Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Planet of the Apes" - The DVD the Second-Hand Store Wouldn't Buy

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie already, so...SPOILERS.

**Over the next couple of months, I'll be drowning in awards screeners. So I've decided to occasionally take a break and watch one of my more random (in this case shameful) DVDs as a kind of palate cleanser in the midst of all these uppity awards contenders.

The Planet of the Apes remake has a special place in my collection: I once tried to sell it at a second hand DVD store (Coconuts in Evansville), and they wouldn’t buy it from me. This was ten years ago, so it’s not like trying to sell a copy of this garbage today. And I know they bought plenty of crap from me (though I can’t remember any specific titles) before, but this movie is where they drew the line. Also, they would give as little as fifty cents for a movie, but, again, not for this movie.

No other movie was ever turned down by that store, so Planet of the Apes is special. Or it might be cursed. I haven’t tried it, but something tells me that if I threw this movie away I would wake up one night and find it in my bedroom. So rather than tempt fate, I watched it again. It still sucks, and I still don’t know why I bought it in the first place.

Is it as bad as its reputation?

When I decided to watch this again, I told myself, “It can’t be that bad. I remember liking it when I saw it in the theater.” Well, it’s pretty bad. I don’t think it’s a total failure, though. The look of the film is great. The whole movie was just an excuse to make better-looking apes this time around, and they certainly accomplished that. The fact that it’s almost entirely practical is very impressive. The score is also very good. That’s about it. Now on to the problems.

The casting of Mark Wahlberg is a major problem. At the time, I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to his performance. But this God, he is practically sleepwalking in this role. It’s bad enough that he’s cast as an astronaut. That’s right up there with science teacher from The Happening when it comes to Wahlberg miscasting. Even if you do buy him as an astronaut, nothing can forgive the low energy of his performance. I just don’t get it. He’s arguing with his superiors about going after his chimp buddy, and he’s doing it with the conviction of someone complaining about getting their order wrong at a fast food restaurant. His only job is to be passionate and shocked. He should be passionate about going after his chimp buddy or about saving the humans on the ape planet, but he never seems to care about anything. He should be shocked and disturbed by the ape society he encounters, but he instantly accepts it as normal just goes about trying to escape. I don’t know how I would handle suddenly being in a world of talking apes, but it would probably take me at least a day to adjust and lose my fucking mind. But Wahlberg is just like, “Human face or monkey face, it doesn’t matter which one I’m punchin’.”

The rest of the cast is decent, except for Estella Warren, who was apparently hired only to stare at Wahlberg longingly despite there being almost no relationship between their characters. Helena Bonham Carter is okay, but she clearly has trouble speaking through the prosthetics. In fact, I would say that’s the biggest issue with most of the ape performances. Some characters are very easy to understand; Paul Giamatti comes to mind. Most of the other actors couldn’t get past the make up. I suppose Roth is easy to understand, but he snarls every line.

The real problem with this movie is the story. It suffers mainly from being a bland remake rather than attempting to break new ground for the series, as the latest trilogy did. The film is far too similar to the original: man crash lands on ape planet, man gets captured, ape city is shown, man escapes to forbidden zone, twist ending. The inclusion of Charlton Heston and the cringe-inducing reverse of the “damn dirty ape” line show that this film never had any ambition beyond looking better than the original.

If there is a goal beyond being a straight remake, it’s an attempt to turn this into a summer action tentpole rather than the satire it should be. There are plenty of moments when the film script starts an idea about slavery, equality, politics, technology, etc. but it goes nowhere, and it usually followed immediately by some cheap ape sight gag. I’m not saying a movie can’t have a message and humor, but the message needs to be fully stated. This film has plenty of beginning thoughts that it doesn’t follow through with.

As for the action, it’s quite lacking, too. Aside from the impressive image of apes raining down following the ignition burst of the spaceship, the action is bland and/or comical. The main thing they try to showcase is a jumping ability, but it ends up looking out of place every time an ape suddenly jumps thirty feet in the air. And when an ape starts hammering down on another ape, it looks cartoonish, not brutal. It just seems like every part of this movie, save for the look and score of it, was half-assed and rushed. As for it being a rush job, many of those involved have admitted as much. But all the time in the world wouldn’t make that script any better.

That ending…

If there’s anything people remember about this crappy remake, it’s the ending. Wahlberg escapes and heads back to Earth, but somehow Thade beat him there by centuries and established an ape society in which he is eventually revered as much as Abraham Lincoln.

The sudden twist ending felt like a twist just for the sake of it. A remake of a film with one of the most famous twist endings has to have a twist ending too, right? Once again, this movie would probably have been better if they had said, “Screw the original, let’s make our own film.” But that didn’t happen. That said, my only issue with this ending is the statue. But first let me get into why I’m okay with the ending.

Once time travel is introduced, anything is possible. So Thade eventually got out and found a way to take ship to Earth. He traveled through time and ended up there in the past. I’m fine with that, since it’s basically the plot of the movie itself, just reversed. I don’t know why exactly a lot of people hated the ending, but if they hate it because they claim it makes no sense or impossible, then they forgot about the time travel plot. Fox was apparently worried about this after the fact since they included a chart explaining how it worked in the DVD (which is pointless because if you bought the DVD you are obviously at least a little okay with the ending).

A sincere complaint about the ending would be that Wahlberg leaves at all. Aside from a video message he received early in the film, he doesn’t seem to have much to go home to (and the people in the video seemed pretty lame anyway). He has friends, but I didn’t see a wife or kids or anything in that message. That’s not to say that any single man should go live on a planet of apes, but there is nothing in the film to show that he longs for home, aside from him simply stating that he needs to go home. Why? He doesn’t seem to be very important to the mission he was on. And on the planet of the apes, he has become a hero, somehow creating harmony between apes and humans in the span of a couple days. It seems like that is a better situation. Not to mention he has both an ape lady and a human lady wanting him, so he has options there, too.

Another sincere complaint about the ending is that what it sets up is far more interesting than what came before. I don’t want a sequel to this film; I want this film to be that sequel. That would be a remake worth watching. Instead of some twist ending, just have Wahlberg crash on Earth instead of half-ass planet of the apes. That way, the film can break new ground instead of wallowing in the better original.

So my main gripe is that the ending presented something more interesting than what I just wasted two hours on, but I do have one specific issue with the ending: the logistics. The statue of Thade is him as Lincoln, down to the suit and haircut. So Thade must have landed in the 1800s. So how did that work? All apes just suddenly rose up and overthrew society? Just how many apes were there in the United States in the 1800s? For that matter, how many apes do we have in our zoos today? Probably not enough for an uprising now, and certainly not then. And sure, a talking ape with advanced technology would cause quite a stir at any time, much less the 1800s. But does that mean he would immediately take power? I think it much more likely that he would be killed as soon as possible, even with his superior weapon in hand. I just don’t see how it could happen. But that’s another movie that would also be far more interesting than what we got: How Thade somehow takes over the United States in the 1800s with only a single laser gun. Maybe he was able to take a lot of apes with him or something, then he might have more of a chance...never mind. I don’t need to go any further down this particular rabbit hole, suffice it to say, I bet it would be more entertaining than what we got.

Do I regret buying this?

Oh God, yes. This is yet another movie in my collection that is there from my "must-buy-a-movie-every-week" and "I-saw-it-in-the-theater-so-I-must-buy-it" phase. I already tried selling it. Now I’ve accepted that this film is intertwined with my life by fate, and I have decided to be buried with it.

Random Thoughts

I haven’t mentioned Tim Burton at all in this article, but that’s not by design. I was about to go back and find the appropriate spot to mention him and decided against it, mainly because the more I think about it, the less I consider this a Tim Burton movie. I think the goofier moments are Burton-esque, but overall this is not the type of film he makes. Who hires Tim Burton to make a sci-fi action film? I’m guessing he didn’t have as much control as he does these days. I’m not sure he would have made a better film if he was left alone and given time to do so, but I’m almost positive that it would at least be a lot more interesting than this.

The IMDb trivia section for this is nuts: a Cameron and Schwarzenegger version, Roth turned down Snape for this, Wahlberg dropped out of Ocean’s 11 for this, Daniel Day-Lewis was considered for Thade (not that he would have taken it), the original ending (scrapped due to expense) had Wahlberg crash land into a Yankees game in which all the players were apes, etc.

I get that Thade is the bad guy, and that he's evil, but this has got to be the angriest performance I've ever seen. Every line is snarled. He growls at people at random.

The apes need to speak English, I get it, but the quotes and idioms from American culture (including versions of quotes from the original film) are distracting.

“Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice.” Why the fuck is an ape paraphrasing Barry Goldwater?

Thank God they free the little girl who was taken as a pet earlier in the film. That moment was way too dark in an otherwise goofy film.

Way too many scenes of apes doing “human” stuff: teenager apes smoking weed while wearing leather jackets, an old ape taking out dentures, apes engaging in foreplay, etc.

“Can't we all just get along?” Why would they know that quote?

I can't tell if this movie is trying to be serious or not. Every time I start to think about what it might be trying to say about our own culture, there's a stupid quote or sight gag that reminds me that I shouldn't apply thought to this movie.

The half-assed love triangle with Wahlberg, Carter, and Warren feels tacked on, at best. I’m sure Warren was added just to appease people who might be upset with a possible ape-human love plot.

Heston's casting yet another 4th wall breaking distraction.

Of course Heston-ape would keep a gun in an object of worship.

I bet Heston wrote his own lines praising the destructive power of guns.

Some of the ape soldiers had those Jai Alai scoop things. Is it more than just a random sport in their culture?

They shoehorn in this destined leader subplot with Wahlberg, but it makes little sense. He didn't defy the apes; he just ran away. His only goal is to abandon everyone. No amount of Estella Warren-staring is going to make that heroic.

It all feels so rushed. Like everything has to lead to a big a battle for the sake of having a big battle. Because of this, not enough time is spent in the ape city. So instead of getting the feel of a real planet of apes, we get comedic gags tossed in as they run away. It might have been better if Wahlberg was definitely stranded, so the movie could take place almost primarily in the city, and not in a bland desert setting.

Wahlberg's wannabe rallying speech is pretty awful. How many great speeches include the speaker saying “Listen!” multiple times?

The kid wanting to prove himself became way too big of a deal near the end. I'm not sure if that kid was with the group the entire time or if he was one of the randos who showed up later.

Still, the ship ignition attack was kind of cool. Too bad the insert shots of apes falling to the ground looked more like them just falling due to wind.

Aside from the occasional ridiculous jump or throw, the action is very limited due to the extensive costumes and makeup.

Tim Roth says “my friend” with such anger it's unintentionally funny since he's supposed to be trying to convince Michael Clarke Duncan to help him.

Michael Clarke Duncan does a pretty sudden turnaround based mostly on Wahlberg's word. As with everything else in this film, it felt rushed. As does Wahlberg's sudden departure, and the even more sudden twist ending. Man, a lot of crap suddenly happens in the final fifteen minutes…

So because he kissed an ape, he also had to kiss Estella Warren?

Why is it safe for him to travel in space in rags with no helmet? That's my issue with the logic of this time traveling talking ape movie? What's wrong with me?