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Planet of the Apes

Any discussion of Tim Burton's new monkey-love blockbuster, Planet of the Apes, must begin with the ending.

As we all know (and if you don't then you only have yourself to blame because the original film is over 30 years old), Charlton Heston's 'mano e apeo' classic ends with Charlton falling to his knees in shock to discover that this strange, well-marketed Apeland has actually been Earth all along, albeit Earth in the far distant future after we've nuked ourselves to death and left the Statue of Liberty waist-deep in sand.

Suffice to say, Burton has changed the ending.

Without telling you what it is (I'd hate to ruin such a shocking surprise as the parade of Prostitute Apes which seduce Mark Wahlberg to a lifetime of serious chest-beating at the end of the film),you know that it's going to be a different ending at the beginning of the film when Marky Mark crashes onto the Planet and it has two moons. Last I looked, Earth had one. So that pretty much rules out a cameo by the Statue of Liberty.

Many people who have seen Burton's vision (his films are never movies, they are 'visions') have cried foul at the new ending. They claim it doesn't make any sense.

All I can say to that is: I don't think it's supposed to make sense. Just allow yourself the shock of the moment and then laugh at the absurdity of it as the credits roll. I mean Prostitute Apes!

(oh right, I'm not supposed to tell you about that)

Working backwards from the "Gotta find a twist ending to beat the pants off of Charlie and the Chocolate Statue of Liberty" bit, we next come to the other ending- the ending that tries to explain the Planet of the Apes. It is, sadly, seen about five miles away. Literally, since they travel for a number of miles on their journey, and about five miles away from their goal, you pretty much figure it out. Still, it's not nearly as 'off the charts odd' as the Prostitute Apes that I'm not telling you about.

The story, as it would normally be told (the eternal set-up), centers on Leo Davidson (Marky Mark) and his loves of various chimps (The Funky Bunch). Leo works on a space station orbiting Saturn. They are studying chimps- genetically-enhanced chimps, but chimps all the same. The kind that have dinner with Ronald Reagan or Clint Eastwood. A mysterious electrical storm appears out of nowhere and aside from knocking out all cell phone service to the station, it ends up sending Leo hurtling through time and space (his ship's internal clock conveniently spins forward in time as he is hurtled, as if there would be any way for it to know in a fraction of a nano-second what exact day it is) until he crash lands on the Planet of the Apes. Not that he knows that it's the Planet of the Apes, but we do. We know the name of the movie, we see him crashing on an alien world, we put two and two together.

He gets out of his ship, dusts himself off, and is captured by Apes, who are hunting humans for slaves. So begins his adventure. All he wants to do is find a way back home, and damn it all to hell if he ends up saving humanity in the process.

Which is the first problem with the film. You never really like Leo. He's not a nice person. He doesn't care about anyone. He just wants to go home. Like if Yoda turned to Luke and said "Luke, you control the power of the Force." And Luke said "Cool! Can I use it to get chicks naked?"

Still, all is not lost in this film.

For one, most of the performers, specifically those playing monkeys, apes, chimps, and other furry characters, do a darned fine job. True, they all sound like they've got a ton of cotton stuffed intheir cheeks when they talk, but that could have been a style thing. Remember, this is a Tim Burton vision, and he can lay the style on pretty thick sometimes.

In comparison, the human actors, or at least the human actors portraying humans, are not nearly as interesting, or well-acted. Mr. Wahlberg is stiff. He plays the stiff human who stiffly crashes on the stiff new world and spends the film getting stiff over another stiff performance, Estella Warren. She plays the stiff Jungle Princess sentenced to roam the Planet of the Apes wearing little more than a leather thong that covers up surprisingly more than you really think it should. I mean if you're gonna dress a supermodel in a revealing caveman outfit, at least make it reveal something.

There is more to like in this film. Sets. Costumes. Make-up. Amazing. Apes look like apes. People look like people. People look like apes. It's all very disconcerting. Aside from Helena Bonham Carter, most of the actors playing apes look nothing like themselves. Tim Roth buries himself in both the make-up and his role as the evil General Thade, and he is delightfully naughty and brutal.

There are also things not to like in this film. The script comes to mind. Or more specifically, the beginning of the script. The first thirty minutes are filled with really bad puns and lines and general idiocy (like the electrical storm) that make the audience groan. And then it's as if they switched writers- which is entirely possible with these blockbusters. Not that it becomes Lawrence of Arabia or anything, but the groaners cease, and script rises above the level of moronic.

Another problem with the movie: it gets a little slow. At heart, the film is a journey film, with the heroes journeying towards a goal. Journey films can bog down with boredom if they're not careful, and this film does just that.

So it's not a perfect movie. But compare it to Jurassic Park 3 or Pearl Harbor and it's friggin' brilliant.

My general advice is: if you were thinking of seeing it, go ahead. If you really hadn't planned on it, don't bother. You know if you're gonna be into it, and you know if you won't. It's nothing that you aren't really already expecting.

I give The Planet of the Apes 3 Babylons. Middle of the road. Which, sad to say, means it's better than most of the junk Hollywood has poured atop us this summer. Almost makes you long for the days of Speed 2.


Editor's Note:

I guess the SMC never considered that the reason why all of the apes in the flick "sound like they've got a ton of cotton stuffed in their cheeks when they talk" is because they actually have cotton stuffed in their cheeks. Duh.

Planet Of the Apes
Rated: PG-13
Directed By: Tim Burton
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti and Bonzo.

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