(Movie Review written Summer, 2001)
File this one under questionable choices that worked. Even some of the stars of the original version were skeptical about if this "update" would work or not. A project that was rumored to be originally directed by Oliver Stone or Michael Bay, the wheel finally stopped at the best choice for the film - Tim Burton. Functioning on its own terms, Burton's "Planet" does have some flaws, but certainly works well as an entertaining (but not particularly memorable) Summer entry.
The picture stars Mark Whalberg as Leo Davidson. As the picture begins, Davidson and his space crew are investigating a freak electrical storm. They send one of the monkeys that are on-board into the storm to investigate, but he's quickly gone. They're idiots, since anyone who's watched even a little bit of sci-fi knows that electical storms like this one send you to different time periods. Leo finds out the tough way when he chases after the ape and gets flung far-forward in time and crash lands on a planet. A planet, unfortunately for him, run by apes. Burton starts things rolling rather quickly, as Davidson and a stray band of humans are chased and captured by the apes within a few seconds of his landing. The main apes are quickly introduced; Ari(Helena-Bonham Carter) is a human-rights activist who believes in equality and helps the human group escape; Thades (Tim Roth) the evil general who wants the humans wiped off the planet; Limbo (Paul Giamatti), a cowardly ape who trades humans as slaves; a general played by Michael Clarke Duncan and others. The ape make-up is often astounding, allowing the actors to provide subtle facial gestures and further take-over their character.
After the escape from the ape city (which looks like something out of "Star Wars" and is filmed rather darkly, possibly to obscure the set-like look of some of the backgrounds), the humans head off to the "Forbiden Zone", which may hold the key to conquering the apes. Of course, the apes give chase across the desert landscape. One of the few noticable problems I had with the picture is during this stretch; some of it begins to feel rather long and repetitive. The original picture (s), as cheesy as they are (and I had to watch all of them back-to-back to review the DVDs), were more serious than this one - Burton's "Planet" is a Summer movie more concerned with flash and action and that's fine, as Burton pulls off these tasks quite well. There's only a few tastes of his usual dark style, though - a forest at night looks like it was a leftover set from "Sleepy Hollow".
The acting is mostly quite good, although the ape actors provide more energy. Roth does an impressive job chewing scenery in an over-the-top performance that hasn't been seen from the actor in a while. Clarke Duncan and Bonham Carter also provide emotional, dramatic performances that are very engaging. On the other hand, the humans are less interesting. Whalberg has proven his acting talent in other films such as "Perfect Storm" and "Boogie Nights", but here he simply gives a rather generic "action hero" effort. The beautiful Estella Warren plays Whalberg's love interest, but she hardly has any lines. The screenplay, by "Cast Away"'s William Broyles Jr. and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal, is generally good, although there are some lines that do come across as unintentionally humorous or stereotypical action lines.
And the ending is either going to get a cheer from the audience or a groan from those who haven't found the past two hours enjoyable. Burton takes an obvious spin to the final moments to set-up a sequel and, after a record opening, we're obviously going to receive another edition. Although this edition worked (and worked well, judging by the opening), whether or not anyone wants to see another set of "Apes" films is even more questionable than the idea of re-doing the first film.
VIDEO: "Planet of the Apes", with its often shadowy look and dark sequences must have been a rather tough film for Fox to transfer to DVD well, but they've done an absolutely magnificent job presenting the film as it appeared in theaters. Sharpness and detail are excellent; even detail in the darker and low-light sequences is remarkable.
Some minor flaws appeared, but I didn't find them bothersome or irritating. The print used was absolutely crystal clear - I didn't even see any specks, marks or grain throughout. Some minor instances of edge enhancement were visible as well as a couple of traces of pixelation, but neither of these problems became annoying. Overall, the film looked smooth, clean and "film-like".
Colors remained fantastic throughout, as the greens of the jungles came through looking beautifully rich and the earthy colors of the desert landscape appeared accurate and natural. Flesh tones also looked quite good, as well. Although not flawless, this is certainly still a very fine transfer and one of Fox's recent best.
SOUND: Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, "Planet of the Apes" provides an exciting sound experience that definitely lives up to expectations. The opening spaceship and following crash sequences put the surrounds to fine use to put the viewer into the middle of the experience. Even less active sequences have the surrounds either providing fairly generous amounts of ambient sounds or the score.
Audio quality was terrific, as the score sounded dynamic and rich, while sound effects were crisp and convincing. Last, but not least, dialogue sounded clean and natural. While not a consistent assault, the film's audio does do a fine job presenting the material with uniformly fine audio quality. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks presented the film's audio quite well, but the DTS track remained a mild winner, boasting a warmer and crisper sound that proved more enjoyable.
MENUS: Wonderfully effective animated menus of the ape camp, with superb transitions between menus on disc one. The menus for disc two are also very nicely animated, but I would have liked the ability to more easily go to different features on disc two, where an ape soldier points to 6 different positions - each position is a different section of features. I didn't seem to be able to easily go from, let's say, section 1 to section 4.
EXTRAS: Produced by David Prior ("Fight Club: Special Edition"), this edition of "Planet of the Apes" provides some superb supplements, which are listed below.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Tim Burton. Although I believe it was reported that Burton wasn't planning to do a commentary for this disc, he has thankfully decided to sit down and discuss it. Burton has always seemed to be a somewhat shy character, but this track actually turns out to be his most talkative - he starts off quite well discussing how he was finally chosen to direct the picture, then his original feelings about remaking a film that he first saw when he was 10. Although there are still pauses of silence throughout the track similar to some of Burton's other commentaries, these pauses seemed noticably smaller and Burton came across as quite funny at times. While the director still doesn't carry the whole commentary track, this is easily his best track, as he really does a fine job discussing the project's history, obstacles during filming, working with his human and chimp stars, set design and his general feelings about the final product. Certainly worth a listen.
Enhanced Viewing Mode: This is a rather fascinating little feature that hasn't really been used before, at least that I can remember. When engaged, little picture-in-picture boxes come up and offer either behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews or other information. The other half of this feature will likely be more familiar to viewers, as it requires them to click on a logo to take them to a short featurette on effects or other production topics before being brought back to that spot in the film. This is a terrific feature, as it not only doesn't force the viewer to have to watch to an item to click all the time, but when it does show the logo, it's on the screen for a decent enough length of time so that you can reach for the remote.
Also on Disc One: THX Optimode tests, cast/crew bios, isolated 2.0 score with commentary from composer Danny Elfman, DVD-ROM including script-to-screen & weblinks and NUON-enhanced features (such as "viddies" and "zooms"), for those few players that actually are NUON-equipped.
Documentaries: Seven documentaries make up the first major section of the second disc. What makes these documentaries so enjoyable is that they aren't "we're good, you're good, everyone's great" promotional pieces that look back on the film, but substancial and informative pieces that were filmed during production and take the viewer really in-depth into different aspects of the production.
Ape School: This is the first of the documentaries that lead off disc two, focusing on the training that the principal actors and extras had to go through to act more like apes for their roles. Especially interesting to watch is Helena Bonham Carter, who discusses and analyzes the possibilities for her character's movements in footage where she's training - but unfortunately, she has troubles with the movement aspect. Also, we get a look at how the actual apes had to be trained to act slightly more human, which is a bit more interesting, as it takes a lot of coaching and patience from the human trainers. Where I wouldn't have thought there would be that much material for this documentary, it actually clocks in at 24 minutes.
Face of the Monkey: This featurette deals with the creation of the look of the apes. Interview and behind-the-scenes footage with Rick Baker and Tim Burton discusses and shows how the concepts and ideas behind the make-up and costumes came into being. Test footage with Baker trying the make-up on himself is shown picture-in-picture during one sequence and we're also shown a great deal of elements like casts of the actors being made and other steps of the lengthy and complex make-up process. Again, this isn't one of those quickie featurettes - it offers a lot of tidbits and runs about 30 minutes.
Ape Couture: This documentary shows the viewer several different screen-tests for the different characters to get the look and feel of the costumes right. Interviews with costume designer Colleen Atwood ("Gattaca" and Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" and "Mars Attacks"). The documentary leads us through the process of making costumes for a major-budget picture that really relies heavily on them; behind-the-scenes footage shows us things like fittings, design and concepts. This is one of the shorter featurettes, coming in at 6 minutes and 30 seconds.
Screen Tests: This section contains several pieces of footage from different tests that were shot during pre-production of the film. Each different section shows footage in 4 different windows (except for "stunt test"). During the multi-screen areas, the viewer can select one of the four boxes and hit play to hear audio from that test. If no audio was recorded for that section, music plays. The sections include: "make-up tests", "group tests", "costume tests", "stunt test" and "movement tests".
Chimp Symphony: Op. 37: This featurette revolves around the recording of Danny Elfman's score. We are allowed to watch some of the recording sessions and Elfman himself is interviewed about not only his working process in general, but his thoughts and ideas about the concepts that went into the score for this particular picture. This documentary runs about 9 1/2 minutes.
On Location: Lake Powell: This 12 minute documentary takes us to one of the major locations of the first film that was revisited in this new "Planet". Unfortunately for the actors, we find that temperatures were not exactly comfortable and the humans were especially chilly. Certainly more interesting though, is to learn more about the massive undertaking that was this location shoot, as boats, giant water heaters and other major instruments and appliances had to be brought in to transform the location into an area that would be workable for the film's cast and crew to shoot in.
Swinging From The Trees: This is an informative 9 1/2 minute featurette that deals with the stunt performers and how they were able to appear as if they were swinging from the trees.
Multi-Angle Featurettes: The DVD continues to not only provide high-quality supplements, but present them an interesting fashion during these multi-angle and multi-audio featurettes. There are different angles to view (or view all angles together on-screen), giving the user a different perspective of the experience of shooting that particular scene. A navigation bar at the bottom of the screen also lets the viewer do other things like view concept artwork or the script of that particular scene. Furthermore, multiple audio tracks of the experience are available to listen to. The scenes are: "Limbo's Quadrangle", "Sandar's House", "Escape from Ape City" and "In The Forest".
Extended Scenes: 5 extended scenes are presented, including "Launch The Monkey, "Kill Them All", "Dinner", "Ari in the Trees" and "She's a Chimpanzee". No additional text or audio commentary is available.
Trailers and TV Spots: The teaser and trailer for "Planet of the Apes" are included, as well as 6 TV spots. Also in this section are trailers for Moulin Rouge, which comes to DVD on 12/18, as well as Dr. Dolittle 2, which has just been released to DVD. Unfortunately, as with all Fox discs that I've seen, the trailers are not in 5.1 - only in 2.0.
HBO - "First Look": Although the concept of following actor Michael Clarke Duncan through his day working on "Planet of the Apes" is an interesting idea, this documentary quickly goes into a somewhat promotional mode, as it features the usual behind-the-scenes footage and cast/crew interviews about the story and set. This 26-minute documentary pretty much goes over what the featurettes covered, although in less detail then they did.
Posters and Press Kit: The film's posters, promotional stills and text are included in this section.
Music: Paul Oakenfold's "Rule The Planet Remix" is offered, as well as a music promo spot.
Still Galleries: A fairly massive still gallery offering concept art and other material is included, separated into several smaller sections. These sections are: Scenes - "The Oberon", "Derkien", "Calima", "Jungle", "Ape Tents", "Human Tents" and "Storyboards". Also, Props - "Flags", "Furniture", "Lab", "Lighting", "Transportation", "Various", "Wardrobe" and "Weapons".
Also: Further DVD-ROM materials like "Leo's Logbook".
Final Thoughts: Small concerns aside, I still feel that "Planet of the Apes" was certainly one of the better "Summer" pictures of 2001. Fox's DVD is a truly massive Special Edition, with impressive audio/video and wonderfully informative behind-the-scenes supplements. A definite recommendation.
The Film ***
Video 93/A = (376/400 possible points)
Audio: 93/A = (376/400 possible points)
Extras: 100/A+ = (300/300 possible points)
Menus: 95/A = (190/200 possible points)
Value: 93/A = (279/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ***
DVD GRADE: A