Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Mark Wahlberg … Captain Leo Davidson
Tim Roth … Thade
Helena Bonham Carter … Ari
Michael Clarke Duncan … Attar
Paul Giamatti … Limbo
Estella Warren … Daena
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa … Krull
David Warner … Sandar
Kris Kristofferson … Karubi
|Producer:||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
The Zanuck Company
Tim Burton Productions
Ralph Winter … executive producer
Richard D. Zanuck … producer
Ross Fanger … associate producer
Katterli Frauenfelder … associate producer
Iain Smith … line producer: London
|Distributor:||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
It should come as no surprise that this film isn’t about serious issues of any kind. It’s about following a proven formula, creating escapism and making tons of money.
In the near future, a USAF survey spaceship encounters a strange deep-space storm. Per policy, a trained chimp is sent out in a lifepod to investigate (and to test if it’s safe for humans). When the chimp’s pod disappears, Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) disobeys orders and takes out another lifepod on a rescue mission. The storm sends Davidson’s lifepod into the future and crashlands it on a planet where talking apes (chimps, orangs and gorillas—no gibbons) are the rulers and humans are slaves.
Ape attitudes toward humans vary widely. Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), a liberal senator’s daughter, wants them regarded as equals. On the other end of the scale, the power-hungry and ruthless Thade (Tim Roth) wants them wiped out. Presumably, the “silent ape majority” is somewhere in between, wanting things to stay pretty much as they are.
Davidson enlists Ari’s help in trying to get back to his ship. This results in pitting some apes against others, a gigantic Davidson vs. Thade battle scene, and an ending with more twists and holes than the storm that sent Davidson here in the first place. Just when we think the revelations in the Forbidden Zone have explained what we see, we get zinged again in the finale.
Content warnings: The profanity and suggestive language is very scarce and mild. There are a lot of killings of apes and humans; but they’re shown in a relatively bloodless, impersonal way. Humans are controlled with animal-handling tools including a long grab-collar, and are branded. Thade is a scumball only a little less bad than Roth’s character in “Rob Roy”. it’s understandable that as an ape, Thade might kill humans whom he considers a threat; but he also murders loyal apes when it suits his agenda.
There’s of course an implied evolutionary background, but the apes’ theories of evolutionary advancement are self-serving (apes at the top, then monkeys, then humans). There’s a bedroom scene (interrupted) between a couple consisting of a chimp and an orang, and one member of this couple makes a remark that humans shouldn’t be regarded as equals because there’s enough “diversity” already. In other words, the three ape types are being portrayed as races rather than species. Meanwhile, the apes say that the humans (which include Europeans, Africans and Asians) “all look alike.”
it’s impossible to avoid comparisons with the 1968 version. There are several stolen scenes. The makeup, which was great in the original, is much better; except for the upper lips of some of the female chimps, it’s totally believable. And the ape movements and stunts are fantastic. Probably an Oscar nomination for makeup, and possibly for sound and sound editing. Several characters from the original are given bit parts here. In a screwy humor move, NRA president Charlton Heston plays Thade’s dying father, a chimp who hates humans and their technology, especially guns. He repeats one of his memorable profanity lines from the original, and another ape repeats the other; both lines are placed in a new context. Heston’s co-star Linda Harrison also has a role.
The ending? It made no sense to me. In the original novel, there are repeated shocks as the reader slowly learns that “parallel evolution” is taking place on planets all across the galaxy—humans on each world develop technology first; then apes take over, displace and enslave the humans, and don’t invent anything new but just “ape” some of what they find. The 1968 film version made no attempt to mirror the multi-world premise; it used a shocking and depressing ending of a different kind. The sequels to the earlier version included references to Lamarckian evolution, and a twist involving apes traveling back in time and becoming their own ancestors. Is this version following the novel, the earlier film version, or neither? Can’t tell. Either  there were several endings filmed, and they picked the one that had the biggest gut-punch on the test audiences, even if it didn’t make any sense (as in “Along Came a Spider”), or  we’re being set up for a sequel (as soon as they can get Marty McFly and Doc under contract).
If you like this kind of stuff, may as well see it. But leave the little kids at home and your brains at the door.