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Review: Film remake ends up monkey business

Marky Mark Wahlburg is hurling through the solar system in a minivan-sized space pod. He passes Saturn and within ten seconds lands on earth. Given that the celestial bodies of our solar system are so far apart it takes the sun's rays 10 minutes to reach the earth's surface, the craft has to be moving well beyond the speed of light.
Author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that makers of science fiction movies know almost nothing about science. This is no matter when the premise is earth-shattering and the plot sturdy enough to pull it off. But director Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes mixes shaky science with shaky storytelling, and not even beautiful filmmaking can save it.


A child sold as a pet in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, a visually stunning remake of the 1968 original.
photo: Courtesy Tatra Film

Planet of the Apes
(Planéta opíc)

Running time: 110 minutes
Starring: Mark Wahlburg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham-Carter
Rating: 5 out of 10
Playing in Bratislava at Kino Istota, Karloveská 32 (Iuventa building) November 8-11, 17:30, 20:00,
Tel: 6066 4283

Marky Mark Wahlburg is hurling through the solar system in a minivan-sized space pod. He passes Saturn and within ten seconds lands on earth. Given that the celestial bodies of our solar system are so far apart it takes the sun's rays 10 minutes to reach the earth's surface, the craft has to be moving well beyond the speed of light.

Author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that makers of science fiction movies know almost nothing about science. This is no matter when the premise is earth-shattering and the plot sturdy enough to pull it off. But director Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes mixes shaky science with shaky storytelling, and not even beautiful filmmaking can save it.

The year is 2029. The US has placed a space station in orbit around what looks to be Saturn. This is an astounding accomplishment, considering the world's first unmanned probe to the outer planets completed its mission in the late 1990s, to say nothing of cracking the light speed barrier.

The station sends genetically enhanced monkeys on research missions. If the monkeys return healthy, they'll try humans. When a chimpanzee is lost in an electrical storm, macho human pilot Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) steals away on a rescue mission.


Helena Bonham-Carter plays an ape with a soft spot for humans.
photo: Courtesy Tatra Film

Out in the electrical storm, he loses sight of the chimp's craft and control of his pod. Then his date counter goes haywire, racking up centuries in a matter of seconds. This scene is the source of some confusion since later events make sense only if Davidson had travelled backwards in time.

Davidson crash lands on a planet where apes rule and humans are slaves. He is captured, kicked in the face for looking an ape in the eye, and sold to a slave trader. A senator's daughter and abolitionist purchases him. Led on by his stories of space travel, she helps him flee to his crashed ship in the countryside.

The capital ape city is reminiscent of the Ewok villages in the Return of the Jedi. Burton stamps this look with his trademark macabre seal. Cave-dwellings and trees and giant torch-lamps wind into the sky like a jungly garbage heap. In one moonlit shot thousands of ape soldiers file down paths that lead to the badlands at the city's outskirts.

The quality of the story doesn't match the quality of the visuals. One-sided characters - the determined abolitionist, the wavering senator, the evil ape general, the cocksure spaceman - drive the action but don't explain the social structure of the planet. Do apes outnumber humans? Are all humans slaves? Why the mix of apes and chimps? Good science fiction is as much about premise as plot.

The Planet of the Apes makes a late run at greatness. Davidson eventually finds wreckage that explains the origins of the planet. This is followed by an exhilarating, Braveheart-style man vs. ape battle scene. But the ending doesn't jive with the rest of the story.

The surprise final shot of the 1968 Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, is what clinched that film as a classic. This one had me scratching my head, and poking holes in the shoddy science.

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