Going Ape in the Aisle Seat
A review of Tim Burton's new version
Plus: Image's BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES DVD!
By Andy Dursin
Even though I was born a year after the last entry in the original PLANET
OF THE APES series had been released, I nevertheless grew up watching the
films -- and its TV spin-off -- on local television and videotape. The
series' colorful adventures captivated me as a child (as it did for countless
young movie-goers), working splendidly on that level while adults were
able to appreciate the intriguing story lines and (often none-too-subtle)
social-political parallels to real life.
I caught up with the original series a few years ago in one of my "Laserphile"
columns for FSM, and was surprised at how well it held up. While the 1968
film remains in a league of its own, the flawed but fascinating sequels
were still highly viewable and quite interesting in how they continued
the series and boasted their own distinct look and feel.
There can be a tendency to overrate some of the Apes films -- in fact,
the sequels' continued popularity seems to be the sign of fond nostalgia
as opposed to the enduring strength of quality filmmaking (there are as
many unintended laughs in the follow-ups as there are genuine ones) --
but nevertheless, there are few series in the annals of science-fiction
cinema that have spurred as much debate and continued success as Fox's
After years in development, where everyone from Oliver Stone to Arnold
Schwarzenegger and James Cameron were once involved, Fox's new version
of PLANET OF THE APES arrived in theaters last weekend to gigantic
box-office revenues and none-too-surprising mixed reviews. (I love how
some folks called the film "silly," as if a movie about a planet ruled
by talking apes would be anything but!)
As a fan of the original films, I was ready to rate the picture strictly
on a level with its predecessors. On the other hand, as a Tim Burton aficionado,
I was able to enjoy this PLANET OF THE APES on its own terms and found
it to be highly enjoyable.
So with the APES fresh in everyone's minds once again, here's my review
of the new picture, along with a look at Image's sensational new, double-disc
DVD of BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES, which will be in stores next week
and should prove to be an essential purchase for Apes fans of all ages.
PLANET OF THE APES (***): Tim Burton's movies are always interesting
-- if not from a story standpoint, then at least from a visual one. His
"re-imagining" of PLANET OF THE APES may be short in some narrative aspects,
but the film more than compensates for it in its fast pace, exciting action
sequences, and fascinating visual design.
It feels like a Marvel comic-book come to life, a sci-fi adventure that
kept me glued to my seat more than any other "event" movie released so
far this summer. Burton has managed to make a movie that's both a semi-homage
to the original films and a confident, exciting story all its own.
After Danny Elfman's bold, aggressive score opens up the front credits
on a striking note, Mark Wahlberg suits up as an astronaut in the future
who improbably ends up on a planet where once again apes have taken control
over the human race and begun a civilization in their own image. On this
planet, as opposed to the futuristic Earth depicted in the 1968 original,
humans CAN talk, but are subverted by the apes, who use them as pets and
slaves, bound in chains and kept in cages.
One female simian, played by Helena Bonham Carter, seeks to unite the
two species, but the ruthless military general Thade (Tim Roth, in a superbly
villainous role) wants to crush them all -- especially after hearing the
true origins of the ape civilization from his ailing father (Charlton Heston,
in a wonderful cameo for fans of the original).
Now, it's unlikely that anyone will equate Burton's PLANET OF THE APES
with Franklin J. Schaffner's '68 version as a bona-fide sci-fi classic.
The humans are the least interesting element of the William Broyles, Jr.-Mark
Rosenthal-Lawrence Konner script, and Burton seems to have chopped away
at a potential love story between Wahlberg and a human female (the lovely
Estella Warren) in the interests of swift pacing. (Ditto for Kris Kristofferson's
brief part as Warren's father.) Wahlberg himself, who has exuded charisma
in much of his previous work, seems wooden and ill-at-ease here, the result
of a screenplay that doesn't provide him with much to do.
On the other hand, Roth and Bonham Carter (who manages to be more appealing
here than in any of her recent "human" parts) are both excellent, as are
Michael Clarke Duncan as one of Roth's top aides and Paul Giamatti as a
slimy "human trader," while Colleen Atwood's costumes and Philippe Rousselot's
cinematography both put a unique spin on a world we have visited before.
And in regards to Rick Baker's make-up effects, the Academy might as well
forgo nominating other candidates for next year's Oscar after seeing the
marvelously articulated simian designs the master genre craftsman has produced
Burton's version is less interested in political commentary than it
is in sustaining a look and mood that is as fresh as it is familiar. After
a somewhat leisurely opening, Burton moves the action along, cleverly dropping
in time travel and parallel dimensions into the movie's plot (as well as
a few elements of Pierre Boulle's novel that didn't make it into the '68
version), and enhancing the entire production with some thrilling battle
scenes and a wacky, Burton-esque ending that makes more sense if you envision
it as a fascinating set-up for a sequel as opposed to a homage to the original
movie's Statue of Liberty twist finale.
The director also uses some of his trademark humor -- especially in
Giamatti's role and the interplay between Wahlberg and Bonham Carter --
that lightens the material just enough without turning it into self- parody.
(In this regard, the movie is easier to digest than the bleak, often pretentious
storylines of the original series.)
Those who loved the original PLANET OF THE APES series for its political
and social commentary may be highly disappointed in Burton's vision: his
is a completely different film, respectful of its origins, with its own
agenda. Gone are the heavy-handed, preachy messages and dry, talky sections
that marred stretches of the original series. In its place is a lean, efficient
piece of modern movie-making that suffers from the problems that plague
most of today's big studio fare (as in a disjointed and at-times under-developed
script), but yet utilizes its visual assets far more effectively than any
of this year's other "blockbusters."
In fact, there's a genuine sense of enthusiasm evident in every aspect
of filmmaking here that proved infectious to this reviewer. After another
piffle of a movie summer, Tim Burton has produced a flawed but at-times
inventive, sometimes ingenious, and constantly entertaining piece of escapist
fare that monkeys around for all the right reasons. (PG-13, 110 mins)
More APES on DVD
If the release of the new APES has rekindled your interest in the original
movies, you have several viewing options available to you on DVD.
You can find Franklin Schaffner's 1968 film at stores everywhere, but
if you want to sit through the whole series, you'll have to wait a few
weeks until Fox re-issues last year's PLANET OF THE APES: EVOLUTION
box-set, which is the only place you can find the sequels on DVD (they're
not available separately).
The original EVOLUTION box-set also featured a sixth bonus disc, "Behind
the Planet of the Apes," which included the sensational 1998 AMC documentary
on the series, complete with interviews and behind-the- scenes footage.
While that disc will not be a part of the re-issued set, Image Entertainment
is releasing their own, deluxe edition of BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES
($24.98) on August 7 with an extensive assortment of brand-new supplements
that will provide hours of enjoyment for any Apes-phile.
The 126-minute documentary is still, obviously, the centerpiece of the
disc. Hosted by the late, great Roddy McDowall and featuring interviews
with Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Ricardo Montalban, and behind-the-scenes
talent like J. Lee Thompson and co-producer Mort Abrahams, the documentary
offers a surprisingly honest assessment of the original film and its sequels
(as well as the TV series). Most interesting is an extensive look at the
1968 film, a chronicle of the post-production cuts that plagued the fourth
film, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and the budgetary restrictions
that befell the fifth and last picture in the series, BATTLE FORÍ
The documentary even includes some priceless, rare footage of a "make-up
test" featuring Edward G. Robinson (who knew he couldn't film the actual
movie) and Heston, along with simians played by Linda "Nova" Harrison and
While excerpts of this footage are included in the documentary -- itself
presented in a clearer transfer here than the Fox release -- Image's DVD
offers plenty of extra goodies, including the ENTIRE, unexpurgated ten-minute
test, newly remastered with Paul Frees' original narration introducing
the footage to prospective studio execs.
That's the kind of extra that you'll find among the new supplements
Image has included here. Among the other bonuses are a 1967 NATO Presentation
Reel, featuring a 10-minute synopsis of the original movie with different
music and dialogue; a four-minute '67 featurette shows conceptual art design
and make-up; a 13-minute "Look Behind" from 1972 seems to have been produced
for the release of CONQUEST, featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the
first four films in the series; a ten-minute "Don Taylor Directs ESCAPE"
looks at the filming of that entry's final carnival scene; a one-minute
"J. Lee Thompson Directs CONQUEST" includes brief footage (culled from
video tape) of behind-the-scenes activity; and a full slate of theatrical
trailers rounds out the first disc.
The second disc features arguably the package's most valuable extra:
an unedited, two-hour interview with Roddy McDowall shot for the documentary.
McDowall -- whose remarkable performances were a principal reason for the
success of the entire series -- eloquently speaks about everything from
being buried under John Chambers' make-up to the development of the initial
film's production (including Blake Edwards' original involvement, which
isn't entirely divulged in the actual documentary).
Among the more interesting revelations: Roddy never even saw BENEATH,
doesn't recall any of the specifics of BATTLE (including the Corringtons,
who wrote the script) aside from it being "bloodless," and fondly recalls
his work on the TV series, blaming incompetent CBS executives for its failure.
He also discusses his love for the movies and the need for film preservation,
and hearing him address these topics after a lifetime of working in and
around Hollywood makes it worthwhile for any fan of the cinema.
It's a shame that McDowall couldn't have lived to see the release of
Burton's film, as its success proves the late actor correct in how vibrant
he believed the popularity of the series still was as recently as a few
A 20-minute assembly of soundless outtakes and dailies from the original
PLANET OF THE APES, set to Jerry Goldsmith's original score, rounds out
Image has done a superb job with the animated menu screens, featuring
members of the group "Apemania" re-enacting the original film's "Hunt"
sequence, and there's at least one photo gallery included as a hidden feature.
For anyone interested in the making of the PLANET OF THE APES films
and the cultural phenomenon that followed their release, this DVD is a
priceless package for all Apes aficionados.
Also New on DVD
Anyone who regularly reads this column knows of my fondness for bad
movies -- movies so inept that they are often funnier than most actual
Peter Hyams' 1979 WWII romantic drama HANOVER STREET ($24.98)
was a box-office flop that isn't quite as over-the-top as some have claimed
it to be, but it is nevertheless an overwrought and often unbelievably
ludicrous epic that seems to have been perfectly timed for DVD release
with "Pearl Harbor" still fresh in the public consciousness.
The movie finds a lost Harrison Ford (who was, in Hyams' own words,
"not so hot" at the box-office back in those days) as an American bomber
pilot stationed in London. One day while walking down Hanover Street (but
of course), he meets Lesley-Anne Down as a nurse and the two quickly find
that conversation over tea isn't enough to satisfy their carnal cravings.
A few quick rolls in the hay later, and soon Lesley's guilt begins to come
into play -- she is, after all, married to well-meaning but boorish British
military advisor Christopher Plummer, with a moppish daughter (future LETHAL
WEAPON 2 ingenue Patsy Kensit) in tow.
After a slow-moving first hour, Hyams' film then picks up steam -- and
unintended yuks -- once Plummer opts to storm into German territory WITH
Ford (unknowing that he's been fooling around with his beloved) in an effort
to steal secret Nazi documents. It all culminates in an action-filled climax,
marking, pretty much, the first action in the entire film.
It's safe to say that HANOVER STREET has it all: a lush, romantic (and
unreleased) score by John Barry that deserved a better fate in a superior
film; superb cinematography by David Watkin making excellent use of the
wide Panavision frame; performances by countless American actors living
in England at the time (including Shane Rimmer, William Hootkins, and John
"Cheers" Ratzenberger); and some of the most inane dialogue you'll ever
hear in a movie produced on this kind of scale.
Sample dialogue exchange between Ford and Plummer:
PLUMMER: Why don't you look at yourself in the mirror [and see how
brave you are?]
FORD: I can't, I'm driving!
Hyams has generally fared well making sci-fi/horror movies (CAPRICORN
ONE, OUTLAND, THE RELIC, 2010) but screenplays have never been his strong
suit. Here, the auteur directed from his own script, and the result is
an at-times embarrassing but constantly entertaining throwback to the romantic
days of WWII filmmaking yore, complete with wisecracking American pilots,
stately Englishmen threatening to veer into self-parody with their earnestness,
and an improbable, illogical climax that somehow puts a splendid cap on
the entire show.
Columbia's DVD, out this week, features a surprisingly strong 2.35 transfer
from source elements ranging from pristine to speckled and beat up. The
Dolby Stereo sound has been encoded both as 4.0 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby
Surround, but only the 4.0 mix boasts an audible dialogue track (it doesn't
help that Ford mumbles his way through the whole movie).
Hyams even contributes a rare commentary track here, and earns a few
points in my book for being honest enough to admit how much of the movie
didn't work. He also discusses his career-long love affair with Panavision
(Hyams relates a great story about asking Steven Spielberg why he wasn't
shooting JURASSIC PARK in scope) and about how he can't stand to sit through
one of his movies after it's released -- and after seeing HANOVER STREET,
who could blame him?
While Sam Raimi is off filming "Spider-Man," Paramount
has just released his under-appreciated, spooky southern Gothic thriller
THE GIFT (***, $29.98) on DVD.
Cate Blanchett stars as physic in a small Georgia town where the fiancee
(Katie Holmes) of school principal Greg Kinnear is found drowned in a local
swamp. Haunted by visions of the girl's murder, Blanchett seeks to sort
out the suspects, from Kinnear to government agent Gary Cole and wife-abuser
Keanu Reeves, who provides a solid character turn in the excellent ensemble
cast (which also includes Giovanni Ribisi and Hilary Swank).
More suspenseful and satisfying than Raimi's last small-town character
study (the somewhat OVER-praised "A Simple Plan"), THE GIFT resembles a
more adult version of last summer's box-office hit "What Lies Beneath,"
with superb performances from Blanchett, Ribisi, and Reeves compensating
for a few overly melodramatic moments in the Billy Bob Thornton-Tom Epperson
Raimi, though, balances the domestic aspects of the material with the
more outlandish, horrific moments exceedingly well, and the result is a
compelling thriller that ranks as the director's finest, non-EVIL DEAD
directorial outing to date.
Paramount's DVD features a superlative 1.85 transfer and active 5.1
Dolby Surround audio mix, highlighted by Christopher Young's effective
score. A music video, the original trailer, and cast and crew interviews
culled from the press junket round out a solid presentation for a creepy
little chiller that's definitely worth a look if you missed it the first
NEXT WEEK: The latest DVD reviews and news (as
always), and maybe -- JUST maybe -- a special tribute to one of my all-time
favorite Summer Movies, LIFEFORCE! Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. (And welcome back, Nomar!)