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:: Planet Of The Apes

Mark Wahlberg portrays Captain Leo Davidson, an astronaut who trains apes for space missions. He crash lands on a strange planet after chasing a lost chimp through a time and space rift. Finding himself in a brutal, primal place where apes are in charge and humans are hunted he is captures enslaved by tyrannical primates. Tim Burton’s bold new film presents an otherworldly landscape somewhat earth-like, somewhat extra-terrestrial. In this upside-down world where apes rule, we do see some type of civilisation, but the civilised behaviour of the apes is a veneer which comments on our own nature, our civilisation and the animal nature barely beneath our surface.

Helena Bonham Carter (Ari) is beautifully cast with her plumy English accent as a passionate, independent-minded, human rights activist who believes in the co-existence of all species. As the politically correct daughter of an ape senator she is indulged, but Davidson’s arrival on the scene changes everything. Tim Roth as the ape general plays the bad guy in this movie with a soft spot for Ari, who of course despises him. After the slave traders catch Davidson he escapes which only serves to accelerate the general’s vendetta against humans. Davidson’s only mission now is to rendezvous with his spacecraft and find a way back home. Paul Giamatti, plays an offbeat orangutan Limbo who trades humans for slaves. He provides the comic relief in this field. Limbo ends up on the run with the same slaves he has just tried to sell and finds himself bonding with them.

All actors and extras attended Ape School where they were taught to simulate primate activities such as walking, weapons, handling, riding and even eating. Burton wanted performances that were twenty percent ape and eighty percent human, portraying the walk in addition to nuances such as the way they turn their head, sit, listen, pick something up – but they had to also be a fully developed character who speaks.

Production design in this film is classically Burtonesque - dark and brooding, yet beautiful. His old school buddy and long-term collaborator Rick Heinrichs have created them. Creative concerns in the film necessitated building a jungle near downtown Los Angeles as Burton needed something more like a “set” for the action scenes in which they could move around trees and other objects to accommodate the stunts and action. Other more exotic locations were also used on Hawaii in the stark lava fields of Mt. Kilauea, Arizona at Lake Powell beach and the Trona Pinacles in California’s Death Valley all gave the film an otherworldly feel but very aesthetic, muscular and sculptural.

The original films makeup was superb for the time but basically they had one sculpture – in gorilla chimpanzee and orangutan versions – which they duplicated for everyone with the same slicked back hair and button noses. The makeup and costumes in this film is exquisite. Each ape, like real humans has a distinct, unique face and colourings of skin and hair. There are orangutan’s, silver-backed gorilla’s and chimpanzees all original in their look and distinguishable from each other.
Davidson’s sudden appearance and technology ultimately serve as a heroic symbol to the enslaved and hunted humans. He stands off the ape army, challenge’s the status quo and saves the humans for the moment, acting as a catalyst for revolutionary social change. Pity Davidson won’t be around to see it. He yearns for home and speeds off in a space capsule through another time and space rift only to land back on planet earth…but its not what he expected…. we can but wait for the sequel.

Planet of The Apes has no new angles and a fairly cliched hero plot. There’s lots of witty dialogue and we have some good acting. It captures the spirit of the original film well (though die-hard Planet of the Ape fans will make predictable comparisons) and it does make you reflect upon the way we treat other species on this planet. The attention to detail is commendable, as is the visual beauty of this film. Mark Wahlberg gets to be a sci-fi action hero at last. Still, it’s entertaining.

Screening on general release