Monday, August 1, 2011

Tim Burton of the Apes

As "Planet of the Apes" week continues here at Warning Signs, we now look at Tim Burton's 2001 remake.
I am a Tim Burton fan. From "Frankenweenie" and "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" all the way to "Alice in Wonderland," I've seen them all. His 2001 "Planet of the Apes" is considered a rare misstep for the eccentric director. I, personally, have mixed feelings about the film.

Before the remake started rolling, there were rumors that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be cast in the lead human role. Some saw this as an invitation to unintentional camp. Mark Walhberg was cast instead and the movie was played fairly seriously. And that is the major flaw of the film.

"Planet of the Apes," as directed by Burton, takes itself way too seriously. It tries to be important, to make more of the journey of an astronaut to another world and the frightening state of things he discovers. There is little camp, which is in direct opposition to the films it hoped to follow in the footsteps of.

Casting Ah-nold could have provided the camp for the film in the same way Charlton Heston's performance in the original "Planet of the Apes" did. Heston had been a serious actor but always a bit over the top. The Governator had played a robot and done comedy. Unfortunately, we'll never know how that would have turned out.

With Walhberg as Leo Davidson and the hardcore simians played by Michael Clarke Duncan and Tim Roth, there wasn't much opportunity even for comic relief. What comedy there is comes from Paul Giamatti as the orangutan Limbo. He would have fit right in on the set of one of the original films.

So without the camp, Burton must rely instead on action. While the actors involved have proven themselves more than capable in action sequences, Burton is not an action director. Yes, he can be exciting such as in the fights and chases in "Sleepy Hollow" but straight out action is not his thing. His strength is in the absurd, but it seems that "Planet of the Apes" was the limit of what he could do. The film caused his break-up with actress Lisa Marie (whose best role for Burton was as Maila Nurmi/Vampira in "Ed Wood) but in a strange way, that worked out for Burton. He's now with Helena Bonham-Carter, one of the other stars of "Planet of the Apes" and who has since appeared in every film of Burton's since.

"Planet of the Apes" somewhat helped seal the early 2000s fate of Kris Kristofferson. Between this film and the "Blade" series, audiences became used to seeing Kristofferson in action roles. For an old country singer, he manages to hold his own and more.

So, let's just settle this once and for all. Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" is not that great, but it's not that bad, either. Perhaps if it had been worse, it might have earned its proper place in the Apes universe. Instead, because it was too polished and too serious, it will always be regulated to second-class status.

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