Published on July 4th, 2014 | by Brad0
Ape Fridays – Planet of the Apes 2001
In the years following Battle For the Planet of the Apes, the series lay dormant for a while. In 1988, Adam Rifkin was brought in to write a script for his pitch of an alternate sequel to the 1968 original, a swords and sandals epic with a descendant of Charlton Heston’s Taylor leading a Spartacus-like slave revolt against the apes, who would have reached their Roman Empire period by this point. Which sounds awesome. This fell through, and Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh pitched a version set during the Ape Renaissance, featuring concerns over new artwork, and half-ape-half-human. Less encouraging. Then Oliver Stone got involved, planning a time-travel epic involving prehistoric apes and hidden codes in the Bible which predict the future. So, y’know, it could have been worse.
As the 90s rolled along, names like Christopher Columbus, James Cameron, Peter Jackson again and Michael Bay were all approached, and all eventually passed, before Tim Burton signed on in February 2000. Burton at the time was still considered a big draw, and a talent to be reckoned with. I’ve never understood why. He’s made the odd good film here and there, but in the main, the attachment of Tim Burton as director makes me naturally suspicious of any film. Particularly when it comes to adaptations of beloved characters and stories; his approach is to make a typical Tim Burton movie, and annoy you by naming characters in it after the characters you love.
The film opens in the year 2029, with a chimpanzee named Pericles sent as a test pilot into an electrical storm in space. When contact with Pericles is lost, our hero Leo Davidson (Marky Mark, who turned down the role of Linus (Matt Damon) in the Ocean’s 11 series for this) defies a direct order and all notions of common sense to go out and try to rescue his chimp. I like Marky Mark just fine, but Leo is an absolute nothing role, and he is unable to drag anything remotely interesting out of it. Leo is accelerated through the storm, and crash-lands in a jungle on an Earth-like planet, quickly being captured along with other humans by an ape hunting party, led by General Thade (Tim Roth, who turned down the role of Snape in the Harry Potter series for this).
The humans are brought back to Ape City, and given to slave trader Limbo (Paul Giamatti), whose business is disrupted by the pro-human-rights Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), daughter of an influential senator (David Warner). Nothing happens for a very long time, before Marky Mark organises a mass human escape. Which he does quite easily because the other humans can all talk, which rather defeats the whole “apes are like humans and humans like apes” premise that the entire series, going right back to Pierre Boulle’s novel, has had running through it. Meanwhile, Thade’s second in command Colonel Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) discovers evidence of Marky Mark’s spaceship. After sending Attar away, Thade murders the two guards Attar left behind for absolutely no reason. Which seems to defy, um, one of the most iconic lines in the original Planet of the Apes series?
So Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch head to the Forbidden Zone, as this desperately tries to convince us that it’s still a Planet of the Apes movie. They’re heading to an ancient ruin known as Calima, where it’s said that the truth of their history is buried. Calima turns out to be the space station that Marky Mark came from, with its name being taken from the remains of the CAution LIve AniMAls signage on the walls. It’s revealed that, after Marky Mark stupidly decided to fly into the storm, the space station crashed on this planet, and the genetically modified apes on board turned out to be a lot smarter than they let on, and rebelled against their vulnerable masters, becoming the dominant species. It’s a vaguely clever, somewhat interesting twist, that’s totally wasted in amongst all the stupid. Meanwhile back in Ape City, Thade visits with his dying father – a chimpanzee named Zaius, played by Charlton Heston. The scene, and Heston’s performance in particular, is so horrendously bad it’s heart-breaking as a fan of the original movie. He literally says of the humans “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” It’s awful.
So the apes track the humans to Calima, and battle commences. Tim Burton cannot, should not and yet still persists in directing action. It’s stunningly boring, with head-thuddingly irritating moments where some of the apes who are in with the humans kill other apes. Ape Shall Never Kill Ape, Tim. APE SHALL NEVE KILL APE! Suddenly, Pericles’ spaceship arrives, causing the whole battle to stop, as they think he’s the second coming of their saviour. I shit you not. Still, Jonah the Chimp gives a thumbs-up and a shit-eating grin and steals the movie, so that’s fun.
So they defeat Tim Roth, and Marky Mark flies Pericles’ ship into the storm and returns to his own time. Where the Lincoln Memorial is now Tim Roth and people have been replaced by apes. No build-up, no explanation, this is just a thing that happened. And then the movie stops, throwing the audience from varying degrees of disappointment and boredom to confusion and rage. Quite rightly, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is regarded as an absolute disaster of a film, one which all involved rightly attempt to sweep quietly under the rug. Though the film was a financial success, there was no desire from anyone to make a sequel. Until, 10 years later, the Planet of the Apes would Rise again.