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Monday, March 7, 2016

Get your hands off me: Planet of the Apes (2001)

What does it say about a movie that I can't pick out any memorable lines, even though I finished watching it less than one minute ago? All that lingers are references to Apes 68, and that weird run through the ape caves when the humans are escaping.

Planet of the Apes, 2001, directed by Tim Burton.

The movie starts on a space station, testing chimps (and, apparently, other apes) as pilots to go into situations that might be dangerous for humans.  A few minutes in, and they send out a chimp named Pericles to explore this weird space storm thing. When they lose contact, a pilot named Davidson (Mark Wahlburg) steals a ship and goes after it. Things get all screwy because of the storm, and Davidson crashes on a planet. His ship sinks.

Almost immediately, a bunch of people almost run right into him. They're being chased by apes, who capture a lot of them, including Davidson. He's given to an orangutan named Limbo, apparently for some sort of experimentation. It's never clear to me what's supposed to happen. While being sized up, Davidson grabs a sympathetic ape named Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), threatening her in order to get free. Instead, for some reason, Ari agrees to buy him from Limbo. So, along with the pretty girl with whom he was captured, he's now a slave in Ari's house. They escape, bringing along Ari's dad and brother (?). The dad dies along the way. For whatever reason, Ari and her gorilla friend Krull go with them, and they capture Limbo along the way. A bunch of other junk happens, and eventually the group finds the space station ship thingy from the beginning of the movie. Even though it's apparently been a whole long time, the batteries still work, so they learn that the apes on the ship--who have been tampered with scientifically--eventually killed everybody and are apparently the ancestors of the sapient apes on the planet.

The apes have followed the gang to the ship, and they attack. When things look bleak for our heroes, the ape test pilot Pericles shows up. This confuses people and the fighting stops. Then Pericles goes into the ship--that's what he was trained to do--followed by the bad ape general and Davidson. There's some irrelevant fighting, and then it's over. And Davidson gets in Pericles's ship and tries to get back home. He leaves Pericles behind for some reason. Anyway, he goes back through the storm and crashes on Earth, which is now dominated by apes.

It's not a great movie. When Davidson and his gang arrive at the old ship, all of a sudden all these other people show up and start treating him like he's the messiah or something. It's weird, and out of nowhere, and doesn't contribute to the story or character development other than to have a bunch of humans there to fight the ape army when they arrive. Then there's the chase scene, in which Davidson et. al. run through a bunch of apes' bedrooms in caves because there don't seem to be any doors on anybody's rooms. This is where we learn some stuff about the apes' lives (worshiping, doing weird mating dances, etc.), but it plays so strangely that I can't even say any more about it.

The ape effects are great, though. Rick Baker is, of course, the best there is at this stuff. There was a lot of attention to ape behavior, from facial tics to the way they walk and run. There's even a moment of brachiation that no other Apes film has bothered to show us. And the male orangutans actually have cheek pouches. However, and oddly, the movie seems to think that apes have incredibly strong legs, capable of standing long jumps that put Olympic athletes to shame. That's a weird thing for them to evolve.

The previous Apes movies have all explored some aspect of something beyond themselves. In the first, it was dehumanization and the nature of civilization, with a bit of youth culture commentary thrown in. Others were about what makes us human, over and against what makes an animal in our eyes, or the threat of nuclear annihilation, or the cost of violence. Stuff like that. I can't really say that this film is about anything other than Planet of the Apes movies. There's stuff in here that only works if you've got knowledge about the previous films, and it suffers for that.

I'm not really sure what they were going for with that ending, though. Where were they going to take it for a sequel? I guess it doesn't really matter. Like gigantopithecus, this one's an evolutionary dead end.

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