Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
Introduction
I’ve never been a huge fan of the ‘Apes’ series of movies, but I do remember a couple of them fondly from my childhood. However, in a year filled with disappointing blockbusters I hoped that my trip to the local cinema to check out Tim Burton’s remake of the 1968 original would be a fruitful one. I have to admit to being less than impressed with Mr. Burton’s vision, but maybe the chance to revisit the movie courtesy of Fox’s special edition DVD will change my opinion…

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Film
Mark Wahlberg plays Leo Davidson, a pilot assigned to the deep space station ‘Oberon’. The scientists aboard the station use highly trained, highly intelligent chimpanzees for reconnaissance missions deemed too dangerous for humans to undertake.

When the space station is threatened by a mysterious anomaly, Leo’s favourite chimp, Pericles, is sent to investigate. Unfortunately Pericles disappears from radar and is presumed lost. Not being the sort of fellow to leave a monkey stranded, Leo climbs into his small space pod and sets off in search of his simian buddy. Well, as is usual for a Hollywood blockbuster, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they could. Before you can say ‘Monkey Trouble’, Leo is sucked up by the anomaly, transported through a rift in space and time and stranded on a desolate alien planet.

Leo decides to set off in search of signs of life, and it’s not long until he encounters a group of people who seem to be running in fear. Leo soon discovers the reason for their panic, as hoards of giant apes descend from the trees, snatching people up left right and centre. Before long all of the humans, including Leo, are rounded up, put into cages and transported to a city populated by apes.

It comes as quite a surprise to Leo to find that the apes are the dominant species on the planet. The apes have nothing but contempt for humans, who are seen as little more than cattle to be herded, sold and used as slave labour or pets. This is the fate that awaits Leo and the rest of the captured humans when they are taken to a slaver called Limbo (Paul Giamatti), who intends to sell them on to the highest bidder.

Enter Ari, daughter of an influential senator and human-rights activist. She is appalled by the way her kind treat the humans, and doesn’t mind letting others know about it. While Ari is arguing with Limbo over the caged humans, Leo and a female slave named Daena (Estella Warren) try to escape. Although they are captured, Ari takes pity on them and agrees to buy them from Limbo to save them from further torture.

Leo and Daena are taken to Ari’s home to work as servants, but before long they escape captivity and free the rest of the humans from Limbo's prison. Ari discovers the humans as they are trying to escape the city, and together with and her guardian Krull (Cary Tagawa) she agrees to help. As they flee the city the group are pursued by the sadistic General Thade (Tim Roth) and his Colonel, Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan), who are intent on wiping them out.

Once free from the city Leo retrieves some technology from his damaged pod, which indicates that the crew of the Oberon has come to rescue him. Together with the ragtag band of humans and apes, he heads towards the source of the signal. Unbeknownst to him, the signal emanates from the Forbidden Zone, an area that houses both the key to the origins of life on the planet and a terrible secret that Thade will do anything to prevent them from discovering…

After much deliberation I have decided that Planet of the Apes isn’t as bad as I first thought. I’m not saying it’s a good movie, but that it’s not the atrocity that I first believed. Planet of the Apes is in keeping with the dark nature of Burton’s other films but unfortunately that is where the similarities end. This film is just very, very ordinary.

The human cast, led by Mark Wahlberg, simply lack charisma. In the original movie, Charlton Heston’s character stood out because of his ability to talk, but here all of the humans talk so there’s no moment of surprise when Leo opens his mouth for the first time. There is nothing that truly sets Leo Davidson apart from the rest of the humans, so how are we expected to believe that they would find him special? Wahlberg’s acting, which is very flat, doesn’t exactly help the character. I enjoyed Wahlberg in ‘Boogie Nights’ but he has failed to impress me since then, and I certainly don’t find him believable as an action hero. Estella Warren may look fine, but her contribution to the film is virtually non-existent, and I don’t believe her character is actually referred to by name during the film.

Fortunately the actors tasked with portraying the apes are an altogether more talented bunch. This helps them emote through the ape makeup, which varies in quality throughout the film. Tim Roth delivers the standout performance as the vicious General Thade, although he does go a little over the top on occasion. Helena Bonham Cater lends a degree of sensitivity to the character of Ari, although it’s a pity that her face is hidden behind all of the makeup (but that’s a personal observation). Michael Clark Duncan is imposing as Attar, but he really has little more to do than follow Thade’s orders. I enjoyed Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of the slave trader Limbo, simply for the fact that he and Thade are the only two consistent characters in the film.

The worst thing about this movie has to be the ending, which simply does not make sense. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t yet seen it, but believe me you’ll be scratching your head trying to figure out what in the hell they were trying to achieve. My rather cynical take on it is that they were going for maximum sequel potential…

Throw in the inaccuracies (like where did the horses come from) and plot devices such as clocks that spin backwards and forwards to indicate time travel, and you start to get a clear picture of the kind of film we’re dealing with - a brainless action flick, that is sadly lacking on action. There are a few good moments however, with some of the references to the original movie being quite amusing.

Video
Fox have made it difficult to say anything too damning about the video, as they have provided an excellent 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The video is extremely detailed, in spite of the fact that the majority of the film takes place at night or in darker locations. Contrast is excellent, blacks are deep, and the varied colour palette looks very natural with good flesh tones and the like. There are no obvious signs of edge enhancement on a 32” widescreen set, but this may become apparent on larger displays. In addition to this, there are no examples of print defects and very few compression problems to mar what is a superb transfer. For those of you obsessed with stats and figures, the disc has an average bitrate of 7.0Mb/sec.

Audio
Planet of the Apes arrives with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. This is becoming an increasingly common feature of region two special editions, and it’s one that I welcome with open arms.

The included DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are very good, but I didn’t find myself as immersed in the action as I would have liked. Surrounds are used during certain key set pieces, such as the space pod crash and ape versus human battles, but the majority of the action takes place at the front of the soundstage. I would have liked a little more from the rear channels, as what is on offer occasionally seems like an afterthought. The score sounds excellent and is usually to be found hanging around in the background providing the atmosphere, whilst the dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout. The DTS track gets the nod just ahead of the Dolby Digital track, as surround effects are more localised in the Dolby mix and the DTS simply sounds more natural. The clarity of both tracks is excellent however, and you won’t be disappointed whichever mix you choose to listen to.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Extras
Where to begin? Fox really has pulled out all of the stops to provide a two-disc set with a wealth of bonus material. David Prior produced this Planet of the Apes set, and he is no stranger to special editions. David has produced some of the most memorable discs of recent years, and if you would like some more info on the man and his work you can click <a href="http://www.dvdblokes.com/index.php?r=0&s=13... target="_blank"> here</a> to read the interview he gave to DVDBlokes’ Tom Woodward. Anyway, back to the content of the Planet of the Apes DVDs themselves.

Disc one features not one, but two commentary tracks. The first, featuring director Tim Burton, concentrates on all aspects of the film production. Burton isn’t the easiest person in the world to listen to, and there are frequent pauses during the track. He actually seems uneasy with the whole affair. The best part of the commentary is undoubtedly when he tries to explain the ending. He stumbles over his words, frequently changes tack and seems unable to convey just what he was trying to accomplish. It’s actually quite amusing.

The second commentary takes the form of an isolated score with comments by composer Danny Elfman. I happen to like the tribal music Elfman provided for the movie (although from comments I’ve seen I believe I’m in the minority), so this track is a welcome addition.

Also on the first disc is an enhanced viewing mode, containing picture-in-picture segments that pop up periodically to offer more insight into the particular scene you’re watching. This version of the film is worth at least one viewing, simply for the huge amount of additional information provided by the pop up segments. The interactive elements of the region one disc seem to have gone, with all of the featurettes playing without any user intervention, at least on my review copy.

Next up are the usual cast and crew biographies. These are pretty standard fair, except for the biographies of Estella Warren, Erick Avari and Luke Eberl, which have short video clips of the actor’s initial screen tests. Rounding off the first disc we have some DVD Rom content.

Disc two is where the bulk of the extras are housed, and what a bulky lot they are! The first menu contains most of the featurettes, which contain footage relating to most aspect of production.

The first featurette is entitled ‘Simian Academy’ and chronicles the training the actors had to go through at ‘ape school’. It is here that they learned to act and think like apes, and this twenty-five minute item features interviews with the cast as they discuss their feelings on the process. It gives valuable insight into the actor’s motivations.

‘Face Like A Monkey’ details the makeup process designed by Academy Award winner Rick Baker, from its early sages right through to the finished article. This is an interesting look at how the apes came into being, and is of a significant length to cover all aspects of the process.

‘Ape Couture’ is a look at the costumes featured in the movie, while  ‘Screen Tests’ are pretty much what they say they are. There is some interactivity however, in that the tests are split into four windows and allow you to select the audio track you wish to listen to.

‘Chimp Symphony No. 37’ features interviews with composer Danny Elfman, as well as clips from inside the studio during the recording process. If you enjoyed the music in the film then this featurette should hold some interest for you.

‘On Location - Lake Powell’ details footage shot at said lake, a location that was also used in the original movie. ‘Swinging From The Trees’ is the final featurette in this segment, and it deals with the people who performed the stunts in the film.

Next we have some multi-angle featurettes, which are: ‘Limbo’s Quadrangle’, ‘Sandar’s House’, ‘Escape from Ape City’ and ‘In the Forrest.’ The all offer multiple views of the action, and you can toggle between the various angles using your remote control.

Next up we have ‘Extended Scenes’. The first of these is ‘Launch the Monkey’, and it takes a longer look at the scene on the bridge of the Oberon when Leo is ordered to send Pericles to investigate the strange anomaly. ‘Dinner’ is a longer take of the society dinner hosted by Ari’s father, Senator Sandar. The next scene is entitled ‘Kill Them All’ and is an extended take of a sequence involving Thade and Attar discussing the fate of the human escapees. Helena Bonham Carter gets to show off her climbing prowess in ‘Ari in the Trees’ and the final scene, ‘She’s a Chimpanzee’ adds more weight to the suggestion of Ari’s feelings for Leo.

‘Promotional Works’ is fairly self-explanatory, and focuses on the material used to publicise the film. The first entry is an HBO Special, which takes a look at the behind the scenes goings on, as well as featuring interviews with the cast and crew. This is pretty standard back slapping stuff, but is saved from the ignominy of becoming another ‘Making of’ by virtue of it’s presenter – Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan, the gentle giant who gained recognition for his role in The Green Mile, is a very likable character and this make the feature all the more interesting.

Next up is the ‘Rule the Planet Remix' of Danny Elfman’s music. The remix is courtesy of none other than Paul Oakenfold, DJ, producer and general dance music god. I am a huge fan of Oakenfold and his music, and I won’t say a bad word against him. This remix is solid enough, and builds on the tribal elements of the original score, while throwing in a few audio snippets from the film for good measure.

‘Trailers and TV Spots’ are just that, and a total of nine promotional items for the film are included. Also included are trailers for Moulin Rouge and Dr. Dolittle 2.

‘Posters and Press Kit’ is basically the electronic press kit, while ‘Music Promo’ is an advert for the film’s OST.

Next we have a large number of stills galleries, containing images of both scenes and props. The stills are of things as diverse as the ‘Oberon’ set to the furniture used in the production. The final section of this disc features some additional DVD Rom content.

Both discs feature pleasant animated menus, which transport you to the various items on the disc with accompanying ape animations. All in all this is a stunning collection of bonus material, with some of the best usage of enhanced viewing modes and multiple angles that you’re likely to see. It falls just short of reference quality discs like T2: Ultimate Edition, but it's not far off.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Overall
I have watched the film several times during the course of the review process, and I can safely say that I don’t actively dislike it anymore. I hated it at the time of its theatrical release, but now find it uninteresting rather than offensive. This special edition has a fantastic video transfer, brilliant audio and a mind-blowing array of additional material that elevates it above the norm. If the film had been better then this would have been a classic disc. As it is, fans will be ecstatic and this is a must buy for those of you who enjoyed the movie, but those of you who demand that little bit more from your films may well want to try before you buy.


Links: