We give Tim Burton’s much-maligned 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes some overdue respect with this top 10 list
With War for the Planet of the Apes getting ready to shred screens soon (that hotly anticipated 2nd sequel opens on July 14th), we thought it a good time to drag up from the primordial swamp the relatively unloved “missing link” of the cinematic Planet of the Apes universe: director Tim Burton’s 2001 action/fantasy Planet of the Apes.
Although financially successful upon release and well reviewed in some circle (lambasted in others), Burton’s expensive bauble of an Apes movie was derided by purists who hold the original five Planet of the Apes films in such high regard. And those films deserve adoration, of course. Especially the 1968 original which set new standards for combining blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking with deep, dark, “thinking man’s” science fiction, co-penned as it was by the father of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling.
Indeed, the passion for Planet of the Apes and the pop culture wave it spawned was so deep that Burton – a gun for hire on this project – didn’t have a chance, especially when the product he delivered was this odd and irreverent to its source. Originally, Burton wanted to call this movie The Visitor, announcing it as a new series spawned from the same source novel, Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet. But 20th Century Fox balked and the film was put out as a “new” Planet of the Apes.
The biggest problems with POTA 2001 are in the casting of a stiff-as-starch Mark Wahlberg as the hero (he’s not terrible, just…totally blank), a poor substitute for the macho intellectualism of Charlton Heston in the original. Then there was the foolish concept to make the humans both clean and intelligent and articulate, throwing the “man is a dumb animal” dynamic that made the 1968 film so potent, right out the window. And the overt humor of the piece was perhaps too broad, turning many fans off.
But man, there’s SO much to love about Burton’s Planet of the Apes and we’ve isolated 10 of our favorite elements in the gallery and YouTube clip below. See if you agree with us.
10. Danny Elfman’s Punishing Score
Regular Burton collaborator Elfman (he’s been there since 1985’s joyous Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) pulled out all the stops for his thundering POTA 2001 score, using the experimental percussion of Jerry Goldsmith’s original music as the basis to build a wild, full-blood orchestral call-to-arms that announces loudly from its creepy opening credits onward that this Planet of the Apes means business. Even if you hate the film, you have to admire this music…
Rick Baker’s Make-Up Effects
John Chambers’ applications in the original films are iconic and the motion-capture in the new films is state of the art. But Baker’s incredible make-ups in POTA 2001 are without peer. Prosthetic and practical and totally believable, they give the actors plenty of room to facially emote while also being wild examples of magic-realism. Of course, Baker has long been a master of the apes, from the 1976 King Kong to Greystoke to Gorillas in the Mist to Harry and the Hendersons. This work stands among his best.
Rick Heinrichs’ Production Design
Taking the stripped-down, stone-age design of the original Apes City designs, Burton’s frequent collaborator Heinrichs’ vision of the Planet of the Apes is richly detailed, alternately lush and regal, grotty and overgrown and organic and dry and apocalyptic. It’s magnificent.
Tim Roth as General Thade
It’s not hyperbole to say that British actor Tim Roth is among one of the greatest actors of stage and screen anywhere, ever. And since the secret of any POTA film is to put great thespians under the monkey make-up, the casting of Roth as Burton’s central villain was a deft choice. General Thade is pure petulant, narcissistic evil fueled by irrational anger and brute violence. He struts and preens and lashes out, a monstrous presence that is far worse than the war mongering, human hating gorillas in the original film. Roth is unforgettable.
Helena Bonham Carter as Ari
Like the casting of Roth as Thade, Carter was another genius stroke as she is indeed one of the finest actresses alive. Her civil rights obsessed Ari may look a bit silly at first, but Carter pushes through and delivers a powerhouse portrait of a strong, singular “woman” who refuses to buckle to societal rules.
Paul Giamatti as Limbo
Another great actor getting coated in rubber and delivering an unforgettable performance, Giamatti’s slave trading Limbo is a true scumbag and is the film’s caustic comedy relief. The original script had Limbo having an “Amazing Grace” moment near the end and realizing how wrong his profession was. But Burton and Giamatti scoffed and made him a shithead till the end. Bless them!
Charlton Heston’s Cameo
Having Heston, the hero of the original two Apes films, appear uncredited in POTA 2001 was a nice touch, offering a frail portrait of a remorseful, death-bed bound Zaius (a chimp this time). His presence adds soul to the film.
Lisa Marie as Nova
Lisa Marie was Burton’s longtime muse and it was always a treat to see the alarmingly beautiful model and actress appear in key moments in his movies. The martian Queen in Mars Attacks!, the pagan mother in Sleepy Hollow and here, as the Ape mistress Nova. While she doesn’t have much to do in the film, her presence is important because the couple would split during the making of the movie, with Burton moving on to Carter as his new love interest and on-screen muse. Burton’s subsequent films felt a bit less pretty without her…
Dynamic Action Sequences
POTA 2001 shows Burton in fine form as a director of action, with comprehensive, epic seqeuences of battle and chase. If the film has a flaw, it’s that it sacrifices the original’s more high-minded Sci-Fi elements in favor of simplistic action but if viewed as an example of the latter, it’s a wonder. If you saw this thing on the big screen, you’ll know what we mean…
Nothing tops the still-potent shocker of the original film’s final shot, the half-buried statue of liberty that hammers home that Col. Taylor was indeed home on a post-nuke planet Earth. But many critics have slammed POTA 2001’s ending, citing it as making no sense. But it makes perfect sense. After Thade escapes in the spaceship, he has obviously gone back in time so far to a pre-civil war U.S. Instead of Lincoln freeing black American slaves, Thade must have liberated Simian kind and is now revered as the Great Emancipator. Goofy? As goofy as anything in any of the Apes movies, I guess, but it makes perfect pulp sense in the context of this weird film…
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