Sometimes you just have to wonder what everyone was thinking. Was there any pressing need to remake Planet of the Apes? If the filmmakers had intended a more faithful adaptation of Pierre Boulle's original novel, then I can see why the idea would make sense, but, barring a couple of exceptions, that isn't the case here. Or maybe if someone had come up with a truly novel take on the material, but that certainly isn't the case here. Or maybe if the producers had hired a gifted, visionary director and let him bring his particular gifts to bear on the project, which I suppose could have worked. Oh, so that last one was the intent here? Hmmm. Need I remind you where good intentions often lead?
While attempting to locate a missing chimpanzee astronaut, Air Force Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is sucked into a time storm near Jupiter, thrown into the future, and crash lands on a distant world. He is soon captured by apes, but these aren't like any apes Davidson has ever encountered. These apes possess human-level intelligence, can speak, and use the world's human population as slaves. Leo is later sold to Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), the daughter of an ape senator; Ari rails against her society's treatment of humans, wanting to see ape and man live together in harmony. This brings her into conflict with General Thade (Tim Roth), the head of the ape military. Ari eventually aids Davidson in escaping, and they lead a group of slaves and apes to the forbidden wastes of Calima, where legend says the various simian species were born. Thade and his soldiers give chase, and Calima eventually becomes a battleground.
Here's the short of it: Tim Burton's take on Planet of the Apes is two hours of missed opportunities. The movie had considerable potential, but this potential is squandered at nearly every turn. It succeeds on a technical level (the makeup, production design, and cinematography are outstanding), and some of the performances are good, but pretty much every other aspect fails.
Now for the long of it: I don't think it's any secret this project sat on the launch pad for quite some time. Seems like every director who had a hit in the '90s was attached at one point or another, but it wasn't until the suits at Fox won over a hesitant Burton (how many zeroes you think were on the check?) that it finally moved past preproduction. Burton's version began with a script by William Broyles, Jr., which was reportedly much more fantastical than what everyone else had in mind (and probably would have cost more than the finished flick actually grossed), so Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal were brought in for the rewrite. There's your first mistake. You don't replace the guy who wrote Cast Away and Apollo 13 with the guys who wrote The Jewel of the Nile and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (I can't help but wonder if they were brought in because of their work on the remake of Mighty Joe Young). Now here's the second mistake: Konner and Rosenthal tossed aside all of the philosophical and sociological implications inherent in such a story and turned the plot into a series of chase scenes and action set-pieces. (It's clear that a species-dependent caste system is an important component of the apes' society, but the script never bothers to expound on this idea.) Given that action isn't really Burton's strongpoint, that wasn't too smart. Now we come to the third major misstep: casting Wahlberg in the lead role. Don't get me wrong, Wahlberg's a good actor, but this movie came during his passive phase, when most of the characters he played never seemed to have much of an impact on their surroundings. Sure, there are times when the role of Leo Davidson calls for this (the guy never seems to be particularly disturbed by the fact that he's landed on a planet ruled by talking monkeys), but Wahlberg never plays the character as anything but passive, even when he's supposed to be an action hero in the final act. Three strikes, back to the bench.
I know that many of Burton's fans claim that this movie isn't merely a case of the director working as a hired gun, and that you can actually see the director's hands all over this. I can see what they're saying, as there are some distinctly Burtonian touches here, but I think many of these touches are out of place. There's a vein of decidedly odd humor running through the film, and it simply doesn't work. For example, the chase through the ape village, highlighted by a bit in which Davidson and his comrades disrupt a pair of apes who are about to engage in some monkey lovin', doesn't belong in this movie. Its tone and execution are similar to that of the studio chase in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and I can't imagine that's what the producers had in mind when they hired Burton. Much the same could be said of Limbo, the ape trader played by Paul Giamatti. The character, who is written as if he were the wacky neighbor on a sitcom, doesn't fit; Limbo is far too self-conscious an attempt to inject ironic humor into the story. (As much as I hate the character, I have to admit that Giamatti gives a far better performance than the role deserves.) Bottom line is, I don't think Burton is the sort of director who can successfully play in other people's sandboxes, and I don't mean that as a slight against him, as the same can be said of many truly great filmmakers.
I suppose I should address the movie's now infamous final scene. I'm not as bothered by it as most people seem to be; there is a certain logic to it, but at the same time it's rather illogical. The filmmakers seem to think that any audience willing to accept the notion of a time storm is also willing to accept that no rules whatsoever apply to the workings of said storm. Objects and people who enter the storm are chronologically thrust out at points necessary to the plot, as if the storm itself were a Hollywood screenwriter who was struggling to make a deadline and had simply decided to wing it. And that brings us to what really bothers me about the ending: if the final scene takes place more than a century after the first scene, why has technology regressed?
The transfer on the SD disc was a home run, so it stands to reason that the Blu-ray version would be a poster child for the next gen format, right? Wrong. Somebody royally screwed up, because the 2.35:1 transfer (encoded with MPEG 2 at 18 Mbps on a single layer disc) isn't all it should be. The opening sequence on the space station is appropriately cold and sterile (a visual scheme lifted from 1968's other cinematic sci-fi classic), and darker scenes, especially interiors, look fine, with solid colors and detail. The exteriors, however, are rather flat and dull. This isn't really a problem until the last hour (the first half was filmed primarily on soundstages), but at a certain point it's almost as if someone throws a switch and drains the life out of the picture. Given that we're dealing with the work of a filmmaker known primarily for his visuals, this is quite a letdown, and more than a little puzzling. How and why this happened at this point in the game is beyond me.
At least the audio lives up to expectations. The DTS 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track sounds excellent. Dialogue is always intelligible and natural sounding, as are the grunts, screams, and screeches of the various simians. The copious bass is deep and tight (the crash sequence is still good demo material). Surround action is immersive and smoothly integrated. Danny Elfman's fine score comes through beautifully. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Remember how stacked the SD version was? That's not the case here, as the vast majority of the extras, which were the primary reason to pick up the original release, have been jettisoned.
The commentary by Tim Burton has been ported over. This was my first experience with a Burton commentary, and I'm not exactly dying to listen to another anytime soon. There's maybe fifteen or twenty minutes of good material here, meaning you get more than an hour of Burton either stammering or not saying a damn thing. I've seen interviews with the director, and it's obvious he's someone who communicates better through visuals, but I was still expecting a little more effort from him.
Other than that, the only extras are the movie's theatrical trailer and several previews for other Fox Blu-ray releases.
Let's see here--you get a disappointing movie, a lackluster presentation, and a dearth of extras. Sounds to me like this is one to hold out on. Let's hope that the next time Fox takes a crack at it (and you know they will) will prove to be more fruitful.