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Jordan Hiller on Film

Planet of the Apes

The spirits of creativity and artistry must be mourning for the latest casualty in the battle between large quantities of money and a mind capable of unique and worthy expression. Tim Burton, the formerly fresh, young visionary- entrancing audiences with such graceful epics like Batman and Edward Scissorhands, has (by the numbers) become, with his thoughtless rehash of Planet of the Apes (1968), no better, no more talented, flamboyant, interesting, or significant than a Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day) or a Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Deep Rising). If you do not realize the tragedy in this thought then Battlefield Earth is the movie for you. For this reason, the best way to describe a movie that, on its own merits, is merely an average summer diversion hyped to the nines, is calling it "disappointing" (and depending on your taste, you can preface your disappointment with the adverb "grossly").

The credits slowly and starkly appear with Tim Burton-like mysterious deliberation over close shots of an ape in full warrior regalia. Then, just before the ape montage concludes, Burton gives us a visual of the wonderfully constructed ape ( this might be the only improvement from the original Apes - lets face it, those plastic looking masks with wooden puppet mouths would not cut it today). The eyes of this ape are drawn shut and as expected they suddenly open, opening to reveal the unmistakable eyes of a human wearing lavish monkey makeup. It is difficult to erase this image from your mind.

The movie builds nicely with an eerily white space station as backdrop toward the introduction of the Ape Planet. From there (about 15 minutes in)it may have just been a Mr. Emmerich directing, with the abnormally inventive Burton occasionally assisting in a scene or two. The scenes on the planet (mostly typical action/carnage, but of course with monkeys this time; trust me -the novelty of this wears off quick) are handled very casually and without a real flair or purpose - The newcomer meets the renegades - A midnight escape - A "fierce" battle in the desert ala The Mummy. Nothing you haven't seen before and haven't seen done in the same way. Tim Burton's talents usually lie in his ability to take something old and tried and add his commandingly creepy or otherworldly Burton flavor to it. Just compare Richard Donner's superhero movie (Superman) to Burton's (Batman). The problem here is that the studio's hand is pushing most of the buttons and it is quite obvious. Burton is a main-stream director in the way that the Coen Brothers are main-stream - they are allowed bigger budgets than independent movies which should make them slaves to a studio's commercial whims, yet they manage to infuse genuine personality, authenticity, and style into their pictures. It seems with Apes, Burton was overwhelmed by a demanding studio craving that he not isolate any audience by being too (G-D forbid!) edgy. This is why the movie rarely becomes truly violent, sticking to the comical respin of the famous "damn dirty ape" line, and including the commercial comic relief ape tagging along for the adventure (Paul Giamatti a.k.a. Pig Vomit).

This lack of edginess spells the downfall of the movie and the inexcusable waste of an eclectic and immensely talented cast. It's probably hard enough to play a role in a major Hollywood blockbuster and be unrecognizable therein, but to look stupid doing it must really hurt (yes, I am talking to you Shakespearean actress, Helena Bonham Carter). Tim Roth, who clearly threw himself into this role as the dementedly evil ape, General Thade, survives this project unscathed as he somehow perfected the viscous lowering of the brow snarl. It is actually funny to watch the different actors playing apes trying to imitate an apes movements - Roth's slouching swagger is the nearest to flawless, the rest of the apes vary in their degrees of success with some laughable results (the funniest attempt comes from Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Carter's protector).

Mark Wahlberg, as the marooned and naturally bemused astronaut, acts like a color-war general trying to rally overly hard to overcome the ubiquitous Blue Team (look forward to Marky Mark getting back to acting in the soon to be released Rock Star). Speaking of camp, we can certainly appreciate that this movie has some very deep rooted kitsch value and playing it up for our amusement is fine, but in the process, would it be so difficult to throw us a bone of stimulating dialogue or an interesting plot point? The story here is so lame and underdeveloped that it is amazing that the script (written by some of the guys who made Mercury Rising and The Beverly Hillbillies) got a green light; however, I'm sure that green had something to do with it.

We are treated to a devastatingly convoluted "explanation" of how the planet came about. This "explanation" should not impress anyone, especially if you have been following the rest of the movie. One example - The apes call the source of their creation "Kalima" which may or may not sound interesting to you, but there are no "oohs" and "ahhs" when Kalima turns out to be the visible letters from the written warning CAUTION LIVE ANIMALS before some dust is rubbed off of a… (if you care, see the movie). This is just one example of where the screenwriter finds himself to be very clever, but in reality his gimmick was effortlessly created and therefore can't be swallowed with any satisfaction. It is like an elaborate card trick that has 30 steps but the deck was rigged so that the card you picked was obviously predetermined - not very interesting.

As for the big surprise ending, I'll tell you what I tell everyone who spends time trying to figure it out. There is nothing to figure it out - It was made up just to shock the audience with absolutely no plausibility connected to it. If the writers of the movie didn't think about what they put up on screen, then there is no reason you shouldn't do the same. Supposedly (according to Sheri Epstein, movie aficionado and single girl for the last time) some geeks and losers created websites in order to untangle the mess of ideas that some of us sat through during this movie. If you hear a good one please let me know. If you tell me a really good one then I'll rewrite this review.

The original made some headlines because it was really a philosophical social commentary about class and race packaged as a science fiction saga. This movie doesn't try to preach such tolerance, and although it is factored into the movie, our generation is past the need for such symbolism to hit home. For a popcorn flick you could do worse and though I hate to end on a shallow note, Estella Warren is hot.- Jordan


Reviews by Jordan Hiller

Trembling Before G-d


Veronica Guerin

Pieces of April


Bubba Ho-tep

Casa De Los Babys


American Splendor


The Holy Land

Return from India

The Shape of Things

City of Ghosts

Anger Management


The Guys

Assassination Tango

Gaudi Afternoon


Nowhere in Africa

Foreign Sister



L’chayim, Comrade Stalin
part 1

part 2


Divine Intervention

The Pianist

Best films of 2002 1992

8 mile

Punch Drunk Love


Gaza Strip

The Kid Stays in the Picture


Minority Report



Spring Movie Preview 2002

Panic Room

The Oscar Preview 2002

Royal Tenenbaums

Harry Potter

The Man who Wasn't There

From Hell

Training Day

Hearts in Atlantis

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

the others

Planet of the apes

Jurassic Park III


Shrek & Atlantis

The Mummy Returns

Enemy At the Gates


Exit Wounds

15 Minutes

You Can Count on Me

The Mexican

Down to Earth

Meet the Parents

Golda's Balcony HERE

Tribeca FIlm Festival 2003

Daily Coverage: HERE

Photo Gallery HERE

Film Reviews:

A Breach in the Wall

Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas

Paper Chasers

Resisting Paradise

MC5: A True Testimonial

Sweet Sixteen

The Shape of Things

Yossi and Jagger

Persona Non Grata

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