Friday, June 18, 2010

Planet of the Apes (2001)

The only reason I am going to waste any blog space on this travesty is because I am a completes. I vowed a week’s worth of Planet of the Apes posts and I aim to fill out the full seven days, too. But I absolutely despise this movie. Hate, hate, hate it. Much of my animosity has to do with my fondness for the original, but there are several other reasons.

First, the film languished in development for thirteen years. Pre-production actually began in 1988 when Oliver Stone was to produce a script entitled Return of the Apes with Arnold Swarzenegger starring. Just on the surface, that sounded like a good project. Creative differences scuttled the that plan. Over the ensuing decade, the movie moved from Sam Hamm to Chris Columbus to Jams Cameron to Peter Jackson to the Hughes Brothers and finally, Tim Burton.

Ugh. Any movie that spends that long in development is bound to be awful. It proves there is not a good, obvious vision for the story. Look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a fine example of what nearly twenty years of development will do for a film. But add to that the horrible idea of hiring Tim Burton to direct and you have a mess.

Do not get me wrong about Burton. I recognize he is a fine artist when he is in his element. But his element is twisted fantasy with a dark sense of humor. I have fond memories of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow, but he cannot do science fiction to save his goth soul.

It pains me to admit it because Burton more than anyone else gave comic book based movies legitimacy with 1989’s Batman in spite of the fact he snobbishly announced he had never read a comic book in his life. I was afull fledged comic book fanatic at the time, so I was part of that group always upset that comic book based movies were usually terribly campy. Batman was the best we had ever seen thus far, so we overlooked its many flaws up until the genre really started soaring with Sam Raimi’s spider-Man series and Chris Columbus’ X-Men along with Chris Nolan’s Batman rivival that blew Burton off the radar. We were finally free to admit he did not do a very good job with the Caped Crusader all those years ago.

He also bombed out with Batman Returns, Mars Attacks! and, of course, Planet of the Apes. He understands that, too. He went on record back in 2001 as saying he would rather jump out a window that direct a sequel. With him gone, Mark Wahleberg and Helena Bonham Carter also expressed reluctance at reprising their roles. The movie was a hit, but a sequel was DOA. Thank heaven for small miracles.

Second, I did not go for the story. It did not flow for me. Leo, the astronaut, is a cynical loner like George Taylor, but when he crashes on the planet and sees the humans used as slaves, he immediately opts to lead a rebellion. I thought Taylor’s complete self-interest was more plausible. For whatever reason, the bleeding heart routine of Ari was too much for me. I preferred Zira’s slow realization that humans had value. The confrontation between the humans and apes did not strike me as epic as the original film, either, although it was meant to be even bigger. Further proof less is more.

I understand it is difficult to produce an exciting movie when we already know the revelations it is supposed to reveal. You have to make it big and exciting to compensate while trying to honor the original, yet do something different at the same time. It is a tall order. I was probably destined to dislike the film from the beginning. That is certainly what happened. I will give major kudos to the make up department, however. The apes looked fantastic.

Then there is this:Finally, the ultimate proof the movie is awful. The film was released on July 27th, 2001. I had just moved to Virginia beach to attend law school five days before that. I was so busy getting acclimated to a new place I never saw it while it was in theaters. Knowing my attachment to originals, I was skeptical whether I would like it ost critics were savaging it, anyway.

But I eventually bit the bullet and rented it in the spring. Law school was taking its toll. Throughout the first semester, a law student is lucky to have time to catch his breath and learn anything more than the first name of half his classmates, much lesssettledown for some entertainment. When the opportunity presented itself, no one complained. Watching grass grow was preferable to applying the rule of perpetuities to archaic real estate transactions. Heck, I even watched Enterprise--on purpose!--without complaint.

But I could not stand Plasnet of the Apes.

There are plans afoot for a new five part series starting with a movie called Caesar. The idea sounds reminiscent of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. A scientist develops a super intelligent, talking ape who becomes enraged when the scientist’s wife is killed. Caesar begins to despise humanity, particularly their abuse of simians, and plots a revolt. Said revolt should lead to a planet ruled by apes throughout the rest of the proposed series.

I have not heard much else about the project and I am curious whether the lukewarm reception of Terminator: Salvation may give production companies pause about relighting multiple movie deals. Odds are, I will not be too thrilled about t either way.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

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