Planet of the Apes, the Gospel, and Gustav Holst

Last night I watched the 2001 film Planet of the Apes.  One of my kids, Hannah, gave the DVD to me for Father’s Day, a generous gesture considering her meager income of a weekly allowance and the occasional odd job, when the mood strikes–her, that is, not me.  I had no idea what to expect other than what I could recall from reruns viewed as a child, usually on days when I stayed home from school sick and my mother had no idea what else to do with me.  “Why don’t you watch some TV?” she would say.  The episodes were, in a word, cheesey.  But, hey, that was the seventies and everything had to be done with makeup, trick photography, and wires.  And what more did a boy’s imagination need anyway?  Now, however, I had a DVD in my hand made in 2001, starring Mark Wahlberg and and Helena Bonham-Carter and directed by Tim Burton.  Surely, with names like this, here would be the real deal, filled with awesome computer-animated visual effects and surround sound to tantalize the auriculars.  Surely, at least, this imagination-triggering full-length motion picture wouldn’t be cheesey, right?

Wrong!  Apparently Tim Burton wanted to keep the seventies cheese feel.  The apes were computer-unenhanced people with basic masks and makeup, to include a lot of hair, just like in the seventies.  When Wahlberg’s character’s spacecraft crash-landed on the planet of the apes in a pond (an event that bore striking resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s crash-landing once upon a time when he was seeking Yoda), the special effects consisted of an underwater air-hose, underwater lights, a smoke machine, and a fan.  Ooh, eerie!

Now I’m sure that Mr. Burton spent long hours and hard work to make the masks, apply the makeup and hair just right, and construct the elaborate sets needed for his re-telling of the Christ story (a hero, Wahlberg, fell out of the sky and reconciled enemies–whether people (and apes) would choose to believe it or not), and deliberately avoided the animating enhancement capabilities of computers.  Maybe Mr. Burton was trying to make some kind of statement; I don’t know, I haven’t watched, nor have I made any plans to watch, the thirteen hours of special features included on my special edition 2-disc DVD set.  But even the most elaborate set and the most detailed artistry, sadly, Mr. Burton, cannot compete with the technologically advanced visual effects that can be done on a few computers in rude cubicles in some office on Sunset Blvd.  Your attempt at old-school then, Mr. B, felt, well, old.  And in the film industry that translates as second-rate, B-film cheese.

Near the end of the film, Wahlberg’s character returns to earth.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to spoil the ending.  For that you’ll have to go out and rent it and watch it yourself.  Or buy it.  Heck, you can borrow my DVD if you like.  Just make sure to get it back to me by, um, this time, er, next, uh, millennium or so.  Anyway, you, the viewer, can tell Wahlberg’s character, shooting through space at warp speed in another spacecraft, is nearing earth because he passes near a planet with telltale rings, Saturn.  But if that weren’t enough of a clue there is loud, spacey music, strikingly similar to, but not quite–oh, what the devil is that piece?  Why of course!  It’s Gustav Holst’s The Planets.  Oh, wait, it’s not really.  Just similar.  And you realize that, like everything else in the movie, the music too is just a second-rate rip off of something first-rate.  Even the cheesey show of my boyhood sick days might be first-rate, arguably anyway, in the sense of its originality.  But this!  Its makeup, its storyline, even its music–they’re all rip-offs!

I think I’ll take Hannah out for a first-rate matinee soon.  Any suggestions?

One Response to “Planet of the Apes, the Gospel, and Gustav Holst”

  1. You quack me up. Oh, the good old days. Love, Mom

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