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Nathan Davies is curiously drawn to this ape fantasy.

Planet Of The Apes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti.
Director: Tim Burton.
Producer: Richard Zanuck.
Make-up: Rick Baker.
Certificate: 12
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox.
Running Time: 135 mins. approx.

When I first heard that Tim Burton was to helm the new Planet Of The Apes movie I was apprehensive. My initial reaction was, ‘why him?’ Don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the fragmented Mars Attacks, I’m a fan of his work, but as someone with fond memories of the original Apes film, I was more than a little concerned over what ‘Mr. Dark-and-Edgy’ would do in re-working such a tested classic. As it turns out I was both right and wrong to be worried.

Burton’s ‘re-imagining’, as he is calling it is neither a sequel to nor a remake of the 1968 original, and this is made clear in almost every frame of the film. Stylistically, especially in regard to the visuals, the two are completely different animals, but the point at which they crucially differ is in the structure of the higher narrative. While it essentially revolves around the same premise as it’s predecessor (and the original novel by Pierre Boulle), that of a lone human astronaut who finds himself on a world where humans are slaves and apes have evolved into the dominant species, the new version updates the attitudes of the protagonist and the themes which shape the ape civilisation. By escaping the trappings of what has gone before Burton, with his team of writers and artists, has succeeded in creating a new and separate ‘planet’ of the apes.

One of the biggest differences on this new Planet is that the native humans can talk and have their own tribal society that exists outside the apes’ cities. They are not the wild, brutal savages from the original Planet Of The Apes, but rather second class citizens to be used by the apes as slaves. Where Charlton Heston’s 'Taylor' found himself forced to consider man as an animal (ultimately one capable of destroying civilisation as we know it) Mark Wahlberg’s Leo Davidson finds himself playing a reversed role in an inverted comment on human oppression; something that still concerns us today.

For anyone who knows Burton’s directorial style of navigating plot via themes it will be clear why this sort of emphasis is important, and will recognise it in this ‘re-imagining’ if they look hard enough (the human/slave allegory is one of many). However, too many of these allegorical references suffer from the brutal blockbuster treatment this film has received, being reduced to the barest word or the briefest shot (for example, the importance of the ape religion would be lost if it wasn’t for the devoutness of Michael Clarke Duncan’s Attar). Another victim sacrificed to increase the action content seems to have been essential characterisation, with principal players such as Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), Thade (Tim Roth) and Attar being presented without any history to them and worse, having to express their relationships in direct, unnatural sentences. Similarly there is little to endear us to our ‘hero’, Leo Davidson, other than his care for his own chimp partner, Pericles, and the almost too subtle suggestion that he more closely identifies with Helena Bonham Carter’s human sympathising chimpanzee than he does with the human slaves.

These sacrifices, however, have not been made for nothing. In fact, considering the budget and release date it actually seems oddly appropriate to throw every spare second into action (even if it does make certain other aspects feel forced). The trick, of course, is to make the action propel the story forwards and this is where Burton’s vision really pays off. With everything else boiled down to a bare minimum there are no extraneous scenes and everything included initiates some action or otherwise reacts to it. From the opening scenes aboard the Oberon, through Leo’s crash and capture, to the escape and final Kurosawa-esque confrontation, every scenes pushes Leo and the plot forward, building momentum as it goes. It is so tightly controlled that, with the exception of the arrival in the ape city, the camera doesn’t even get to linger long enough to admire the sets or costumes (which are, by the way, fantastic), unless it serves to add a degree of tension to the scene. A clever side effect of this is that, although it can only be about ten or fifteen minutes at the most before the audience gets to see their first evolved ape, it feels closer to the forty minutes it took Charlton Heston to meet his. The only technical problem with the film is that most of the tension is lost on those people already familiar with the original as we all know that there has to be a twist at the end.

If the new Planet Of The Apes fails to deliver in any way it is because, as a big budget, commercial production, it cannot afford to indulge itself or it’s audience in the finer points of what it might mean to have apes ruling the planet. If it succeeds it is for exactly the same reasons. Apes, chimpanzees in particular, are very direct creatures who take action rather than making statements. An ape would make a film like this.

A thorough and potent re-inventing of a sci-fi classic that adds an extra layer of realism to the Apes themselves and updates the franchise for a new generation. Good solid entertainment with a neat twist.

Estelle Warren

Sometime in the future mankind has an established presence in space. When the United States Air Force space station Oberon encounters a powerful storm in space they send trained chimp Pericles out to investigate, but when he disappears his human counterpart, Cpt. Leo Davidson disregards his orders and blasts off to save him. Caught up in the storm Davidson’s ship seems to travel through time and gets thrown out at an apparently much later date, it then crash-lands on what looks to be an alien world leaving Leo stranded. Before he can get his bearings he is then captured, along with other humans, by militant apes who sell him into slavery and thereby bring him to the attention of human-rights activist, Ari. Impressed by Leo she buys him, allowing him and others to escape. She then joins him on his quest into the Forbidden Zone where the truth behind the evolved apes is buried and where the evil general Thade plans to kill them all.

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