While watching Tim Burtonís version of Planet of the Apes, I wanted desperately to recast the movie. Instead of Mark Wahlberg as the lost astronaut, Russell Crowe would be my choice. Like Charlton Heston in the original, Crowe could run around shirtless. Betcha heíd refuse to wear those Raggedy Andy-like duds Wahlberg sports in most scenes. Next, Iíd put Joaquin Phoenix in the part of the villainous ape general. Not that Tim Roth does such a bad job, but Phoenix could do it without make-up. Finally, as the beautiful blonde lady, Iíd go for Connie Nielson in place of fashion model Estella Warren, who seems uncomfortable wearing her tacky One Million B.C. costume.
Now that I think about it, the plot needs fixing too. Less frenzied action and more character development would help. I do love action scenes, but I want them to take place after a suspenseful build-up. And the action should involve characters we care about, like in Gladiator and, of course, in the original Planet of the Apes. However, Burton (Sleepy Hollow) claims he wasnít interested in doing a re-make of the original. "But I was intrigued by the idea of revisiting that world," he says. "The original has a life of its own, and weíre trying to be respectful of it. We hope to get the best out of it and in the process introduce new characters and other story elements, keeping the essence of the original but inhabiting that world in a different way."
Unfortunately, Burtonís efforts failed to hold my interest after the first 15 minutes. Granted, the opening credits and space station sequence offered great promise. At the beginning of the film, Danny Elfmanís (Batman) stirring drumbeat music enhanced dramatic graphics of simian warriors and teased me into thinking something wonderful was about to appear on the big screen. Maybe thatís why I was so disturbed later by campy dialogue making fun of the original film --- like "Get your stinking hands off me, you filthy human!"
I was also bothered by the ape civilization depicted as still rather primitive and by the humans shown as white, except for one token black. Whatís the unconscious message here? Highlighting the evils of slavery is one thing, but emphasizing the inherent inferiority of a particular species (or race, symbolically) doesnít seem to jibe with this premise. In the original film, the apes were technologically advanced, so there was no question about equality of intellect.
But, hey, Iím getting too serious here. Itís only a movie. And it features some stunning visuals, particularly those warrior apes in attack mode, running on all fours. In terms of performances, there are a couple of gems. Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) actually breathes life into her role as the liberal daughter of an ape senator (David Warner) who sympathizes with the humans. Her expressive eyes shine through all that impressive make-up by Rick Baker (The Grinch). Paul Giamatti (Duets) as a sleazy orangutan businessman, enlivens his scenes with perfect comic timing. Discovered hiding during one of the conflicts, he insists, "I was just about to make my move." I almost believed him.
And now, a word about the filmís mysterious ending. Iím sworn to secrecy (under threat of being forced to watch the movie again if I reveal it). But I will mention that this conclusion, though confusing and unsatisfying, is just as surprising as the original. Okay, hereís a clue. It involves a different famous landmark. Which reminds me, Iíd change that too --- and make it the Coliseum.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for action and violence.)