For my next comparison of original and remade movies I chose the sci-fi classic – – “Planet of the Apes.”
The original film was done back in 1968, which if you stop and think about it, is pretty remarkable. The makeup and prosthetics used to create the apes was ahead of its time and obviously accounts for the fact that the movie had one of the highest budgets ever for makeup at a staggering 17 percent
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, “Planet of the Apes” is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle. With its complex sociological themes, the movie did much to raise the standards for sci-fi films to come. That should come as no real surprise with Rod Serling acting as co-writer.
The film starts with three astronauts who, through a series of events, end up marooned on a futuristic planet where Mother Nature has pulled the ultimate trick. Here, apes rule the planet and humans are the slaves. As the astronauts explore they encounter a group of humans who are not very far along in the evolutionary trail. They can’t speak and it appears that their intelligence is extremely low.
Just as the men are trying to find out exactly who these people are and what planet they have landed on, they hear thunder in the background and look to see a pack of gorillas on horseback. Before they fully understand what is happening, the astronauts are scattered and captured in nets along with other humans. Everyone is put into cages and taken back to a compound run by highly intellectual simians that can walk upright and talk. Not only that, the apes have established a class system and a political structure. And it doesn’t take long for the astronauts to realize that they are now part of a devalued species.
One astronaut named Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) manages to gain the trust of a one of the compound’s doctors, a compassionate chimp named Zira. She and her mate Cornelius decide to help Taylor and his friends escape. Unfortunately, they find out that his other two friends are dead. As Taylor explains his world to Zira and tthey begin to share information, she becomes suspicious that their council of leaders have been less than forthcoming about the role of human beings on their planet.
Zira and Cornelius agree to take Taylor to an uninhabited section of land that the council calls “the forbidden zone.” There, in caves, they begin to unravel the mystery of their evolution. What results is an ending that – – to this day – – is considered one of the best twist endings in all of movie history.
The film’s post apocalyptic look is breathtaking, and the cinema photography is far ahead of much of the sci-fi work done at that time. Nothing about this film is at all disappointing. It remains one of those rare instances when everything – – writing, directing, photography, makeup, set design, and acting – – come together to form a near perfect film.
Cornelius is one of Roddy McDowall’s finest characterizations. This role finally brought him the fame that he so richly deserved. Had it been a mainstream film, rather than sci-fi, it would probably would have garnered him an Oscar.
Kim Hunter who played Zira is equally captivating. Acting behind such heavy makeup and prosthetics is no easy chore. However, these two fine actors manage to breathe believability into their roles. Maurice Evans as the venerable Dr. Zaius is also outstanding in this film.
The original movie spawned four sequels as well as several novelizations, cartoons, and a TV series, as well as the 2001 remake directed by Tim Burton.
The 2001 film was given an updated screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. It focuses on the year 2029 and a space ship in flight. Astronaut Leo Davidson (played by Mark Wahlberg) is attempting to teach chimps how to fly space pods. However, the training isn’t working and he is getting frustrated. When an accident happens aboard the main ship and one of his chimps is launched to perform a routine job, everything goes wrong. Davidson gets into a pod cruiser himself to perform the reconnaissance mission. However, he runs into a time wormhole and gets separated from his main ship.
The astronaut is forced to land on a strange planet. As he ventures out to find assistance, he is caught up in a hunt, but he is not the hunter. He is the one being hunted along with other humans. Captured and taken hostage, he ends up in a mysterious village; one ran by apes. Leo is eventually purchased as a servant for the home of a sympathetic chimpanzee activist named Ari (played by Helena Bonham-Carter). When things start to go wrong, she assists him in leading a small band of human rebels into hiding.
The advancing gorilla army led by General Thade (played by Tim Roth) has no intention of letting the humans escape. With his trusted warrior Attar (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), the army relentlessly chases the refugees into an area where no one is allowed to go; to a sacred temple within “the forbidden zone”.
While there are lots of similarities between the two movies, there are significant differences as well. I’m not certain I agree with the need to perform a major overhaul of the ’68 screenplay. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the rewrite. The original story stood well on its own and could have been updated without so many unnecessary changes. And while the ending was intriguing in its own right, I’m not sure that it had the same visual or visceral impact as the original.
I also felt that the makeup in this film was far less impressive than that of the original version. With over 30 years to improve the process, I expected much more than was delivered. An attempt was made to make the apes look, act, and dress more “human” which I personally felt took away from the social commentary of the film. Some of the sequences like the once with two apes in bed with the female dressed in lingerie was just plain stupid. These changes actually distracted from the relevance of the film. However, I suppose that was to be expected with Burton directing. He has a penchant for going over the top.
Wahlberg is credible in the role of the hapless astronaut, but he is by no means of the caliber of Heston’s performance. While Helena Bonham-Carter infuseds her chimp with compassion and soul, she also comes across as vain, silly, and significantly less sophisticated than Hunter’s Zira.
Tim Roth as Thade is evil incarnate but he has done these types of roles so many times that he feels he must overact in order to out do his previous perfromance. I’m not certain that served him well in this particular instance.
Some of the best acting in this film came from Paul Giamatti and Michael Clarke Duncan in second banana roles (no pun intended). They simply out acted their leading counterparts with ease.
I loved everything about the 1968 version of this film. I was less enthusiastic about the remake, although there were certainly things about it that I did appreciate. The strengths of the original movie were multiple but the remake’s strengths were limited basically to cinema photography and set design. I would give the original “Planet of the Apes” five out of five stars, but the remake only rates 2 and one-half stars.
Both films were done by 20th Century Fox with the remake done in conjunction with The Zanuck Company. The original film was rated G while the remake was rated PG-13 for some sexual situations and for violence. The original was over two hours in length but the remake was only one hour and 19 minutes.