Planet of the Apes is a remake of the 1968 film starring Charlton Heston which doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor's strong messages about racism, classism and nuclear proliferation.
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In this film, Captain Davidson (Wahlberg) of the United states Air Force space station Oberon, who works with genetically enhanced primates, loses his pet ape Pericles to an electromagnetic storm. Davidson sets out after him in a shuttle pod and ends up crash landing on a foreign planet, 1000 years later, ruled by intelligent apes. The apes in this case resemble Roman centurions, are low tech – with bows and spears as weapons – yet, ride around on horses.
There are several simian species represented in fact. The Gorillas are the soldiers. The Baboons are the politicians and the Chimpanzes are the thinkers. There are also filthy tribal humans in the mix, yeteveryone speaks and understands American English.
The mostly Caucasian humans that are on the planet are hunted down and either killed outright or enslaved by the apes as housekeepers or pets for small ape children. Davidson is helped out of his imprisonment by Ari, an ape abolitionist who despises the treatment of the humans by the violent gorillas led by General Thade (Tim Roth) and only seems to have a voice because her father, a high ranking politician tolerates her pleas for compassion.
Once they escape apeland, they head out for the forbidden area where the apes will not follow due to their religious beliefs.
It is obvious that this movie is an allegory regarding the racism in America surrounding slavery, but, for whatever reason, the writers weren’t willing to take risks pushing the envelope – which in itself, might have outraged people who’d hoped to avoid being depicted in this manner.
I was really disappointed with District 9 for this exact reason.
It seemed as if director Blomkamp’s idea of addressing racism, social stratification and classism was evoking racist stereotypes and caricatures and poorly handling them to get laughs. Planet of the Apes does a little of this in a more covert manner but its not as offensive. For example, when the Black “field” humans are helped to escape by Davidson, they don’t want to take the White “house” humans because they were treated more favorably by the Apes – almost as if they were collaborators (read: traitors to what’s left of humanity). In fact, some critics complain that the lighter skinned apes are portrayed as smarter or gentler while the darker apes are portrayed as the bigger, more brutal, sexually potent soldiers.
The special effects and costume design are awesome and stand up well to close-ups from the camera. Never once did I see the characteristics of a human underneath. I personally was amazed at how well the actors in the Ape costumes disappear into the roles. Michael Clark Duncan is a Black actor, but he seems just as alien as the White actor Eli Roth. The technologies however seemed strange because they were too futuristic. They were able to perform VTOL landings with almost no external thrusters and exotic nuclear power supplies, yet, Davidson’s main weapon still relied on bullets. Why no phasers? Why no Plasma guns like on Babylon 5? Babylon 5 explained it perfectly – you don’t want to use bullets when you’re in a spaceship.
The Acting in the film is extremely uneven with the Apes seeming more human than the humans themselves. Take General Thade (Roth) and Colonel Attar (Michael Clark Duncan) or any of the other soldiers for that matter. Both of these gorillas are hulking beasts that, thanks to brilliant makeup design, look as dangerous as Travis the Chimp. Four or Five hundred pounds of muscle that could probably tear human arms out of sockets like an angry Wookie. With deep, angry, guttural voices and pounding fists, they command respect and fear.
General Thade in particular is well done. He wreaks of racism and we can see why. He’s angry about numerous things – namely the fact his father(Charlton Heston) is slowly dying and he only has killing humans as a way to relieve stress.
There is also Ari (Helena Carter) who, like “Zira” from the 1968 film, supplies the abolitionist protests against the mistreatment of humans. She’s a great Ape character and easily allows you to care about her. Walberg and Ari develop a sexual attraction of sorts but the script (and the MPAA) gives them nowhere to go with it.
Unfortunately, Mark Walberg’s “Captain Leo Davidson” is dead on arrival. First of all, he never once shows the amount of awe, amazement or fear you’d expect from someone who is suddenly surrounded by huge, talking gorillas. In the original, Heston’s character didn’t speak due to a throat injury (uh huh) and he shocked and awed the other gorillas around him with the famous line “get your filthy hands off me you damn dirty ape”. This time around, that line goes to Duncan and “ape” is replaced with “human”.
Kris Kristofferson and Estella Warren are in the film, but neither of them really have any lines or any major impact – which seems like bad scripting. The other humans are basically mannequins too. Estella seems to be there only to supply the huge boobed, blonde, damsel in distress. I did enjoy the cameo by Charlton Heston to bring the two movies together, and the intelligent manner in which he introduces a “gun” to the film, considering he was an NRA president at the time. But, for people who never saw the original films (like myself), why was there no “Dr Zaius?” Why no one to play Cornelius?
I can excuse the weak acting on Wahlberg’s part, but what really hurts the overall rating of the film is the ambiguous ending. Captain Davidson escapes the Planet of the Apes, makes it back through the magnetic storm (time travelling in the process - back to 2029) and lands on an Earth which is apparently being ruled by the Apes. An earth where General Thade is enshrined as the Lincoln Memorial as a huge, barefoot “Ape Lincoln”. It makes no sense considering we are dealing with two entirely different planets separating by upwards of 1000 years and considering there’s been no sequel or mention thereof, its an ending that will never make sense.
In conclusion, the movie was very well made in regards to visuals but in regard to content, it needed some work. If you knew nothing about racism in America the subtext would probably fly right over your head. The movie's abandonment of direct engagement with the viewer makes it easy to watch, but definitely not as thought provoking as more direct allegories such as Cameron's parrallels to the Iraq War in his newest film Avatar.