CINEMA SIGNALS

. "Planet of the Apes"

The concept behind this series of movies never did appeal to me and this version does little to turn that around. If, for a moment, you like the adventurous human (Mark Wahlberg) or the sensitive ape (Helena Bonham Carter) you're brought "back to earth" by the morose nature of director Tim Burton who devised this version from the still smoldering ashes of its predecessors.

He also seems to be in debt to a relatively unknown TV series, "7 Days", which is a time-travel enterprise that seems to have gotten there first with its visualization of venturing along magnetic and spatial wave lengths to other times and places but, then, where would any of us be if not for "Star Wars", "Star Trek" and other intergalactic wanderings?

Which gets us back to the Tim Burton factor. After applying his bleak spectrum to Gotham in the "Bat Man" series, movies which should have had a much lighter touch, and after a horrendous turn with the classic "Sleepy Hollow", one could guess what was in store for a planet where apes rule. Yech.

There was, for me, one surprise, however. The visual tone of this film was not as black-loving as in his previous works. One could imagine that this was in part due to the influence of cinematographer Philippe Rousselot ("Remember the Titans", "The People vs. Larry Flint", "Interview with the Vampire") with whom he's working for the first time. (Burton's "Batman Returns", "Ed Wood" and "Edward Scissorhands" were photographed by Stefan Czapsky). Rousselot might well have convinced Burton that a slightly lighter brush wouldn't compromise the director's aesthetic fixation on the color black. However it happened it resulted in the best looking Burton film I've seen.

Of course, the subject matter was there to convey the blackness, in a world where apes are the dominant primate and humans subjugated to them. This is not a reference to the color of their hides but rather to the evolutionary factors that could bring a world to such values. Burton's sense of fun is just from another dimension than mine although it's obvious from the previous success of the series that many filmgoers embrace, or at least can stomach, the idea.

Modern technology affords the series an update on the apistry. Colleen Atwood's ingenious costumes and Rick Baker's complex makeup upgrade the believability of sophisticated apehood, and such things as fuel cells, advanced ape training and renderings of time space travel support the basic notions with a comfortable familiarity. The challenges of the concept of an advanced ape society, similar to ours in enough ways to make an over-obvious statement about race problems in the real world, are not entirely met. The apes, it seems, rely upon their own strength in combat and domestic domination, and upon horses, of all things, for locomotion. What an oddball juxtaposition for convenience's sake. We may be on an uncharted planet but not everything goes.

Ah, but there are things to like despite the overall mis-linkages. Helena Bonham Carter's mission as Ari, one could infer, would seem to be to charm us as a wily, sexy, highly sensitive ape, a rarity among her breed. Recalling the mind set of modern political activists, she is the iconoclast in the belly of the ape body politic, despite the fact that her father is an influential senator. He, it seems, is powerful enough to declare martial law when the evil Thade (Tim Roth) asks for it.

Capt. Leo Davidson (Wahlberg), landing on the planet through an anomaly in the time/space continuum, is taken captive and leads an escape from bondage and imprisonment that depends on Ari's cooperation, which she gladly gives. Soon she is part of the escape party, along with the beauteous human dressed like Tarzan's Jane, Daena (Estella Warren). This develops into an inter-species competition for Davidson's affections. Appropriately nubile though she may be, Warren could use a few more acting lessons and workshops but is thankfully given few lines to speak.

Among the performers, Tim Roth is the standout. He is a specialist in conveying an evil force whether it's in 19th century finery or as a jumping, swinging, hissing ape. He's smaller in stature than all the rest but is the most fearsome brute among them. He is the demon, the relentless pursuer, the antagonist without conscience nor regret.

Kris Kristofferson makes an appearance as Deanna's father, Karubi, a fairly thankless role. Intended as much more meaningful is the portrayal of Thade's dying father by that "Planet... " vet, Charlton Heston, in a series debt paid. In his scene he dies, but not before giving his evil son insight into what makes humans dangerous and gave them dominance in the first place... the ability to invent. Oh, yeah, they're the primate with the brains.

Finally, there is the ending. And, since, we are not given to including endings in our reviews, we offer no details. But it's safe to say that it struck a chord that was so off key as to put the movie in the red zone. But this is consistent with where Burton is coming from. Primarily a visual artist with a flare for the shocking, his strength is not in character involvement. If it were, there might have been a better identification with his ape "people". Instead we get a collection of ape "lords of the manor" strutting their way around the stage.

If you loved previous "Planet of the Apes", if you love the visual and emotional bleakness of Burton's mood, if you love the actors who are in it enough, you are a candidate for this movie. Barring that, you might look for your cinema adventures in the monster movie, "Jurassic Park III" or the Deniro heist film, "The Score".

Estimated cost: $100,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $178,000,000.

Rated P, for Primatocratic.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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