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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/29/01

Planet of the Apes
Special Edition - 2001 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Planet of the Apes: Special Edition (2001) Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/A

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
120 mins., PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, dual keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 45:22, at the start of chapter 15), audio commentary with director Tim Burton, audio commentary with composer Danny Elfman (featuring isolated sound effects and music cues), enhanced viewing mode (provides access to behind-the-scenes material via picture-in-picture windows and interactive branching), cast and crew profiles, THX-Optimode test patterns, Nuon features (including director's digest, "viddies", zoom and more), DVD-ROM features (including storyboards, screenplay access and weblinks), liner notes booklet and "non-linear timeline" map, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1) and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
5 behind-the-scenes documentaries: Simian Academy (24 mins.), Face Like a Monkey (30 mins.), Ape Couture (7 mins.), Chimp Symphony Op. 37 (10 mins.), On Location - Lake Powell (12 mins.) and Swinging from the Trees (10 mins.), screen test footage (including make-up, group, costume, movement and stunt tests, with multiple audio tracks), 8 multi-angle featurettes (with multiple video angles and audio tracks and access to production art, screenplay excerpts and final footage), 5 extended scenes, HBO's The Making of Planet of the Apes documentary (27 mins.), Paul Oakenfold music video for Rule the Planet Remix, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, 6 TV spots, promo trailers (for Moulin Rouge and Dr. Doolittle 2), poster art and press kit gallery, soundtrack promo, DVD-ROM features (including "Leo's Logbook"), gallery of production photos, production artwork and storyboards (with index), animated film-themed menus with sound and music

"How the hell did these monkeys get like this?"

When I heard that 20th Century Fox was doing a remake of Planet of the Apes… well, what else could you do but groan loudly and shake your head? I mean, how dare they remake one of the most-loved classics of Sci-Fi? Then I heard that director Tim Burton was taking the reigns, and I'll admit, I relented a little. Just think of it - a Tim Burton Apes movie. That could be cool, right? Well… it almost was. Almost.

The film's revised story centers on Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), a United States Air Force pilot stationed at a primate research facility/space station near Saturn (I think). It seems that the primates, including the stout-hearted Pericles, have been genetically engineered to make them better space pilots (who knows why). Suddenly, there's an electro-magnetic storm that's right outside the space station windows (naturally). So Leo tucks Pericles into a rocket pod and sends him out to see what the storm's all about. Surprise… he disappears. Surprise again… Leo disobeys orders and goes after his little banana lovin' buddy. And wouldn't you know it, he crash lands on a planet where apes rule and humans all look like Estella Warren and Kris Kristofferson. Well okay, not all of 'em, but you get the idea. Leo is quickly captured by the nasty Thade (Tim Roth) and taken to Ape City, where he's befriended by the kind-hearted Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), who believes that humans are people too. She helps Leo escape, and before long, humans and apes square off in a battle to rule the planet.

You know, I really enjoyed almost everything that took place in this film from the time Leo crashes on the planet of the apes until just before the end. With the exception of some totally unnecessary camp references to the original film (including a silly cameo by Charlton Heston), I bought pretty much everything. The cast is excellent, the performances are good, the atmosphere is appropriately Burton-esque and the production design is damn cool. But the film's setup is so weak as to be silly. And the ending feels so tacked on, that not only do you not get the payoff you're looking for, you're left scratching your head trying to figure out what possible twists of logic could allow for it.

I'm not even going to touch the ending, because I don't want to spoil the gag for you. Suffice it to say it feels like a cheap copy of the original film's ending. And while Burton obviously understands it (as he explains in his audio commentary) he isn't about to tell us what it means (as he also explains in his commentary). So that leaves the setup. Why does the USAF have a space station orbiting Saturn for which the only purpose seems to be training chimps to fly rocket pods? Is there some need for chimps that can fly rocket pods? We seem to do pretty well these days sending robot probes to check out distant objects in space - have we lost that capability? Why would Davidson risk his own neck going after Pericles? Is there some special bond between the two of them? These are all questions that go largely unanswered, which I suspect the filmmakers would say fall in the category of things that don't need explanation - you're just supposed to accept them as part of the suspension of disbelief demanded by all movies. But to me, that's just lazy storytelling. Todd and I were talking about this. How hard would it be to explain these things? Not hard. Imagine that the military decided that it wanted to experiment with genetically engineered primates… but genetic tampering's been outlawed on Earth. So the USAF sets up a secret genetic research facility on the edges of our solar system. When the electromagnetic storm happens, Pericles, being the curious, and highly intelligent, genetically engineered chimp that he is, decides to go check it out on his own. So he hops into a rocket pod and blasts off into the storm. Davidson must go after him, because his superiors are worried that if Pericles somehow makes his way back to Earth, their secret research will be compromised. And everything else about this story could play out like it already does. See? It's as easy as that. The biggest problem I have with Hollywood Sci-Fi films these days, is that you're expected to just accept plot elements on face value that make no logical sense within the context of the story. And that's just bad storytelling.

So if the film itself is a bit of a miss, what about the DVD? Well… simply put, this 2-disc set is one of the most interesting I've seen in a long time. Let's start with Disc One. The film is presented here in an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer, which preserves its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Planet of the Apes is as dark and atmospheric a film as one would expect of Burton. And the DVD presents that perfectly. The contrast is excellent and the images are clean without being edgy. There's plenty of detail in the darker areas of the picture. Color is rich and spot-on accurate. And surprisingly, there's very little compression artifacting visible. This is excellent DVD video which, if not quite reference quality, is pretty close.

And that's impressive given that this disc also features dual 5.1 audio tracks in Dolby Digital and DTS flavors. It seems like we spend a lot of time saying this, but as expected, the DTS track provides a greater measure of clarity and naturalism, resulting in a somewhat fuller and more unified soundfield. But the Dolby Digital track is no slouch either. Both tracks feature active surround channels during action scenes (the crash, for example), which remain active, if more subtle, throughout the rest of the film to maintain atmosphere (during, say, scenes set in the jungle). Dialogue is clean and audible, there's plenty of bass in the mix and Danny Elfman's score is ever-present without being overwhelming.

Disc One also features a pair of audio commentary tracks, one with director Tim Burton and the other with Elfman. Burton's commentary ranks among the better I've heard him do, but there are still plenty of gaps where he simply stops talking. There are also a number of things I'd love for him to talk more about, that go unexplained (the ending again stands out). Elfman's track features the film's terrific score isolated in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, with occasional sound effects and Elfman speaking in between the music cues. Also included on Disc One are cast and crew bios, THX-Optimode test signals, features that will work only in Nuon-enhanced DVD players (like "viddies" and various zoom points during the film) and DVD-ROM extras (including the script-to-screen viewing mode and weblinks).

But the really cool thing about Disc One, is the ability to watch the film in "enhanced mode". If you select this option, at various points during the film, a small picture-in-picture window will appear in which various cast and crew members will talk about the making of the scene you're watching at that moment. Or you might see behind-the-scenes footage of that scene being shot. The video plays right over and along with the film itself (these segments are inserted via seamless branching). Additionally, at various times during the film, an icon will appear on the screen (a la the "Follow the White Rabbit" feature on The Matrix). Pressing 'enter' on your remote at that time will take you out of the film for a few minutes, to view a separate piece of behind-the-scenes video. So, for example, when you see the space station, an ILM staffer will show you the full-size miniature in more detail, and talk about how it was filmed. Then you're sent right back into the movie without having missed anything. Both of these features are cool ways to convey the usual "here's how we did that" kind of information in the context of viewing the film, and I think they're used very effectively here.

Disc Two provides even more behind-the-scenes material. And if this material lacks any kind of perspective (the DVD extras were completed with a few days of the film's theatrical release, allowing little time for retrospective thinking), it's all so interestingly presented, that you'll hardly notice - a very neat trick indeed. You get an HBO documentary on the making of the film, which is pretty standard. But you also get 5 cool behind-the-scenes featurettes, some quite substantial, on various aspects of the production. There's a look at the recording of the score, a video on the "ape movement" classes the cast attended, the creation of the make-up effects and costumes, what it was like to shoot on location, etc. You also get a number of video "screen test" segments, where similar video material appears in quad-screen and you can select which audio track you want to listen too. And we're just getting warmed up. You get 5 extended scenes, the film's trailer and teaser, 8 TV spots and an extensive gallery of production photos, storyboards and conceptual artwork indexed by subject. There's an additional gallery that provides a look at the film's poster and print campaign, along with images from the press kit. You even get a music video remix of the film's theme. Best of all, however, there are 8 different multi-angle featurettes, which give you a look at the production of various scenes in the film. Each featurette has up to 4 different video angles and up to 3 different audio tracks that you can select in whatever combination you wish. A little icon at the top tells you which angle you're on at that moment, and lets you select another. And a "command bar" ever-present at the bottom of the screen allows you to dive out of the featurettes momentarily to view production artwork created for that scene, to view the final scene in the film, or to read a text excerpt of that scene from the screenplay.

So there's lots of substance in this 2-disc set. But it's the way the material is organized and presented that is so completely impressive here. This is one of the most interesting and efficient uses of DVD interactivity that I've ever seen. And before I forget, both discs feature very cool and highly-stylized animated menu screens, which appear as though you're viewing various ape environments via one of the computer screens in Leo's rocket pod. They're just icing on an already tasty cake.

The bottom line is that this 2-disc set has more bells and whistles than a superhero's utility belt. But forget the Shark Repellent Bat-Spray - these are cool bells and whistles that you'll actually want to use. Planet of the Apes raises the bar and throws down the gauntlet. It's arguably the most technically advanced DVD ever produced, in terms of both authoring complexity and interactivity. It's just too bad the flick wasn't a little better...

Bill Hunt
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