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Each and every year the summer movie season seems to begin earlier. Once a two month period spanning from early June to early August, now more then ever studios are choosing to release not only one summer picture, but in the case of most of the major studios two or three. This summer saw the season start in early May with "The Mummy Returns" and "Shrek" dominating the box office. Following those two pictures Disney released their blockbuster "Pearl Harbor" to disappointing reviews and a box office take that quickly diminished after the opening week. June saw the release of Paramount's "Tomb Raider" and the surprising hit "The Fast and the Furious". Rounding out the summer season in late July were "Jurassic Park 3" and the last big action blockbuster of the season "Planet of the Apes". A film that would go on to earn over $150 million dollars, nearly $70 million of which was during it's opening weekend.

This long awaited remake or update, depending on your point of view, had been bouncing around Hollywood circles for sometime with various a-list directors names attached, including Oliver Stone. When all was said and done it landed with Tim Burton, a filmmaker who has made good films, but none that I really care all that much for. Although the trailers confirmed my feelings that the film would be have a dark tone to it I still flocked to the theatre on opening night to see what all the fuss was about. Coming out of the theatre I thought the film was good, but a subsequent viewing during the theatrical run made me question my initial feelings. Now that the movie has been released to DVD I'm able to look at again and decide once and for all.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
In the not too distant future the US Air force and the Space program have joined forces to train monkeys to send to the most dangerous corners of outer space. Pilot Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) doesn't agree with the policy of sending a monkey to explore things before a human, and resents that the commander sends his monkey Perecules into space to investigate an electrical storm. When audio and visual contact is lost, Leo takes it upon himself to disobey orders and launch his shuttle in order to retrieve his monkey. However before he can return to the spaceship, Leo is sent hurtling through space and time towards a planet where he eventually crashes. Relatively unharmed, Leo begins to look for signs of human life. He quickly finds out that this planet is far different then earth as its inhabitants are apes, and the few humans are in fact slaves. Leo follows after a group of humans who are trying to avoid capture by running through the forest. They are soon captured by General Thade’s (Tim Roth) right hand ape (Michael Clarke Duncan) and are transported to Ape city. Upon their arrival in Ape city they find themselves being sold to Limbo (Paul Giamatti), the local slave trader. While most apes agree with the law that has the humans locked up, there are a few renegades who feel that humans can learn to live in harmony with the apes. Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) is the most sympathetic and immediately liberates Leo and a female slave Daena (Estella Warren) by putting them to work in her father's house. Leo talks to Daena and tells her that he plans to make an escape attempt and asks if she would help him. Before long they are making the attempt, and as luck would have (and to advance the plot), they manage to get out of the city relatively unharmed. With Thade's army in hot pursuit the humans travel across the desert to the Forbidden Zone, an area that could hold the answer on how to conquer the apes and get Leo back to Earth.

Director Tim Burton, best known for his dark, almost gothic in nature films like "Batman", "Edward Scissorhands " and the moody adaptation of "Sleepy Hollow", doesn't take a serious approach to the film, which makes it come across as a bit of a comedy at times. He knows he's not making an Oscar contender and just tries to thrill the audience with big action sequences and some comedic one-liners. The problem I see with this is that while he's clearly trying to appeal to a mainstream audience, the film is still rather dark and may scare younger audiences. Another problem I have is that Burton tends to let the film drag at times, the most evident being after the Escape from the city and before the climax. Although I'm all for a longer movie as ticket prices continue to rise to absurd levels, this film could have used some editing to really trim it down. At 124 minutes, I think maybe anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes could have been shaved off bringing the film in and around the 110-115 mark.  Burton works from a screenplay by Cast Away scribes William Broyles Jr, Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, and generally does a good job at a lightweight throwaway type picture. The kind that's enjoyable while your watching but leaves nothing of an aftertaste.

The cast, assembled by Denise Chamian (Saving Private Ryan, upcoming Minority Report), is led by rapper turned actor Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg who was excellent in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights", is generally likeable in his role as the "action hero", but does little to show off his acting chops. Tim Roth gives the film's standout performance as the leader of the Ape army. I haven't seen much of Roth's work other than this film, but it appears that this is one of only a handful of lead type performances. Helena Bonham-Carter, probably best known to American audiences as Marla Singer from "Fight Club", gives a well-rounded and emotional performance as Ari, an ape who wants just one simple thing - equality between the humans and apes. Also worth noting is ex-Canadian Olympic swimmer turned-model-turned-actress, Estella Warren, in the thankless heroine and love interest role of Daena. She doesn't say much but she's always around to look pretty in '"slave girl" type outfits. Warren had more to do in "Driven", but is still a worthwhile addition to this cast. Adding the majority of the film's comedic touches is one of my personal favourites, actor Paul Giamatti, who played Kenny aka Pig Vomit in "Private Parts" as well as Bob Zumuda in "Man on the Moon".

"Planet of the Apes" is far from being a perfect film. It runs a bit long and is a really a tad dark visually for my nature. However, I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time but as much the second or third. Still if your looking for a fun mindless way of spending 2 hours you could do a lot worse then "Planet of the Apes".

As we come to the close of another calendar year it's once again time to look at what has been offered on DVD. There's no questioning that 2001 has seen some nice transfers, the best of which have come out in the past three months or so. Studios like Buena Vista, Universal and Paramount have all done some mighty impressive jobs. However there is one studio that continues to impress time and time again, and that is 20th Century Fox. Despite a few rough efforts, if a movie is released by 20th Century Fox there's a pretty good chance that the transfer on disc will be a stellar effort. Fox's recent release of "Planet of the Apes (2001)" is no exception, as it's presented in a lovely 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that accurately recreates the theatrical experience. The film, which is filmed in shadows and with little natural light, is trademark Tim Burton. Transferring a dark film to DVD is a bit more tricky than transferring something where the majority of the action takes place during the day, as smaller more subtle details can be lost in the darkness of night. That isn't the case here as the film is still extremely detailed even during its darkest moments. The colour scheme is a more earthy type colour scheme, consisting mostly of greens, browns and blues. The greens are lush and rich, while the barren browns of the desert are more subdued. For the most part flesh tones are accurate, although I did notice a couple instances were they didn't seem to match perfectly. This may have been a simple case of some inserted or re-shot footage. As for problems, there aren't many to report as the print used is crystal clear and free of any defects like scratches, marks or dust. The film does suffer from a little bit of edge enhancement that is more noticeable on larger set-ups. I had the chance to view the film's final battle sequence as a demo scene at an electronics retailer, and the edge enhancement on that widescreen display was clearly more visible then on my home set. The degree to which the edge enhancement affects you will depend on your set. The transfer also suffers from some slight pixelation on the side of some of the stone buildings. Overall this is another strong effort that comes as close to a reference quality transfer as you can get without hitting the mark. Fox continues to push the bar up with their transfers and this is another example of that.

As is the case with the majority of Fox's A-List special edition titles, "Planet of the Apes" is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Both 5.1 tracks provide an exciting aural experience that is sure to please fans of the film and demo hungry people alike. The most active sequences take the viewer into the middle of the action during an Ape vs. Human fight, an attack on an ape military camp, and of course the show stopping space shuttle crash sequence which is the film's most impressive audio moment. During the less active and more dialogue oriented scenes, the surrounds provide a nice amount of ambience really making the viewer feel as if there in the middle of a jungle. The haunting score by Danny Elfman fills the room nicely when called upon, and really effectively sets the mood over the opening titles. Dialogue is clear and easily heard even during the more tense action scenes. This is a film that uses all channels well, and although it's not an all out assault, when the action picks up the soundtrack adjust itself accordingly. As for the age-old battle of DD vs. DTS, once again the DTS takes the top honours for having a slightly richer presence the DD track. Still if you are unable to handle DTS playback then the Dolby Digital track isn't going to disappoint. Although this soundtrack isn't quite at reference level, it is one of the better 5.1 mixes I've heard of late for an action picture.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Back at the birth of the DVD format, Fox was one of the worst studios in terms of special features, anamorphic transfers and pricing. However this would not last for long as with the release of the two-disc special edition of "Fight Club", 20th Century Fox changed the face of DVD extras forever with that massive release, with 4 audio commentaries, multiple documentaries and countless other bonus features. The disc was produced by a man by the name of David Prior who, now a mere couple of years later, is one of the most sought after producers, handling such discs like the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" SE, "Big Trouble in Little China" and the trio of Die Hard special editions. His more recent projects include both the two disc and upcoming four disc Vista Series releases of  "Pearl Harbor", as well as this jammed packed edition of Planet of the Apes, which is not only heavy on content but also on quality.

Starting out on disc one we have a director's commentary with Tim Burton, a feature that wasn't listed on initial press releases. Tim has contributed commentaries to a couple of his other features (Sleepy Hollow and Peewee's Big Adventure), but has always seemed reluctant to the concept. Burton, whose films are all doom and gloom and have always come off as bit dark for my liking, and his reservation to do these sort of tracks, seemed to fit in with his personality. While I have enjoyed a couple of his films, including 1990's "Batman", he has never really been a favourite director of mine. So when I saw the inclusion of this track on the disc I had my reservations for both the above mentioned reason, and that his earlier tracks were reportedly less then exciting. For the purposes of completion I did take a listen to the track thinking to myself that if I got bored I could always switch it off. Tim who is still not the most talkative person on the planet provides some interesting stories about the film's production, what attracted him to the project and how he felt about making such a highly anticipated feature. There's comedy at times but there are still a number of pauses, as Tim doesn't quite carry the entire track. As this was my first time listening to a Tim Burton commentary I can't compare them to his earlier tracks, but it does seem as though this would be considered to be at the top of the chart. At the end I had more respect for him as an artist, but still wasn't sold on his ideas and concepts. If you’re a Burton fan this may be right up your alley. If you’re not a fan it's still worth listening to at least once as it's a good track, but not one I'm likely to revisit anytime soon.

Still on disc one we have an option much like New Line's Infinifilm option, called the Enhanced Viewing Mode. When enabled this option, which is split into two parts, causes small boxes not unlike the picture-in-picture option on many televisions. These boxes provide the viewer with interesting titbits of information, interviews or behind the scenes featurettes. The second part of this feature works much like the "Follow the White Rabbit" feature on the "Matrix", where a logo pops up on the screen that, when clicked, takes you a short featurette. I'm all for interactivity during the movie, but I prefer to access the special features after the film has ended and not during. Still the feature is well executed as the logo remains on the screen long enough to grab the remote to activate it.

Rounding out disc one is the isolated score in DD 2.0, with commentary from composer Danny Elfman, cast and crew biographies and a slew of DVD-ROM and NUON features. Not to mention that since this is a THX certified disc, the THX Optimode calibration tests are also present.

Moving on to disc two, where the majority of the extra features can be found. As this is a David Prior produced disc one can be assured of features that are actually interesting, and not extended trailers or promotional spots for the film (although these are included too). This disc’s solution to that is to offer up seven very good documentaries dealing with various aspects of the film's production.

The first one is entitled "Ape School", which deals with the training that the human actors had to undergo to make the transition from human to ape. Looking back to before the film came out theatrically I remember seeing a brief piece on Entertainment Tonight showing actors Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Micheal Clarke Duncan and Helena Bonhan-Carter amongst others learning to walk, talk, jump and act like apes. This documentary takes that to the next level showing even more of the intensive preparation needed to make the apes really seem real.  On the surface this doesn't seem like something that could cover a lengthy documentary but the nearly 25 minute running time goes by rather quickly as the stars offer insight into their motivations for playing these difficult non human characters.

Ape Couture deals with the costuming of the film. In a film like "Planet of the Apes" costuming takes on even more of an importance then it does in a comedy or drama, as it can make or break whether the film looks real. Unrealistic costumes can take the viewer out of the film, which is something that no director wants. Through numerous screen tests, behind the scenes footage and interviews with costume designer Collen Atwood, this documentary takes the viewer inside the creative process that turns regular everyday citizens into garish wild creatures. At just over 6 minutes this is one of the shorter features on the disc.

Face of the Monkey is the second feature in recent months dealing with Academy Award winning makeup artist Rick Baker. Unlike the feature on "The Grinch", this feature gives a more in depth look into the make up process on the film. This is a complete look from start to finish with interviews from Baker and Burton detailing just what the ape’s faces will look like. From the casting of the actor’s faces, to the latex and application processes, this is any makeup persons dream come true. You often hear of horror stories from the set where it takes numerous hours to transform actors into their characters. Well if you didn't believe it before then you will after watching this in depth look at the big budget Hollywood makeup process. At 30 minutes in length this is no drop in the hat, it's the real deal.

Screen Tests is pretty much what it claims to be, in that it's test footage shot before the films primary production to see how things looked on camera. Instead of being presented in a straightforward video clip format, this feature offers some interactivity as each of the four main sections are split into four windows that when a box is selected the audio from that box will be played.

The next featurette has the interesting title "Chimp Symphony No 37" which is a look at the music in the film. This 9 and 1/2 minute feature takes us inside composer Danny Elfman's studio during a recording session for the films score. Elfman is interviewed and talks about his concepts and ideas behind the themes for Planet of the Apes, as well as giving an overview of the process he goes through when working. Elfman who has contributed some excellent scores over the years isn't one of my favourite composers, and to me isn't in the same league as a Hans Zimmer or John Williams. Still this is an above average featurette dealing with music and Elfman fans should get a kick out of it.

Continuing on we have "Swinging from the Trees" which deals with the stunt performers who performed the complex task of appearing as if though they were gliding through the trees. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but at nearly ten minutes it's still interesting enough to take a look at.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Rounding out the documentary section but not the second disc we have a 12-minute look at one of the locations used in the film, Lake Powell, which was also a key location in the original series of films. As is the case with lakes, the water and surrounding area was anything but warm. This documentary takes a look at the massive effort taken to transform a remote lake into a viable location for the film's shoot. As someone's whose not a big fan of the cold, even though I live in a place where the winter's are mild, it showed that perhaps my sub zero degrees Celsius temperature outside my house isn't all that bad. The actors, especially those without layers of ape costuming, must have had some discomfort shooting these sequences.

The interactivity continues with a series of four Multiple Angle/Audio featurettes. The scenes included are "Limbo's Quadrangle", "Sandars House", "Escape from Ape City" and lastly "In the Forest". These four scenes are presented in multiple angles and audio tracks, where the viewer can choose how he wants to see the scene. The viewer can view each angle as full screen or view all the angles at once in a split screen. Each angle also contains a different audio experience. In addition to this there is a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen that allows access to alternate information like conceptual artwork.

While there are no deleted scenes on the disc, there is a series of 5 extended scenes. These scenes are comprised mostly of footage that made the movie with some simple extensions. There is no audio commentary or text explanation on why these scenes were shortened for the film, though I'd assume it was do to that they weren't all that important and the film was already running rather long at 124 minutes.

HBO - A First Look is up next, and like most other HBO or Showtime supplemental features is fairly promotional in nature. Consisting of behind the scenes footage, clips, and interviews, there is nothing all that exciting about this featurette. Having said that, HBO does take a different approach on this one as we follow Micheal Clarke Duncan for a day as he works on the film. Sadly this doesn't last long enough and slides right back into the promotional scrap heap that is so often the case with these featurettes. At 26 minutes, this feature is a decent length, but it doesn't cover anything that hasn't already been covered in more detail elsewhere on the disc. The best way of describing this would be that it's a scaled down version of the other documentaries. Despite the intimidating number and length of the other documentaries if you want background info on the film they will serve you better.

As we head into the home stretch we have the more promotional oriented features that include the films theatrical and teaser trailer and 6 television spots. Also included are trailers for two of Fox's fourth quarter offerings "Dr Doolittle 2" starring Eddie Murphy and one of my favourite films of the year, “Moulin Rouge” with Nicole Kidman. Sadly, as is the case with the majority of trailers on Fox discs, these are only presented in 2.0 and not 5.1

Also included is a stills gallery, promotional art and DJ Paul Oakenfold's music video for "Rule the Planet (Remix)", not to mention a handful of DVD-Rom features.

Even though I didn't like the film as much as I remembered, and it won't go down as one of my all time favourite summer blockbusters, I do have to give credit to Tim Burton for succeeding in making a film that was difficult sell to the studio and audiences alike. Fox's DVD is amazing, with excellent video and audio quality and an insane number of informative and exciting special features. This disc earns top marks all around and deserves a spot in every collection.