PLANET OF THE APES (2001)
Reviewed November 30th, 2001 by David Nusair
Rumors of a Planet of the Apes remake had been swirling around since the early ‘90s. At one point, James Cameron was to direct with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring. Then Oliver Stone was to take the helm. The film looked like it might never get made, until Tim Burton stepped up to the plate. And as he and other various folks associated with the movie have mentioned countless times, this is less a remake of the 1969 classic and more a “re-imagining” of the same world.
Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg stars as Leo Davidson, a cocky pilot who – through a series of bizarre incidences – finds himself thrust into a world where intelligent simians rule. The humans have been relegated to slavery, used as bartering chips among the apes. Being the headstrong soldier that he is, Davidson is not content to just sit around and do the bidding of a bunch of monkeys, so he sets out to escape his captors and make it back to his ship – where he’ll hopefully be able to fly away from this planet of the apes. Along the way, he befriends two women – one an ape and one a human – and incurs the wrath of a vengeful chimp named General Thade (played with over-the-top malicious glee by Tim Roth).
Planet of the Apes bears little resemblance to the Charleton Heston flick that came before it, choosing to play out as more of an action movie than a drama. And oddly enough, some of the more compelling characters in the movie are under a few coats of ape make-up. As one of the few humans, Wahlberg has an unenviable job – he has to try and make an impression while standing next to remarkably lifelike apes, monkeys and orangutans. And he’s good, though in a bland sort of way. It’s the many actors trapped inside ape costumes that steal the show, particularly Paul Giamatti as Limbo. Best known for his role as Howard Stern’s arch-nemesis “Pig Vomit” in Private Parts, Giamatti has been stealing scenes for years. It’s amazing, then, that he still manages to do so even while under pounds and pounds of make-up.
If there’s a fault to this otherwise consistently entertaining flick, it’s a truly bizarre ending that leaves a horrible after-taste. Twist endings are good, provided they make sense. Twist endings simply for the sake of twist endings are bad, and that’s what we’ve got here. Burton should have just left well enough alone and either ended the flick after that last battle, or copied that oft-imitated conclusion from the original. Anything but this nonsensical ending that we’re stuck with.
Planet of the Apes is summer entertainment done right. With a top-notch director and some amazing visual effects, it’s certainly one of the most entertaining check-your-brain-at-the-door flicks in recent years.
Audio: The two audio soundtracks that are included (DD and DTS 5.1) are certainly what you’d expect from a huge DVD release such as this. If you’ve got neighbors, better wait until they leave for the night ‘cause this is definitely a track that needs to be pumped up to full blast. Both are amazing, especially for surround sounds. Sequences featuring trampling horses and apes will shake your room. As for differences between the DD and DTS – there isn’t much. The DTS track expectedly provides a fuller and richer sound, but the difference is barely noticable. This is certainly demo material.
Video: Ditto the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. This had to have been a difficult disc to encode considering most of the film takes place in the dark, but it looks great. Nighttime scenes are sharp and crisp, and daylight sequences are bright and vibrant. As with the audio track, this is demo material.
Extras: Fox has been touting this two-disc set as “the next step in the evolution of DVD” and I don’t think that’s too far from the truth. Both discs are packed with extra features that’ll likely take you a few days to get through, so let’s get started.
The first disc features two commentary tracks, one by Tim Burton and the other by composer Danny Elfman. The Burton track is generally an amiable, entertaining commentary. There are few lulls and Burton is very forthcoming with various tidbits relating to the production. Only problem: He refuses give any concrete answers in regards to the loopy ending. He dances around the issue by talking about how the ending makes sense to him, how the fact that it makes no sense makes sense, etc. – anything and everything except explain the complete and utter bizarreness of that conclusion. But it’s otherwise a good track, and listening to Burton talk for two hours is always a good thing.
Up next is the Elfman track, which also doubles as an isolated score. For the most part, Elfman limits his comments to his relationship with Burton and his excitement in working this project and his various ideas for the different scenes. This is a good, if dry, track and will no doubt please Elfman fans.
The last special feature on disc one is a doozy. It’s called “Enhanced Viewing Mode” and – like the Matrix – contains a feature that, when an ape symbol pops up, you hit enter and you’re taken to a little featurette on the making of that sequence. But far more interesting (and a first, as far as I can tell) is the way that boxes will periodically pop up during the movie containing either an actor or someone from behind-the-scenes talking about the scene you’re watching. For example, during the dinner scene, a box pops up featuring an actor that played one of the apes, and he talks about what it was like filming that sequence. This is a really amazing feature and is put to good use.
Moving onto the second disc, there are six sections contained within. The first section begins with a 24-minute documentary entitled “Simian Academy”. This doc details the arduous task the actors were faced with in becoming apes. Helena Bonham-Carter receives the majority of the attention, with Paul Giamatti coming a close second. Curiously, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan are completely absent. We also get to see the chimp from the beginning of the film undergo training to properly respond to wearing a space suit and being enclosed within a pod. This is generally a very interesting little featurette, with the only slow spots emerging during Bonham Carter’s exceedingly pretentious and bizarre speeches about how she transformed herself into an ape.
Up next is a 30-minute doc called “Face of an Ape” – a look at how the make-up effects were created. This one features all of the main actors prominently (again, with the exception of Tim Roth) as they get fitted for their ape costumes, and the arduous, four-hour simian transformation they must undergo every morning. This is a very interesting featurette, and provides a lot of insight into the creation of the various distinct ape looks sported by the actors. There’s a lot of interview footage with Rick Baker, the man who behind the make-up effects. He takes explains his excitement in working on the movie and how – unlike the original film – he wanted each ape to have a different look.
The next documentary is a six-minute piece called “Ape Couture” – which is basically just a look at how the clothing for apes and humans alike was selected. Costume designer Margaret Atwood explains her rationale for the various outfits – everyone agreed that Wahlberg should not be seen in a loin cloth, for example. This is short and sweet.
Next is a section devoted to screen tests – though not the sort of screen tests you’re probably imagining. These are tests that were done to determine if the make-up effects were suitable for the various tasks that had to be performed by the actors – everything from speech to stunts. They’re broken down in five sub-sections: make-up, costume, group, stunt, and movement – and each is accompanied by four separate looks at a different actor or group of actors. The interesting thing here is that the four are separated by split-screen, with the sound for each screen available by pressing the play button on the screen. This was certainly a good idea and it really works. If you just want to watch Paul Giamatti testing out his make-up for speech, just zoom into his section of the screen and select the play button over his window, and that’s all you’ll hear. But besides the niftiness of the innovative presentation, this is a really interesting look at the early stages of the various make-up effects.
Next is a nine-minute look at the recording of the score. A lot of this is a conversation with composer Danny Elfman, a frequent Burton collaborator. We also get quite a number of glimpses of the orchestra at work, which is pretty amazing. We’re also told that the score was recorded on the very same sound stage as the original.
Speaking of things in common with the original, the next featurette follows the production’s work at a place called Lake Powell, which was prominently featured in the first movie. The first half of this 11-minute doc covers the extensive difficulties in transporting an entire crew to an island that is accessible only by water. The end of the doc, though, turns into more of a “let’s see how they filmed a scene” sort of thing. We get to watch as Michael Clarke Duncan attempts to film a very short sequence, and explain whether or not he thought the take was a good one (he waits for Burton’s comments). This is an interesting look at the tedium of work on a movie set, and also says a lot about Burton’s reputation (it seems as though everyone just wants to earn his approval).
The final featurette in the first section is devoted to teaching the actors and stunt people how to swing around like an ape. This is similar to the ape school featurette at the beginning of the disc, except this is more technical. We get to see how wires are utilized in creating that ape jumping effect that’s used prominently in the movie. We also discover that initially, the special effects people were considering having the actors walk with arm extensions (to more appropriately mimic the walk of a simian). As with the rest of the featurettes in this section of the disc, this is a very interesting little documentary.
Onto section two of the disc, we find four multi-angle featurettes. This section is probably the most interactive of all the special features, allowing you to watch the scenes from two different angles and also allowing you to check out the script for the scene and conceptual art. Though the whole thing adds up to about 25 minutes, this will likely take you at least an hour to look through all the different sound tracks and video angles.
Moving onto the third section, there are five extended scenes. There are no deleted scenes here. These are all just subtle extensions of previously existing sequences. They run around a minute long each, and all are widescreen (though not anamorphic). Nothing earth shattering here – they’re all of the “let’s just add a few more sentences to a pre-existing conversation” sort.
The fourth section of the disc houses the promotional works, starting with a 26-minute HBO special. This is somewhat better than you may expect, mostly due to the structure of the piece. It’s been crafted to appear as a “day in the life of Michael Clarke Duncan” thing, with copious amounts of clips from the movie thrown into the mix. Some of the behind-the-scene clips are the same as those found in the first section of the DVD (most notably the sequence in which Duncan has to do take after take of a scream for Burton).
Up next is the Paul Oakenfield “Rule the Planet” remix. This is essentially just a series of clips, while a dance version of the main theme from the movie plays in the background. This is more bizarre than anything else.
Next are the teaser and trailer (widescreen, but not anamorphic), six TV spots, a short music advertisement, and trailers for Dr. Dolittle 2 and Moulin Rouge.
Finally, there are some production stills and text from the film’s press kit. The last two sections are, in comparison to what came before it, essentially filler – with section five offering up some DVD-ROM features (mostly just excerpts from previous Apes novels) and section six providing a lot of photos (everything ranging from conceptual art to storyboards to production photos). Whew!
Conclusion: Even if you didn’t like the movie itself, this set comes with more than enough special features to keep even the most casual fan occupied for several hours.
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