Posted on 10/24/12 12:54 PM
Comparisons between Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes and the original 1968 film are almost inevitable, but I'd like to avoid them for the most part. This is mostly due to my memory, not being able to remember enough about the original to compare, but also because of the fact that the films don't really require contrasting. They are different films, with different settings and characters, as well as drastically different endings.
Actually, the endings of both films are what stick out in my mind the most. While both being different from one another, they both manage to shock the audience. The original's was shocking because it turned everything you had thought throughout the film on its head. This version of the film is shocking because it comes straight out of left field, isn't explained, and is there only to set up a sequel that is never going to come. And yet, despite the fact that it is a major cliffhanger, it does its job; you will still be thinking about the ending for a while after the film ends.
Let's rewind a bit and look at how the film opens, instead of how it concludes. We are aboard a US space station. We meet Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), who works close with genetically enhanced primates. A storm is coming, and a primate is sent to investigate. The pod soon disappears from radar, and Leo decides to chase after it. He loses contact with the space station as well and soon crash lands on an ape-invested planet. (Hence the title, I suppose). These apes treat humans as lower class, selling them off as slaves or pets. Leo spends the rest of his time on the planet attempting to leave, aided in this quest by the friendly ape Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), as well as some other humans.
Ari is the only character with a personality, and the only one that we will care much about. She's doesn't like how the humans are treated. She's an animal rights activist, only in an inverted position to ones that we would know. Humans are treated poorly, not animals--although I would question the treatment of horses throughout the film. This also brings into my mind the question, "Why are the apes using horses to begin with"?" There is a scene near the end of the film that shows that apes can run faster than horses can. Wouldn't that make their use unnecessary? Either way, apes ride them, jump onto them, and come close to being downright abusive to them. Doesn't anyone think about the horses?
The answer to this is a resounding "no". The film is too focused on our protagonist Leo, a character who is so un-phased by everything that happens that he just continues pushing forward. Talking apes are no problem for him, nor is finding out that he may never get back to Earth. He just continues doing what comes naturally for him, with no second-judging any thoughts. "Move forward" just about sums up his character, but this doesn't seem to matter all that much.
The interesting developments of the film occur when the "bad" apes become involved in its affairs. Tim Burton decided to make the apes as sophisticated as humans can be, but still retaining their animalistic characteristics. When they get mad, they shriek, climb walls and pound their chests, just like apes from Earth. This makes them terrifying antagonists. This is helped out from the incredible makeup job that is applied to them. While it's hard to tell which actor is behind the makeup, the apes are each given a distinct look, helping us differentiate between them. The complete package of makeup and costume makes the apes come alive on-screen. They are living, breathing creatures, and feel about as real as they need to.
The one thing that would have been nice to see would have been the film tackling some issue, or making a statement in regards to the reversed human-ape relationship. Apart from the anti-discriminatory stance that Ari takes, we aren't given much at all. We could have been taken through what it was really like to face total discrimination and domination from a superior species, but we aren't. Even environmental issues could have been addressed. The apes live in a jungle-like environment, one that doesn't seem to be suffering like Earth's rainforests are currently. Sadly, this doesn't come up either, and instead, the environment actually changes to one of desert and wasteland as we draw closer to the film's finale.
There are actually quite a few action sequences in Planet of the Apes. This is good, because without the film having interesting characters or tackling important issues, it needs something to keep the audience entertained. These scenes, while mostly composed of apes and humans attacking each other with sticks, helped to keep my attention. They weren't creative, and some of the time it was hard to tell exactly what was happening, but they still gave a welcome change in pace from the "adventure" that the characters are on.
Planet of the Apes has a confusing ending, one that actually works in the film's favor. If it hadn't stood out the way that it did, the film likely would have been completely forgettable. There was only one character that was given a real personality, and the action scenes, while serving a purpose in breaking up the otherwise slow pacing, weren't all that great. The ape design looked excellent, but wasn't enough to make you remember it. Yes, the ending that sets up a sequel we will never get allows the film to stick in my memory, and while the rest of the film wasn't great, it wasn't all that bad either. It ends up being a mostly forgettable film that can help pass the time. That is it, and nothing more.