Jul 29 2011 11:15am

Never Send Marky Mark to Do Heston’s Job: 2001’s Planet of the Apes

Because I haven’t really talked much about the direction on the other Apes films, I want to start off by saying I’m leaving Tim Burton out of this. Tim Burton is such a lightning rod in discussions about Tim Burton that I’d rather not even mention Tim Burton. I’ll call him the Director from this point forward. So, the director aside, what monkeyed up this movie? Everyone always says this movie really, really sucks. Are they right? Yes. But the reasons why it sucks may shock you, because in many ways this Apes film could have been poised to be a great remake.

If I were in a pitch meeting at the studio when this movie was in preproduction, I bet I would have been really excited for a few reasons. First, the planet of the apes in this version is actually a separate alien planet and NOT Earth. Just like the novel. Also, the movie updates the meta-political message from one about slavery to that of animal cruelty, something the previous Apes films alluded to, but never really explored. In this version, there is a human-rights faction of the ape community, which really should have existed in the old version too. Also, the cast is actually pretty good. Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham-Carter, David Warner, and sure, Marky Mark. He’s not a terrible actor, and certainly not who I would have picked for the new Heston, but the casting choice isn’t offensive. But, the movie also doesn’t fail because of the direction or the acting, or even the special effects. No. The real culprit here is the writing.

If the weird plot decisions in the old Apes movies seemed outlandish or silly, they did so in a sort of idiot savant way. Sure, it was a series of movies about talking apes and time travel and stuff, but it could be accidentally brilliant, or at the very worst, entertaining in an original way. The 2001 Planet of the Apes isn’t an idiot savant; it’s a drunk pleading for one last happy hour priced drink.

The major mistake here is way the ape culture is depicted in contrast to the humans. The humans in this version can speak, and not only that, speak well. In the original, Heston’s arrival was dangerous because he was a talking human. Marky Mark isn’t really special since he’s just as well spoken as the other humans. The humans are a simply slaves now, which ultimately misses the whole point of how the old Apes films were discussing prejudice. Dr. Zaius was afraid of what Taylor was capable of in the first Apes film because Taylor had intelligence, but also the savagery of humans. Apes don’t kill each other in that reality. In the 2001 Apes, it seems like Apes do kill each other, which is bad for the writing because it doesn’t grant them any kind of moral high ground against the humans. The reason the idea of ape masters was scary in the old movies is because the apes were genuinely more ethical than the humans that they subjugated. The 2001 Apes removes this, and simply makes the apes into villains for the sake of having villains.

These apes also don’t have guns, which was something else that made the old films scary. It clearly showed the apes as civilization, and the humans as brutal animals. This is interesting on a lot of levels, but sticking to the previous point about how “ape shall not kill ape” in the old films, the simple fact that their society has guns is interesting. As savage as the ape culture might seem to us in the classic film, having guns that were ONLY used to hunt “animals” is slightly more evolved than human society. Naturally, the reason why this was scary is because “animals” the apes hunted were humans. However, in the 2001 version, the apes are using spears and knives and rocks. This actually makes them more animalistic, which is a mistake. We don’t want to think of these creatures as the kind of apes we know in real life, but rather as an evolved sort of ape. We likely wouldn’t recognize an evolved ape as being the same kind of creature as a non-intelligent one. This is one reason why the hokey ape-masks from the old films work so well. It’s not supposed to look real.

I could complain about the time-travel shenanigans and point out that it’s not explained where all the humans came from, but those kinds of complaints wouldn’t be fun because they’re not unique to this movie. All the old Apes movies have problems like that, particularly Battle. Instead, it’s more interesting to hold the 2001 Apes to the standard of the old films, warts and all. What we discover is that thematically, despite their continuity problems or inherent cheesiness, those movies were about something. The 2001 Apes is simply a dull battle and chase sequence with characters we know little about and care about even less. Helena Bonham-Carter might have had more realistic ape make up, but Kim Hunter’s character was real.

You’d have to have a heart of pure evil not to tear-up a little bit when Cornelius and Zira are killed in Escape. But, you’d have also have to be drunk if you were emotionally invested in anything that happens in the 2001 Apes film. So what next? Will James Franco restore our faith that the saga of the apes can again be relevant? In two weeks we’ll see!

Ryan Britt is a staff writer for For the past two weeks he has been dreaming about nothing but apes.

This article is part of Goes Ape!: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Noneo Yourbusiness
1. Longtimefan
Yes and exactly and thank you. As I have always been fond of the Director and I have been impressed by all the actors in previous films I had hoped to enjoy this movie when I went to see on on the big screen.

That did not happen.

I do own all the original Apes movies but I never felt like owning this one.

You are entirely correct. A film has to be about something.

Certainly there will be those who can point out the something the writers wove into the plot but it is not a something that transcends unspoken into the nuances of design and costume and action.

Or maybe it does but that something just is not exceptional as it keeps the unusual within arms reach of the expected and acceptable.
Ashe Armstrong
2. AsheSaoirse
I will say that The Director's Directorness didn't really come off in this one. An oddity since The Director's Directorness permeates everything he directs (I know, lightning rod, not criticizing just observing). Still, it felt more like a showcase for really cool costume and sfx makeup design than a movie.
James Goetsch
3. Jedikalos
"Never send Marky Mark to do Heston's job". Well said.
Michael Burke
4. Ludon
I agree with your review. Even the ending being (somewhat) closer to the ending of the original book (ignoring the wrap-around story) couldn't elevate this film for me.

Either the DVD or the Soundtrack CD (I do own a copy of both) had an insert with a map of the timelines of the movie. If you ignore the leaps of faith that would have had to have been made, it kind of makes sense - as long as you don't think about it.

My question was not 'where did the other people come from?' as I had figured there had been many more people on that space station. My question was 'where did the horses come from?' as I saw no reason for there to have been horses on that station.
6. ChrisSoll
The premise that this movie took place on another planet ruined it completely. Of course strange creatures can exist somewhere other than earth, and it doesn't make it more interesting they have a resemblance to an animal we can recognize. They tried to make it matter with the unexplained ending, which just seemed like a half effort only more confusing to the viewer. I did enjoy this movie and I do own it just because I love the originals so it's cool to see a modern version. Can't say I enjoyed the plot or Mark Walhbergs' 'acting'.
9. SYAgnon
I actually liked the ending of this film--taken from the original novel by Pierre Boulle--even though it wasn't as powerful as the ending from the 1968 movie. The decision in this movie to use the ending from the Boulle novel was one of the few interesting things about it.

One amusing comment about this movie from some reviewer or other: "To make a summer blockbuster, you don't need brains or even an opposable thumb. All you need is a budget."

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