Planet of the apes Monkey business

Tim Burton (director) Planet of the apes 120 minutes, general release

It has been reported that the violence within this film had been ?trimmed? in order to secure a ?12? certificate and thus attract the adolescent market. Given Hollywood?s overriding desire for a financial return, this is hardly surprising, but Tim Burton?s insistence that he had not been content with simply ?remaking? Schaffner?s 1968 original version gave the movie some potential. Unfortunately, that potential is not realised.

The premise of the film remains the same. US astronaut Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) crash-lands on a planet where our primate cousins are the dominant species. Along with a number of other humans attempting to flee from enslavement, he is quickly captured by an army of gorillas. With help from Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) a chimpanzee and human rights activist, Wahlberg and a number of fellow humans escape from captivity. His quest is to return home.

Set in a decade that experienced the civil rights movement, ban the bomb marches and Vietnam, the 1968 Planet of the apes was sinister and engrossing. It was intelligent and thought-provoking and boldly echoed enlightened public opinion on social injustice and war. Burton?s ?re-imaging? in comparison is crude and unsophisticated. As such the potential to portray the dire consequences of a society declining into totalitarianism and militarism is eclipsed by the special effects and spectacle. Implicit social comment is thus missing - a disapointment for those who might recall the original, including, of course, those who have seen it on its frequent TV screenings.

It is true, for example, that the Napoleonic general Thade (excellently played by Tim Roth) is threatening and definitely not the sort of monkey you would want to meet in a dark alley. Indeed, his character exudes the menace of the sort we would commonly associate with a militaristic society. But this is given the four-legged treatment. Thade?s reaction to some ?bad news? has more in common with an overdose of amphetamines than with any outburst of genuine anger. An over-the-top display of acrobatics compels the audience to laugh at rather than fear his impending revenge.

On the flip side of the coin, Bonham Carter is the rational voice of social justice. It is she who takes on the role of a sort of modern-day liberal, preaching peaceful co-existence and respect and dignity for all: ?It?s disgusting the way we treat humans,? she apes at a dinner party. ?It demeans us as much as them.?

Animal rights activists have already cheered Bonham Carter?s apparent stand against cruelty to animals. But if you examine the simian stereotyping (her ?chimp? role is akin to a sophisticated white European while the warrior gorilla is cast as a black gangster), Bonham Carter versus the gorillas is an unconscious echo of 19th century racial theory as much as a conscious attempt to follow the strictures of modern-day political correctness.

Wahlberg too, the human hero, leaves much to be desired. Charlton Heston in the 1968 version protested against nuclear annihilation with his ?Damn them all to hell? cry - confronted as he was with the remains of the Statute of Liberty poking up out of the post-apocalyptic desert landscape (ironically, by contrast his five-minute cameo appearance in this movie has him arguing how the use of the gun proves human intelligence - Heston is president of the American Rifle Association). Our ?re-imaged? hero, on the other hand, appears as an altogether second-rate Spartacus. He garbles the usual anarcho-survivalist platitudes associated with many Hollywood blockbusters: ?Sometimes a few can make a difference,? he says, as he and his tiny band of human followers prepare to take up arms against their overwhelmingly stronger masters. Of course, to many Europeans Wahberg might appear leftwing. But in the USA things are more complex - the left is reformist and pacifist while the ultra-right remember 1776 and espouses militant methods.

Planet of the apes is one among several crass movies in a summer that gave us Pearl Harbor and Jurassic Park III. It is probably fair to describe it as the best of a bad bunch. But, rather than living up to its potential of providing an intelligent update on Schaffner 1968, it feeds us Hollywood-style ?action? and Hollywood-style moralism.

Bob Paul