Planet of the Apes (12)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A colossal 13 hours of special features, including an Enhanced Viewing Mode (giving you the opportunity to pause the film periodically and watch vignettes on how a scene was constructed); film commentary from Tim Burton; Score commentary from Danny Elfman; Helena Bonham Carter getting in touch with her inner ape; Michael Clarke Duncan getting a full body cast; Rick Baker guiding viewers through the process of making people look like monkeys; featurettes on stunts, costume design and music; stunt test sequences; multi-angle options; five extended scenes; promotional material; a HBO Making Of feature; Gallery section.

IT'S been 33 years since audiences were first stunned by the concept of apes roaming the planet as the dominant species, and 33 years since a crestfallen Charlton Heston sunk to his knees in despair over the sight of the collapsed Statue of Liberty in one of the twist endings of all time.

Planet of the Apes, the original, garnered critical acclaim for the way in which it reflected a changing America at the time, while the movie went on to spawn four big screen sequels as well as a short-lived television series.

Now, however, the concept has been re-imagined and audiences, once again, have been flocking to see a future in which apes, not humans, rule the planet.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter, this latest Planet of the Apes has been directed by Tim Burton - one of Hollywood's most exciting visionary directors - and promises a different take on a familiar theme.

And, perhaps predictably, it has generated as many indifferent reviews as it has raked in the money (it is the third film this summer to boast `the third highest opening weekend of all time'); with many questioning the need to tinker with such a science fiction classic.

In his defence, Burton has stated that the issues of the day have changed quite significantly (the remake is certainly less political), and that he wanted to explore whether man was ``evolving or regressing''. And the film certainly succeeds in raising many questions about man's capacity for experimentation and destruction.

But the biggest stumbling block seems to have come in Burton's revised ending - it has been described by some as ``groan inducing'' - which is how it will probably be judged in the final analysis.

Suffice to say, the ending is not perfect; but given what it was up against, Burton has attempted his own take on a similar theme. And it would be wrong to judge this `re-imagining' solely on its closing minutes.

For the preceding couple of hours makes for pretty engrossing viewing; delivering an intelligent, well observed, frequently exciting and often quite funny spin on the much-loved original.

The premise remains largely the same. Wahlberg's pilot crash lands on a planet only to find that apes now dominate, and humans act as their slaves. After managing to escape from his oppressors - with the help of Bonham Carter's sympathetic chimp, Ari - Wahlberg must race against Roth's villainous General Thade to reach the distant outpost of Calima, which holds the key to the apes' past and, possibly, mankinds' future.

In the ensuing mayhem, Wahlberg is forced to confront man's role in altering the natural order, while coming to terms with his own limitations.

With so much to recommend it, Planet of the Apes should delight as many viewers as it disappoints (it would be remiss to think it will appeal to everyone) and certainly gets my recommendation.

It is visually stunning, it boasts some powerhouse performances, and the in-jokes and social comment are very well observed. The considerable advances in movie-making techniques mean that Burton's apes are able to exert a far more physical presence (their movement, especially during the climactic battle sequence is incredible), while Roth, in particular, and Bonham-Carter seem to be having a blast getting in touch with their `inner ape'. Wahlberg also cuts a suitably heroic lead figure.

Burton also has fun re-imagining the apes' civilization and how humans figure; showing us groups of apes getting high or drinking cans of beer and giving us an organ-grinder and his midget, as opposed to the traditional organ-grinder and his monkey.

And plaudits must also go to the director for the imaginative way in which he uses Charlton Heston to poke fun at the original; the actor has been cast as General Thade's dying father and even gets to re-utter his famous last lines from that ending to deliver the apes' view of humanity.

Which brings us neatly to the conclusion, which is likely to become the film's biggest talking point. Audiences in 1968 had no idea of the outcome and allowed themselves to be duped by it; whereas viewers in 2001 will no doubt enter in search of the finale and may still feel conned.

I, personally, feel Burton just about gets away with it (opting for yet another in-joke at the original's expense) but he has certainly left the door open for a sequel and leaves several questions unanswered. Whether this is perceived as a cop out - or mere pandering to the Hollywood masses - from the man behind obscure classics such as Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow is for you to decide; but then Burton did also give us Batman (another re-imagining that spawned a franchise).

This is, at the end of the day, a big, brash summer blockbuster and given the lacklustre nature of much of its competition so far this season; it should ensure that apes rule the Box Office as well as the planet in 2001. It is massively enjoyable.