Remaking a classic movie is always a gamble at best. Fans of the original are always ready to pounce on anyone who dares touch “their” film. Remaking a sci-fi classic is almost always a recipe for disaster. Your best bet is to take the classic in a different direction in hopes of making a film that is at least as good as the original yet fresh. However, when you don’t really offer anything new or worthwhile, you might as well have taken the time to create a different film altogether. Someone should have told director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) that before he signed on for the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes.
20th Century Fox knew what a cash cow the Apes franchise was and had been attempting a remake since the late 80s. At one time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was signed on with a long line of possible directors and producers that included names such as Oliver Stone and James Cameron. Years later, Tim Burton took on the role of director with a new script that was essentially a remake of the original 1968 classic. Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal wrote what was ultimately a confusing story that should have been more original. It lacked any likeable characters. In the process of trying to rehash what had already been done better in 1968, they ended up confusing the fans, especially with the cliffhanger ending. Konner and Rosenthal have some good (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) and some bad (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Beverly Hillbillies) films to their credit. Burton is a modern-day genius to many but any genius can have a bad film and Planet of the Apes is just that.
The movie starts off in 2029 aboard the space station Oberon. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg, Transformers: Age of Extinction) handles the apes specifically trained for space missions. When chimpanzee Pericles disappears in a strange electromagnetic storm, Leo takes another space pod in pursuit. He ends up crash landing on a strange planet in the year 5021. Here, apes can speak and rule a primitive society while treating humans as slaves. Leo is quickly befriended by the female chimpanzee Ari (Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) while also turning the eye of fellow female slave Daena (Estella Warren). Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk) is cast as the evil General Thade, who has romantic interests in Ari while also wanting to wipe out the human race. Ari helps Leo and a group of humans escape in pursuit of Calima (eventually revealed to be mean Caution Live Animals), a holy site forbidden by the apes. A signal is being transmitted from there that Leo believes is his space station Oberon. With General Thade in hot pursuit, a clash between the humans and the apes seems inevitable.
Planet of the Apes certainly has a good cast. In addition to those already mentioned, David Warner (Star Trek VI) appears as Senator Sandar and Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile, Daredevil) is Colonel Attar, right hand gorilla to General Thade. Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is slave trader Limbo, the comic relief in a film that didn’t need any comedy. We even get cameos from original cast members Charlton Heston (as Zaius, father to Thade) and Linda Harrison. Unfortunately, what really hurts the movie is the script. It gets far too convoluted towards the end with time travel and revelations that really don’t have an impact on the audience. Even the big cliffhanger makes no sense. Sure, it is kind of cool and maybe a sequel would have answered some questions but it seems thrown in just for shock value.
The best part about Planet of the Apes is the fantastic make-up designs by Rick Baker. They were realistic and very believable. Sure, the last two movies have stunning CGI but those of us who are old school will always appreciate good makeup and this movie has it. Too bad there was little else to hold my attention.
I recommend 2001s Planet of the Apes as a curiosity at best. Stick with the original flicks or the new franchise for some better entertainment. This version spawned a few toys and a couple of paperback novels, all of which quickly found their way into discount bins. Check out the trailer for yourself before tracking down the movie so you can get an idea of the journey awaiting you.