The Two Cents Roundtable Travels Through Time to Rediscover Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES

The team looks backs at the director’s ill-fated and ill-advised remake on the 1960s classic.

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Planet of the Apes (2001)

In celebration of the release of Kingdom of the Apes, this month the Two Cents Film Club is revisiting one of the most legendary franchises ever made! This week, we take a look back at director Tim Burton’s infamous adaptation of Planet of the Apes and determine if, despite its box-office success, this was a movie which was doomed from the start, or a misunderstood classic whose time for a reappraisal has finally come.

Our Guest

Nathan Flynn

Let’s just get this out of the way by saying that Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes is arguably the worst film in the franchise and perhaps the low point of Burton’s career. It’s the only film in his filmography that feels completely anonymous.

Even if the film had a coherent script or a captivating take on the source material (it doesn’t), it would still be undermined by Mark Wahlberg’s ruinous performance as the lead. Disastrously miscast, Wahlberg lacks the gravitas of Charlton Heston and any real investment in the plot. His portrayal feels as though he wants to bully his own character for being too nerdy.

When I went to write this blurb, I scratched my head to think of anything to recommend about the movie besides the phenomenal ape makeup which almost defends the film’s very existence and I eventually was able to find only a few redeeming qualities worth noting:

– The supporting cast has some bright spots. Paul Giamatti, Tim Roth, and Michael Clarke Duncan bring much-needed energy and fun to their roles, providing some enjoyment amidst the otherwise dull proceedings.

– An NRA-era Charlton Heston makes a bizarre cameo in ape makeup, delivering a monologue on the evils of guns. This scene is delightfully odd and offers a decent “WTF” factor that holds your attention longer than most moments in the film.

– The image of “Ape-raham Lincoln” is fun. It’s absolutely incoherent but that imagery stays with you.

Overall, while Burton’s Planet of the Apes showcases impressive makeup—the peak of the franchise—it ultimately stands out as the low point in an otherwise immaculate series. The film exudes a sense of soullessness that Burton hadn’t shown as a director up to that point.

(@nathanflynn on Xitter)

The Team

Ed Travis

I don’t bring this kind of energy to Cinapse often, but Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake fucking sucks. It’s an abject failure. It captures none of the spirit of the original series or the remake series. It has zero dramatic or thematic weight, and speaks absolutely nothing to the culture. It’s a massively disappointing whiff that carries absolutely no power when watched today, whereas the entries from as far back as 1968 or 1972 (the entries we’ve covered so far in this series) feel almost prescient in their relevance.

Mark Wahlberg is wildly miscast and a protagonist with zero dimension, who experiences almost no growth or change over the course of the preposterous plot that establishes almost no rules for its sci-fi premise. Amidst a series that has such respect for the sci-fi tropes it plays in, and speaks so much truth to culture, Burton’s remake is a bankrupt failure of epic proportions. 

It does bring its A-game in terms of production design and makeup work. In fact, in its execution of the Apes, the film is as remarkable and singular as the rest of it is a waste. Tim Roth puts in a physical performance for the ages as General Thade and manages to provide the series with one of its most powerful antagonists amidst an otherwise limp film. The makeup for the Apes is across the board incredible. So good, in fact, that it frequently tempts Apes nerds like me to revisit this entry over and over again to think maybe it’s not as bad as we remember. But it always is.

What it represents to me is a fascinating period in which the series shows what modern make up could do, but before CGI would come along and revolutionize the series visuals once again. Even Burton’s lack of vision for this entry couldn’t kill the series’ status as a showcase for incredible make up and visual effects and production design artists to display their craft to the world. But relentlessly inspired make up and production design, and even action design (the apes almost fly around here and their physicality is stunning) can’t overcome a bankrupt storytelling concept that refuses to have anything interesting to say in one of the most prophetic film series to ever come out of a major studio. The prosecution rests, your honor.   

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Justin Harlan

Whenever I hear a movie is “the worst” of a franchise or see that critics generally hate it, I go in really hoping I’ll disagree. I think it’s just my desire to champion the underdog in life. However, some movies refuse to let me love them. This remake is certainly one of those. As I’m certain others here have said already, the costuming and effects are quite stellar here. The film looks great. Hell, it sounds great too. The cast isn’t even bad.

But alas, bad writing always wills out. The old adage that great acting can’t fix a bad script is surely represented here. Moreover, even the (good and bad) quirks of Burton as a director are barely present here, making it not only a pretty bad movie, but one I’ll ultimately forget rather quickly. More than anything else, my greatest criticism here is that the film bored me and was a slog to get through. Once the awe of the film’s only major competence, the aforementioned effects and costuming, wore off – it was a chore to watch. At least some bad movies are interesting; this wasn’t even that.


Frank Calvillo

In the 23 years since its release, Tim Burton’s attempt to remake this 1968 classic has gone down as one of the worst remakes ever attempted. This is especially noteworthy since this fiasco comes from a filmmaker who based the majority of his career on remakes and adaptations. If time wasn’t kind to Planet of the Apes in the early 2000s, it’s downright cruel now.

The movie comes across as both incredibly cartoonish and ridiculously self-serious at the same time, relying on its paint-by-numbers action and technical aspects to carry it through. To be fair, it’s in the latter category where Burton’s vision flourishes. The Colleen Atwood costumes and the Rick Baker makeup effects work wonders, as does the Danny Elfman score. Many would be right in saying it’s the creators behind those areas who are worthy of the praise above Burton, who clearly found himself a director well outside his depth.

The stories of the rushed production, mandated by the studio’s insistence on a summer release, are well-known, and no one can fault Burton for trying in vain to salvage a project many felt was unsalvageable from the moment the cameras started rolling. Still, applause must be given to Burton for stepping outside of his wheelhouse (in terms of story, and especially in terms of aesthetics) and taking on what remains one of the most ambitious projects of his career. 

(@frankfilmgeek on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

I’ve never hated Burton’s remake, but it’s something I’ve seen only once and quite a long time ago; it’s possible at that time that I was not even aware there were sequels to the 1968 original. Since then I’ve visited and revisited all the other films (excepting the most recent) at least twice, so I had some excitement in returning to this with a different perspective.

It certainly doesn’t get off to a great start. The opening sequence set in Mark Wahlberg’s spaceship feels especially dated to its time; the squeaky clean white uniforms and ship’s interior, datedly rendered space storm (a swirling purple blob), and instrument panels that might best be described as Winamp skins – it all screams a distinct vibe of that period.

But the film is fun enough as a pulpy adventure and recognizable enough as Planet of the Apes while doing its own thing, and I actually appreciate some of the changes and narrative decisions it makes to distinguish itself and offer up some surprises; the reveal of the origin of the Apes in particular was, I thought, conceptually strong.

Some other changes, like the planet’s human characters being relatively intelligent and capable of speech, make little sense in the narrative. And unfortunately the original series’ scathing critique against fascism and weaponized religion mostly falls to the wayside in favor of emphasizing plotting and action (which is pretty good).

But the one distinction that Burton’s Apes still holds over any other iteration? It has the prime primates in the business. Largely created and shot practically, these magnificent creations wipe the floor against both the classic rubber-faced apes of the original franchise and the modern CGI/mo-cap versions (which are gorgeously expressive and dynamic, but will never not look like CGI).

The ape cast is also notably excellent, with inspired performances from Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, plus cameos from Hollywood legends David Warner and the original “Taylor” himself, Charlton Heston. Oddly enough, one of the few things Ed actually likes about this film – Tim Roth’s villainous General Thade – is one of its worst aspects to me. Compared to characters like Dr. Zaius, a complex adversary whose convictions and loyalties can be enigmatic and sometimes disarmingly sympathetic, Thade is completely one-dimensional, a perpetually scowling, pissed-off ape who’s just evil for the sake of being evil.

(@VforVashaw on Xitter)

CinAPES, aka Revisit Of The Planet Of The Apes

Upcoming picks:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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