Welcome to the first post in my 31 Days of Sci-fi. I’ll be reviewing a different movie, or two in this case, every day throughout the month of December. Many I’ve seen, some I haven’t, but I’m looking forward to watching and writing about them all.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
The science fiction classic starring Charlton Heston manages to hold its own even today. What could easily seem like a B-movie, due to its ideas and especially to its title, perhaps escaped that label by putting the man who played Moses as the film’s lead character.
On a NASA mission to explore space, George Taylor (Heston) and his crew enter their hybernation chambers in anticipation of the long ride home to Earth. The journey doesn’t quite go as planned when the crew is awoken to find their shuttle crash landing an unknown planet. They land in a large body of water and manage to raft their way to shore. Taylor having seen the ship’s computer date before their escape, reveals to the men that the year is now 3995, a great deal later than the 1972 they last remembered.
After planting an American flag on the soil, the men embark to explore the mysterious planet. After a long trek through the desert they find a jungle and in the jungle men are scurrying away from their hunters, apes. The crew is separated, but captured nonetheless with the others; Taylor having his voice box damaged in the process. The prisoners are taken to a city run by apes. We come to find that, on this planet, it is apes who rule and humans who are seen as wild animals.
Taylor eventually gets his voice back and proves to two married scientists, Zira and Cornelius, that he is unlike the rest of this planet’s humans and can speak and think rationally. The side with him and from here on out Taylor learns of the apes history and ways of life, and the dangers that are in store for him if he rocks any of it. Yet he must show them that he is not unique, rather a man from another planet who happened upon theirs. And together they flee the city and set off for the Forbidden Zone where answers may be found.
It is no wonder why this film can be considered a sci-fi classic. With its themes of evolution and race relations, it was risky for its time in 1968, but through its adventure and story it stood to entertain rather than preach, only adding to its importance. I thoroughly enjoyed this re-watch, and would recommend it to any that haven’t previously experienced it. Who can forget it’s classic lines delivered by Heston and final reveal, sealing the film and it’s ending among the best in cinema.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
It isn’t unlike Hollywood to remake a film, yet rarely do they do it well. Planet of the Apes is a prime example of this. There was hope for this “re-imagining”, with the beloved Tim Burton (not by me, I assure you) and a talented cast (including Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan and Paul Giamatti), and of course the advancements in make-up and digital effects. However, the film felt and fell flat, unable to capture the spirit of the original.
Again, this is a re-imagining because it doesn’t quite follow the characters or exact plot of the first film. I do admire how it begins, with NASA training and experimenting with Chimpanzees in space in the year 2029. After one of the chimps goes missing in a storm, Captain Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) sets out to rescue his comrade, only to be lost himself. He crash lands on a planet where again, it has come to run by apes.
I will not go over the entire plot, because it does sort of resemble the original. Instead, I will focus on why this film fails in comparison. Again, I enjoyed the beginning, however it had it’s problems. The NASA team was observing a storm in our galaxy that they do not know much about, so why would Davidson risk his life, and a ship, to chase after one of many chimps? Sure, they’re friends, but he ignores orders to somehow bring back another vessel with no explanation of how he would do it. Highly improbably, but I digress.
In my opinion, Wahlberg is a good actor, not great, but good, and far better than Charlton Heston in the original film. However, he let me down here. I refuse to blame just him though, because the script is just God awful. How did the studio and/or Burton overlook this? Perhaps the film was rushed, I am not sure, but this was no doubt an expensive venture, not to mention a huge undertaking with a sci-fi classic, so its lack of attention is unforgivable. But nothing is as atrocious as the end. An ape’s head on our statue of Lincoln. Enough said.
It is obvious how I feel about this film. Sure, it does have good elements, don’t get me wrong, but it had potential to be great and missed its mark by a light-year. I’m not alone in this and its not wonder. Thankfully, Rise of the Planet of the Apes came along and improved on this blemish with a proper reboot. I look forward to seeing where else the franchise will go now that thanks to Tim Burton and his producers, we know what not to do.
– Kyle Owen