Now that the original Planet of the Apes series has been covered, we no longer find ourselves in the 1960s nor the 1970s. There were, however, a few television adaptations that branch out of the films. One is simply titled Planet of the Apes from 1974, which tells the story of two astronauts who go through a time vortex and find themselves in the same situation that Heston’s character did in the first movie. The show only lasted half a season. Amongst a slew of comic books and audio stories revolving around the universe of the films, another television show was made, Return to the Planet of the Apes, an animated series that only ran 13 episodes.
Flash forward to 2001. The Planet of the Apes saga was still considered as a cult science fiction touchstone. Of course, when there is something this popular, Hollywood demands a remake. That is just what happened. With Tim Burton in the director’s chair the remake of Planet of the Apes was released.
Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is an Air Force piolet on the space station Oberon, but spends most of his time training a chimpanzee named Pericles how to operate a space pod should the use for him come up. During a bizarre electrical storm, Pericles goes missing while in a pod trying to investigate for the Oberon. Leo secretly gets in a pod and ejects it, but soon gets warped through time and space, crash landing on the planet Ashlar in 5021. On this planet, humans are subservient to a race of apes. Leo is captured, but soon escapes with fellow human Daena (Estella Warren) and two apes, Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) and General Krull (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). As this band of humans and apes try to find the coordinates of a possible rescue mission for Leo, General Thade (Tim Roth), a power hungry and malicious ape, is leading an army to come and find the them to not only put a stop to their rebellion, but their entire lives.
Right off the bat, this film feels very different from the original Planet of the Apes. First of all, we see Wahlberg’s character working on the space station before he travels through time and space. Another major difference is that the planet he lands on isn’t a futuristic Earth, but an entirely different planet. And the end…well, let’s not really talk about that too much. Let’s just say it’s one of the most preposterous, downright confusing endings I have ever seen. It doesn’t leave you thinking about yourselves or society, it just leaves you thinking about how an ending could be so stupid.
Visually, this movie is a big improvement from the original. The ape costumes look absolutely fantastic. In fact, they were my favorite part of the movie. I couldn’t see Tim Roth anywhere in his Thade make up. In that same respect, the acting is very good as well. Tim Roth leads the way with Helena Bonham Carter close behind. They both give excellent performances. The same can’t be said for the human characters. Mark Wahlberg and Estella Warren couldn’t be more dull and Kris Kristofferson’s role is wasted. The sets look okay, but this, like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is a very dark movie, and I had a hard time making things out in the ape city.
Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes isn’t really disappointing, but it could have been a hell of a lot better. I have no doubt that you would find this at the bottom of my Tim Burton list. The story is fine, save for the atrocious ending that makes absolutely zero sense. The make up and effects are really great and, for the most part, the acting is fine. A lot of the themes are watered down making this less of a philosophical journey than an eye popping blockbuster.
Still, we aren’t done with this franchise. In 2011, a movie came out that kicked some life into this franchise and successfully rebooted the story. Not only is it a good film, nor a great one. It’s an excellent film. I’m talking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Will Rodman (James Franco) is a scientist testing a new serum on apes in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, with the motivation of curing his father, Charles (John Lithgow). After a problem with an ape that was highly experimented on, Will brings home her baby and names his Caesar. Caesar shows phenomenal mental growth and is kept around the house and brought up by Will and his father. By the time Caesar is an adult (now with a motion capture performance by Andy Serkis) he is showing signs of understanding and personal confusion. After a violent outburst he is brought to a primate shelter where he experiences abuse and witnesses the other apes getting abused. This forces Caesar to rise up and take command of the apes and lead them to their freedom, but humanity is not so eager to see this happen.
This movie is a strange hybrid of campy and masterful. The story is obviously pretty over the top. A highly intelligent ape leading a revolution against the humans? Yeah sure. I’ve already mentioned this movie in this review but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very similar, story wise, to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This time, the story is more intense and so is the actual revolution. The last half hour of this movie is absolutely unbelievable, but the entire film itself is thought provoking and much needed return to thematic form for this series.
What really made this movie for me is Andy Serkis’ performance. The people who vote on awards or cast the ballots need to begin recognizing motion capture performances as genuine acting. Serkis’ facial expressions, body movement, and voice work really bring Caesar to life in a way that no other Planet of the Apes movie ever could. Even though Caesar mostly just uses his face and body to communicate, he becomes the most loved character in the movie. That’s saying something. The human characters are definitely more interesting this time around, although they still can’t compare to the apes.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just what this franchise needed. Not only did it reboot the series, it successfully did so in a rare way. In 2014, the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be released, and hopefully it can maintain the same greatness as this film. The acting, the effects, and the themes are back and better than ever making this one the best the entire franchise has to offer.
It was really great finally getting to see this series in its entirety. Not all of the entries were very good, but they have held a cult status ever since their release. They are an excellent example of dystopian science fiction, and take place in a universe that is intriguing and cautionary. Even though there are still people who haven’t seen the movies, they are still well aware of the Planet of the Apes.