“Planet of the Apes” — Director Tim Burton and writer William Broyles’s re-imagining of the 1968 sci-fi classic isn’t exactly an intellectual exercise, but by summer blockbuster standards, it’s pretty good. Mark Wahlberg crash lands on an ape-dominated planet after going through a time warp; oppressed humans rally around him in their fight with the apes. The film is technically brilliant, featuring realistic ape costumes and behavior and a lush city that contrasts with the desert setting of the original. A couple of wink-wink lines (“Get your stinkin’ hands off me, you damn dirty human!”) and a cameo by Charlton Heston provide the necessary homages. Ironically, while the original’s surprise ending tied everything together, this film’s surprise ending is confusing and unnecessary. B+
— John Hansen, NDSU Spectrum, Aug. 28, 2001
ndsu spectrum: movie commentary
Time travel and other summer movie annoyances
By JOHN HANSEN
Aug. 28, 2001
As I sat in a packed theater last month watching the opening credits of “Planet of the Apes,” the critic half of my brain had to wonder: Have movies sunk so far in originality that we now have to plunder the hits of years past to come up with a new product?
Before I saw Tim Burton’s re-imagining of “Apes,” I was more cynical than Charlton Heston’s character in the original 1968 film.
Halfway through Burton’s film, I was enthralled by the utter realism of this new ape-world with its lush cities and zoologically-accurate body language. “Apes” showed that it was possible to make a completely original (if not superior) film using the concept of apes being superior to humans.
But when the film got to its obligatory surprise ending, my cynicism returned, because—along with “Jurassic Park III”—“Apes” suggested that a new trend is emerging among summer blockbusters: a complete disrespect for logic.
Now in the next few paragraphs I’m going to sound like I hated “Apes” and “JP III,” but I actually liked them both. They were entertaining. However, they also, at times, achieved a mind-boggling level of stupidity that can’t be shrugged off by saying “oh, it’s just a movie,” that common refrain that makes people feel better about paying six bucks to have their intelligence insulted.
First of all, the surprise ending of “Apes” makes no sense whatsoever. Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is traveling from the Ape planet thousands of years in the future, through a blotch of gamma radiation that sends him back in time (we see the clock on his ship move backwards), to Earth. He crashes on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sees that Lincoln’s head has been replaced with that of General Thade. Then squad cars filled with police-apes pull up.
I have no problem with the time travel element. It is theoretically possible to travel forward in time by circling a black hole a bunch of times. Gamma radiation? Close enough. Backwards time travel? Well, they did it in the original “Apes” saga and a hundred other sci-fi movies, so I’ll accept it.
What I don’t accept is that Apes have evolved to overthrow humans in a time period that could be no longer than 149 years, since our last glimpse of the clock on the ship says 21-something and Davidson left the planet in 2050.
I also find it hard to believe that these Apes have made a statue of a general who lives thousands of years in the future, on a completely different planet.
One could argue that Davidson landed on an alternate Earth, but since the concept of alternate dimensions wasn’t broached at all in the movie, it just doesn’t fly. If it had been an episode of “Sliders,” this would work, but you can’t introduce a new element of your film’s internal logic in the final frames.
The key to a surprise ending is to wrap things up by drawing on clues introduced earlier in the film. In the ’68 “Apes,” Heston sees the Statue of Liberty and realizes he’s on a future Earth and that humans screwed up, probably with nuclear weapons, and in the following 2,000 years apes became superior. It’s a great ending because it answers our questions of why the apes speak English; why the planet looks like Earth; why apes, humans and horses are present; and why the politicians are so anxious to discredit the idea of an intelligent human.
The ending of Burton’s “Apes” fails because it doesn’t answer anything, but instead raises new questions that a viewer has no means of answering based on the information provided in the film.
“JP III” also had its perplexing moments, or more accurately, non-moments. Like “Apes,” it is a technical marvel. The Spinosaurus vs. T-rex fight and the Pterodactyl cage blow away anything from the previous two films. Yet the previous two films are superior because “JP III” has plot holes big enough to drive a Brontosaurus through.
- What happened to the parachutist whose skeleton is still strapped to the harness? He was probably killed by Compys, since a bigger dino would have shredded the harness. If so, why didn’t the kid try to scare off the Compys? If he fled in terror, why is he not racked by guilt and why is he so comfortable living on an island packed with deadly carnivores for eight weeks?
- How did Billy escape the half-dozen Pterodactyls that were mauling him so badly that every other character left him for dead? And after he escaped the birds, how did he make it to the beach despite being in need of immediate medical attention, meanwhile stopping to pick up Alan Grant’s fedora?
- If the raptors are so vicious that they would attack their own kind (as established in the first two films), why would they be willing to collect their stolen eggs from Grant and not kill the four defenseless humans?
- Why would the big tanks and helicopters be intimidating to animals that don’t know what tanks or helicopters are? Wouldn’t they see the soldiers lined up on the beach and think “dinner time?”
- Why would you cast Tea Leoni in your movie and not have her get eaten by a Spinosaurus?
In ironing out these plot holes, some great action scenes or bits of character motivation could’ve been added to the film. Like I said, “JP III” and “Apes” were entertaining movies. They just annoyed the heck out of me.