as a tribute to one of the classics of sf cinema? I rather doubt it. Is it thought-provoking? No way.

Tim Burton domesticates Franklin J. Schaffner.

Sullydog Does Not Approve.

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