I was thrilled a number of years ago when I read that Tim Burton got a green light to make a remake of the classic Franklin Schaffner film Planet of the Apes.
Fox had been wanting to do a remake of Apes for many years, and for a while the project was being developed by Platoon director Oliver Stone. But when that fell through, the visionary Burton signed on for a “re-imagining” of the material, as opposed to a strict remake.
The original Planet of the Apes, released in 1968 and based on a book by French author Pierre Boulle, is a classic, regardless of the fact that some people argue that star Charlton Heston spends half the film overacting. His character, George Taylor, is a misanthrope who gets what’s coming to him, and I think the performance works fine. The film's chilling ending, for my money, is still stunning. The filmmakers did an exceptional job with the effects in that final sequence, and it stands as one of Twilight Zone creator and Apes screenwriter Rod Serling’s finest “surprise endings.”
I am a fan the original Apes (though the subsequent sequels and the 1970’s television show fail to live up to the inspired boldness of the original) and I was excited to attend opening day in 2001 of Burton’s Apes at the Seattle Cinerama (the only remaining Super Cinerama theater in the world). There were 800 people there and I recall enjoying the experience far more than the movie. In fact, until I viewed the movie again on DVD the other day, I had forgotten nearly all of it.
Which turned out not to be such a crime. As inventive as the costumes, make-up and visuals in Burton’s Apes are, the film lacks something at its core, and I think that something is heart. The one thing the 1968 version of Apes has going for it is reason and true compassion at its core, in the form of two chimpanzees played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter. Burton’s version, as beautiful as it is, is cold. I also think Mark Wahlberg fails to carry the film as a leading man.
So this week I learned something about myself and about Planet of the Apes: that I like the original better than the “re-imagining,” and that the “re-imagining” screens better in a packed house at the Cinerama than in my home.