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
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
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