INHERIT THE MONKEY 

INHERIT THE MONKEY

"There is no contradiction between faith and science -- true science," snaps Dr. Zaius in the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. The learned orangutan's burden is a heavy one, and of his conflicted occupation he gravely notes, "I take no pleasure in this." He is not only the minister of science but also the chief defender of the faith. As such he is forced to refute any and all scientific discovery that is at odds with ape religion and charge offending scientists with heresy. He cannot let it be known that humans, now a race of primitive, parasitic mutes who devour their own food supplies then raid ape-run greenbelts like some kind of bipedal locusts, were once the masters of this wrecked planet. He knows that, just as the sacred scrolls point out, "a human will kill his brother to take his brother's land." He knows that should these hairless, foul-smelling, speechless, and, therefore, soulless animals ever be allowed to grow strong again they will initiate a second and perhaps final apocalypse. "The forbidden zone was once a paradise," he announces. "[Humans] made it into a desert." Yes, of course, the message was a heavy-handed one: a thinking man's Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston again in the lead. But the sledgehammer approach was well mitigated by savory storytelling, complex character development, and inspired, makeup-transcending performances from Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, and Roddy McDowall. Everything from ape economics to romance, race, religion, and rebellious youth-culture was touched upon in the epically proportioned original. The undeniably cool ape costumes and Linda Harrison's silent appearance in a wet buckskin bikini gave the film a wealth of drive-in appeal, making Planet of the Apes the rarest of all Hollywood birds: a smart, socially progressive manifesto aimed at the broadest of all possible audiences. Don't expect anything even half so smart from director Tim Burton's startlingly vacant bowdlerization of the 1968 sci-fi classic. In his rigorously altered retelling, nonstop action usurps quality storytelling, hollow jingoism stands in lieu of thoughtful political commentary, and tidy stereotyping eliminates the need for anything like character development. And why would anyone bother creating genuinely comic situations when you can make smirking references to the original ape films? The new flick fearlessly asks the difficult question, "Do animals have souls?" It should have asked the same of Burton and, if no, to whom it was so recently sold. Helena Bonham Carter singlehandedly inherits the mantle of original chimps Cornelius and Zira, the put-upon scientists whose faith is challenged by the appearance of a talking human. Carter's Ari has no such conflicts. All humans can talk in this kinder, gentler land of apes, so why should she be conflicted? She's a hot little bleeding-heart human-hugger with a Jennifer Aniston haircut, a Banana Republic pantsuit, and a cause. More than anything she functions as a possible romantic interest for Mark Wahlberg's poor lost astronaut, and that's more than a little creepy. While Tim Roth is certainly fun to watch as the villainous Thade, he can't keep our attention. The brand of snarling comic-book evil he embodies always ensures diminishing dramatic returns. Once you learn that this chimp's a malevolent psycho, nothing he does can surprise you. And true to form, nothing does. Wahlberg's character, Captain Leo Davidson, isn't anything like Heston's misanthropic philosopher turned astronaut. Davidson is a clean-shaven, cookie-cutter action figure, flirting with the ladies while spewing Dirty Harry-style one-liners like, "Never send a monkey to do a man's job." The original Planet of the Apes was shot on location in a number of national parks. The sweeping, deep-focus desert shots not only made the world seem harsh and uninviting but amplified the film's already mythic proportions. Burton built his Planet of the Apes inside the studio, and the resulting claustrophobia makes for surprisingly sloppy camerawork from a director known for his typically sumptuous visuals. Long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman's percussion-heavy soundtrack is omnipresent and short on dynamics. It's more ornamentation than punctuation, and it fades without a trace into the artificial background. The ape makeup, while far superior to the original, in no way improves upon the original. It alone is not, as they say, worth the price of one's admission. At a time when our beloved president uses economic scare tactics to empower both giant corporations and deeply prejudiced religious groups while thumbing his deviated septum at all scientific reason, it could do the world a lot of good to see Lady Liberty up to her neck in radioactive sand. Burton's visually stunning but spiritually empty closing image lacks the original's reverberating finality. All this new one does is scream out, To be continued (as if we didn't know). Do yourself a huge favor. Ignore this furry carnival ride. Get the original on DVD and share it with your kids (who'll love it) before their attention span gets any shorter.

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