Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on July 27th, 2001.

Here are some updated thoughts:  In my review below I refer to Helena Bonham Carter talking about the possibility of a sequel to Planet of the Apes (2001).  While the original film spawned four sequels of declining quality (I think they are all good except Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Burton’s reboot, despite having what would consider fair box office results, spawned zero sequels.  Perhaps there is a modicum of sanity still residing in the ivory towers of Hollywood!

Since its release we have been graced with a new reboot that completely abandons the source material and keeps just the concept of intelligent apes.  This new Apes series is quite good and stands on its own independent of the original, or the 2001 disaster.  The next installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, comes out this summer . . . July, 2017.

This review contains spoilers.

Planet of the Apes (2001):

I really don’t know where to begin with this mess of a movie . . . but I’ll give it a shot.

Tim Burton‘s whole vision for this movie, from a plot and thematic point of view, is a complete mess. Sure his visual vision is spot on and the movie looks good, is stylistic, and has great special effects. But who cares when ultimately the “goodness” of a movie laden with visuals is founded in cliched nonsense?

The film bears only mild similarities to the better original, and little similarity to the Pierre Boule novel. Mark Wahlberg plays emotionless astronaut Leo Davidson who gets sucked through a space-time anomaly and finds himself in the future crash landed on a planet populated by ruling apes where humans are enslaved and hunted. It’s up to Davidson to get off the planet and at the same time saving humanity and convincing the apes (in a few lines of dialogue) that centuries of persecuting humans is suddenly bad. Bad simians!!! Helena Bonham Carter (recently lambasting the movie on Good Morning America saying she’d do a sequel only if they threw a lot of money her way) plays the female chimp Ari who looks NOTHING like the rest of the apes. She looks practically human. Why is this? Did Tim Burton feel the need to make all the female chimps look almost human for us to accept their femininity? Ridiculous. Model Estella Warren play a beautiful human that should have just been written out of the movie altogether. She was a waste of space, oxygen, screen time, money, and my time. Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan give the only convincing performances as a brutal chimp general and a loyal gorilla soldier respectively.

Planet of the Apes (2001)Director Tim Burton (Batman) reinvents one of the most acclaimed and beloved works of science fiction, Pierre Boulle‘s classic novel Planet of the Apes. Burton’s Planet of the Apes begins with the famed original’s premise — a pilot finds himself in a world turned upside down after landing on a strange planet.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Director:  Tim Burton
Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter
Genre: Science Fiction
Media:  Film, 120 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $362 million, worldwide
Year: July, 27 2001
2 out of 5 stars

Tim Burton tries to pay homage to the original version of the movie by including classic lines of dialogue and an appearance by Charlton Heston. Instead of being subtle about it, Tim Burton hits us in the side of the head with a sledgehammer and uses the exact same lines and words . . . each time this happens it was met by groans and uneasy laughter from the audience. And Heston’s last words as he dies just made me shake my head. The implied attraction between Davidson and Ari is also ridiculous. Every time Ari looked at Davidson in that longing way the audience groaned. This was one of the most opinionated audiences I’ve sat with in a long time.

Despite all its flaws, Burton’s visual vision is evident in every scene. The set design is incredible, mixing excellent CGI and matte work with some insane looking treehouse structures. Imagine the Ewok village on a serious dose of steroids. Rick Baker has outdone himself with the ape makeup effects. Every character looks unique in their own way but still primate in nature.

Let’s jump to the ending. Tim Burton promised a shocking ending, one just as shocking and surprising as the original. But he forgot one thing . . . to make it good. To me the ending was added on simply to get that shock value, no other reason at all. But it doesn’t work, and here’s why. As soon as he takes off and heads out into space on the way home, you know that he’s going to return to an Earth populated by apes. Otherwise why write an ending scene when the audience knows the ending is minutes away.  There’s zero build up, zero tension, and zero payoff to this ending.


For many moviegoers Planet of the Apes might work as a mildly entertaining summer popcorn movie, but in reality it’s a stale offering full of stiff, emotionless performances with a lot of wasted eye-candy thrown in.  It feels like a big budget, soulless Hollywood film that was created by committee instead of vision. Save some time by not standing in line and rent it later.

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

© 2000-2019, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
All images/videos cited copyright to their respective owner(s).

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