After the ridiculously fun Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton soon went back to sci-fi with his very own "reimagining" of a classic and famously did not exactly charm critics and audiences with 2001's Planet Of The Apes, a film widely regarded as his worst effort to date.
Even if Dark Shadows and Alice In Wonderland got just about as much crap upon their releases.
The sad thing is that, although this Planet Of The Apes has a few things going for it, it's a hard one to defend seeing as it gets so much wrong. Not even just in terms of how it differs from the original story but as a film in general. To start on a positive note, however, I should point out that the film sets itself up rather well with a terrific score by the ever-reliable Danny Elfman and the best ape make-up effects in probably any movie. The all-star cast, which includes Charlton Heston himself in a cameo appearance, disappears under those effects and that makes it much easier to buy the whole talking apes thing. Much more so than with some of the old masks and the new CGI mo-cap effects. Visually, Burton does a decent enough job but the impressive wide shots are too few, leaving the clear sound stages and honestly fake-looking sets to reign most of the time. You never feel like this ape city, with its basketball playing kid apes and its rockabilly ape gangs, actually exists, which is distracting.
The human characters, it has to be said, basically ruin the entire film.
The usually fun Mark Wahlberg is completely miscast here, never cracking a smile, never having a character of any kind or any sort of personality. This is quite probably his worst, most bland and lifeless performance, and the guy was in Max Payne! Most of the time, he just breathes heavily for no reason. The love interest (Estella Warren) looks like she just stepped off a cat walk with her blonde highlights and make-up, poor old Kris Kristofferson is completely wasted in a forgettable role and no-one can remember whoever was on that space station early on, with good reason. The ape cast, however, is mostly perfect: Tim Roth excels as the intimidating, Richard III-style chimp villain, Paul Giamatti just about steals the show as a vile orang-utan slave trader, Helena Bonham-Carter takes on the Zira-style role with gusto and Michael Clarke Duncan makes an imposing gorilla soldier. The sad thing is that this project definitely had potential but, somewhere along the line, it was forced to lose all of it.
Alright, let's talk about the plot...
If you can call it that.
Here's the thing: this movie makes no friggin' sense. It really doesn't. The whole time-travelling thing is explained away with a random space storm which takes characters to wherever the movie needs them to go, despite what logic dictates. The whole plot is so uninvolving and confused that, by the time you get to the laughable ending, you'll just be shaking your head, asking for your money and your time back. A reimagining could have worked, it really could have, it just needed a far, far better script with many more action beats, actual character development and twists and turns that aren't completely cartoonish. The film gets a bad rep and it's easy to see why, it's just a shame that all the good stuff it brought to the table is tarnished by all the bad stuff surrounding it.
While even the worst Tim Burton film is still entertaining enough to sit through and will still have some cool moments and nifty artistic touches here and there, Planet Of The Apes is a fatally flawed movie. So much so that it feels like a clunky, low-budget directing debut when it's really not. As much as I love Burton's style and filmography, I can't recommend this one. Go and watch the old Planet Of The Apes movies instead, or the new one.
Damn, dirty humans...
They can never get these ape movies right.