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20th Century Fox presents
"Take your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!"
DVD ReviewIf I could've chosen the director for the remake of Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton would've been high up on my list. His films are rarely anything less than visually engrossing, and surely he'd be able to inject some life and originality into what is, lets face it, an unnecessary project that was doomed to disappoint fans of the original classic. Apes 2001 producer Richard D. Zanuck (who, incidentally, also worked on the 1968 flavored version) called the pairing of Burton and Apes "magic." Sadly, any magic that could've resulted from the coupling seems to have slipped out the trap door. In the interests of producing a surefire Hollywood hit, the studio heads saddled Burton with a bland, pre-packaged script with dull characters and flat dialogue. Without his usual oddball troupe of misfits, Burton fails to establish a consistent tone and even his usually dazzling visuals seem watered down for mass consumption. The final product feels like just that; it bears little of the charm that usually characterizes a Burton film. Yet somehow, it remains a diverting sci-fi action romp, even if it never reaches the levels of subtext and style of the original picture.
Leo Davidson (Wahlberg, unusually dull) is a researcher on a space station that exists, apparently, only to train chimps to fly space probes. Unexpectedly, one of those pesky unknown space energy cloud things accidentally gets lost on its way to the set of the next Star Trek film and appears near the station. Following procedure, a manned (or rather, monkeyed) pod is sent out to investigate. When it disappears, Leo, against orders, sets out on a rescue mission. I guess this guy really likes his pets. Or really needs a date.
He gets caught in the anomaly, and travels through space and possibly time (luckily, the pods have some sort of magical device that can gauge the flow of time), only to find himself crash-landed on an unfamiliar planet. Surprise, surprise, it's a "planet where apes evolved from men?" Or some such. The humans are kept as pets and slaves, and the apes rule. Leo meets up with fellow human Danea (Warren), and concludes that the only way to free himself is to help her and her family escape. They enlist the aid of a sympathetic chimp, Ari (Bonham Carter) and flee Ape City, but are pursued by the villainous Thade (Roth), who's one banana short of a bushel.
Things move along at a rather brisk pace, but several unnecessary subplots are thrown into the mix to drag down the story, most notably a love triangle between Leo, Ari, and Danea, and a vague past conflict between two apes, General Attar (Duncan) and Krull (Tagawa). Not that these are inherently bad ideas; they are simply so glossed over in the script that they feel like filler. The few battle scenes are fairly entertaining, even with Burton's rather poor eye for action sequences, and the scenes of philosophical and religious discussion between various apes are probably the best (and most Burtonesque) aspect of the film. But overall, the lack of a compelling lead really hurts the movie. Leo is a boring character that is virtually impossible to feel any sort of pathos for—he wants to get home, and helps the other humans only to further his goal. What valor. At one point, he gives perhaps the weakest motivational speech I have ever heard. It basically amounts to, "Come on, guys, let's do this thing so I can leave."
And then, of course, there's the much-maligned twist ending, which, I'm sure you've heard. Makes absolutely no sense at all. The ending of the original packed a wallop, redefined the previous two hours of the film, and paved the way for a successful franchise. This one, well, it is a bit too clever for its own good.
Script problems aside, there are a lot of things worth mentioning. As stated, the Burton touch seems to have been diluted a bit, but the sets and cinematography are still quite nice. Ape City looks like a set, yes, but it is still interesting to look at—sort a twisted Ewok Village. And, of course, Rick Baker's make-up is outstanding, and sure to win him awards come March. Each species, be it ape or chimp, has a unique look and a surprisingly functional range of facial movement. The work done for General Thade is especially impressive, aided no doubt by Tim Roth's over the top performance.
Speaking of actors, well, you take the good with the bad. If Wahlberg is a boring hero, then Bonham Carter makes up for it with her surprisingly subtle portrayal of Ari, the human rights activist (heh). Even under a pound of latex, she is able to give Ari real depth, and a playfulness that is entirely welcome amidst the rather mundane supporting cast. Estella Warren, a former Olympic swimmer, is fairly wooden as Leo's love interest, but in her defense, the character is sorely underwritten. And watch out for an amusing cameo from Charlton Heston, proving that even the president of the N.R.A. has a sense of humor.
All in all, Apes version 2001 isn't a total misfire. It's fairly entertaining, which is more than I can say for most blockbusters from the Summer of 2001. But the pairing of Burton and Apes isn't quite what it should have been. Reportedly, the experience soured Burton on A-list projects. Perhaps if the studio had let him loose, the film would've been better. Or at least weirder.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review:
Planet of the Apes has received a nice, film-like transfer to DVD. The film is rather dark overall, but black level and shadow detail are excellent throughout. The picture overall looks clear, with good fine detail, but without a lot of obvious edge enhancement. Colors, when they need to be, are strong and vibrant. The only negative was a bit of aliasing on my 4:3 display.
Audio Transfer Review: Fox has once again produced a disc that offers the best of both worlds to audiophiles: both DTS and DD 5.1 are included. Both tracks are excellent, but the DTS track gets the edge with more subtle separation between the channels. However, many would have a hard time hearing a difference. Anyway, both feature strong use of the surrounds during key action sequences, but more subtle, atmospheric use elsewhere in the film. The score is well integrated into the mix, and gets some nice support from the surrounds as well. Dialogue is always clean, and the LFE level is appropriate, if not earth shaking.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Moulin Rouge, Dr. DoLittle 2
6 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Multiple Angles with remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Tim Burton; composer Danny Elfman
Layers Switch: 00h:45m:22s
Disc One features two audio commentaries. The first is from director Tim Burton, a man known for his lackluster tracks for his earlier films. He initially wasn't planning on doing one at all (and has said that filming Apes was not the best experience), but Prior was able to convince him to do it "interview style." The resulting track edits out the questions. It's not a bad listen, but there are still gaps here and there. Burton dwells mostly on technical and development issues, as opposed to the story, characters, and actors. He makes some good comments, but just doesn't seem very enthusiastic. Better is the isolated score with comments from Danny Elfman. Elfman has one of the most distinct voices in film composing these days, and he gives some insight into his work process (in writing for Apes, he apparently used several percussive instruments that he himself created).
Also on Disc One is another option for watching the film, called Enhanced Viewing Mode. This is very similar to the New Line Infinifilm system—during the film, little boxes will appear throughout with video clips and interviews. This is done using seamless branching. At other points, a pop-up will prompt you to press "enter" on the remote. Do so and you'll be taken to a separate still gallery or making-of, and then returned to the film. There is some fun information here, and the presentation makes good use of the interactive capabilities of DVD. However, whenever I try to watch a movie with a feature like this engaged, I get caught up in the story and end up turning it off. I like it in theory, but in practice, I guess I just prefer movies to extras.
Rounding out Disc One are cast and crew profiles, Nuon features (which only work on a small percentage of players, and not on mine), and the THX Optimode tests.
Moving on to Disc Two, there's a comprehensive series of featurettes and still galleries that will tell you just about everything you'd want to know about the film (or at least, everything the studio wants to let you know). 6 documentaries are included, each focusing on a different part of the production. All make extensive use of both on-set footage and interviews, and aren't the least bit promotional, a welcome change from many recent special editions.
Simian Academy runs 24 minutes, and covers the ape training the actors had to complete before shooting. It's amusing at times (Helena Bonham Carter tells us she got an F the first time), but it runs a little long. Face Like a Monkey is the best of the bunch—it's a 30-minute tour of make-up artist Rick Baker's workshop for a look at the painstaking development and application of the ape makeup. Ape Contour is a 6-minute piece on costume designer Colleen Atwood. The 10-minute Chimp Symphony Op. 37 covers (what else?) the recording of the score, and features extensive interviews with Danny Elfman. On Location: Lake Powell runs 12 minutes, and is comprised of on-set footage from a day of shooting at one of the locations from the original film. I was a bit bored during this one—obviously, this was the day the EPK people visited the set, and the resulting footage is a bit bland. Finally, Swinging from the Trees is a fun 10-minute look at the stunt work and the logistical problems in getting humans to run on all fours quickly enough to look menacing (as opposed to, say, moronic).
The 5 extended scenes are disappointing. The "alternate ending" rumor turned out to be just that, so don't look for anything like that here (unless it's an Easter egg I haven't found yet). Instead, these are brief extensions of scenes that remained in the film, and none provide anything worthwhile. The total running time for all five is less than ten minutes.
The screen test gallery is very cool, but a bit difficult to explain. There are five topics to choose from: make-up tests, costume tests, group tests, stunt tests, and movement tests. When selected, each option brings up a quad-screen (four frames within a 2.35:1 image) showing four different tests, with separate selectable audio tracks.
Multi-Angle Featurettes is an interesting use of DVD, and something I haven't really seen before. Four scenes—"Limbo's Quadrangle," "Sandar's House," "Escape from Ape City," and "In the Forest"—are presented split-screen, with looks at the preparation and filming of each, with two selectable audio tracks. In addition, there's a toolbar along the bottom that lets you branch out to the final scene, the storyboards, or the script.
I'm not a big fan of still galleries, but those of you who are can explore different sections on "The Oberon," "Derkien," "Calima," "Jungle," "Ape Tents," "Human Tents," "Storyboards," "Flags," "Furniture," "Labs," "Lighting," "Transportation," "Various," "Wardrobe," and "Weapons."
Finally, there are the promotional extras. I find it amusing that the HBO's First Look is housed here. Few DVDs label these things as the bland fluff pieces they really are. This is your standard no-depth look at the production, and everything covered here is done better elsewhere on the disc. Posters and Press Kit gives you a look at the teaser and final poster art and extensive production notes lifted right from the press kit. A mind-numbingly edited music video, for the Paul Okenfeld remix of Rule the Planet, will set your nerves on edge. And lastly (phew!), there's the trailer/TV spot gallery, which houses not only the teaser and trailer for Apes, but 6 TV spots, along with a promo spot for the Moulin Rouge DVD and the trailer for Dr. DoLittle 2.
All these extras are wrapped up in some of the most attractive, most functional menus I have seen in quite some time. While many of the extras are a bit dry or overly familiar, the package is, overall, very attractive, and puts DVD technology to good use.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsIn a summer of disappointing movies, Planet of the Apes was better than most. It doesn't approach the quality of the original, but it works on its own, despite its many flaws, as a diverting piece of entertainment. As for the DVD, well, it's a two disc set from Fox, which tells you all you need to know.
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