Seen at the Movies
: The summer's most eagerly awaited movie is finally here, and it looks to be a winner--in box-office terms at least. Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes arrives on schedule despite reports of last-minute scrambling to finish up effects, etc. (This non-starter of a rumor becomes attached to expensive studio movies with increasingly tedious regularity.) The film delivers in several crucial ways: Burton keeps the action coming for a breathlessly paced two hours; Rick Baker's highly publicized chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan makeup is generally as impressive as everyone expected; and the movie earns audience goodwill with a few clever allusions to moments in the beloved 1968 original.
Everyone should know by now that this version of Pierre Boulle's novel takes place not on planet Earth but an entirely different heavenly body; how ape society develops in this setting is carefully and logically accounted for in the new screenplay. In other areas, however, the script is disappointingly pedestrian, especially when compared to Rod Serling and Michael Wilson's witty work on the 1968 film. Since action is emphasized, there is little time for characterization and development of relationships, whether of the human, simian, or simian/human variety. Tim Roth growls a lot as General Thade, the villainous chimp leader; Michael Clarke Duncan, cast as Thade's right-hand gorilla, mostly functions as co-growler. Better is Paul Giamatti as an orang slave trader (think a furrier Peter Ustinov in Spartacus), and best is Helena Bonham Carter's lady chimp, the passionate human-rights advocate Ari, whose hairdo is stylishly tousled. The biggest letdown in the cast is Mark Wahlberg's human astronaut, who cuts a far weaker figure than Charlton Heston's 1968 equivalent. Look—or more accurately, listen—for Heston's appearance in this film.
On the tech and design side, Apes shows its big expense, but is less distinctive than most Burton efforts. The planet is an amalgam of desert locations around Lake Powell, AZ and Trona Pinnacles, CA and soundstage exteriors representing Ape City and nearby swampland. Production designer Rick Heinrichs won an Oscar for his stage-bound work on Burton's last film, Sleepy Hollow, but the studio-location blend is more jarring here. The ape culture isn't conveyed very powerfully either in the sets or the script. Colleen Atwood's costumes, on the other hand, wittily showcase the apes' sense of fashion and military pomp, and frame the agile character movement that is possibly the movie's biggest advance on the original. The Baker makeup is more or less astounding, with special honors going to Roth's snarling chimp and Glenn Shadix's magnificently crested orangutan senator. At times, the dentures get in the way of the actors' locutions, and a masklike quality in the faces becomes apparent, but overall, this is an achievement that seems deservedly destined for an Oscar.
As for the surprise ending—I guess our collective "huh?" will have to wait for the sequel to receive a response.
Seen Downtown: Ruby Dee stars in St. Lucy's Eyes, a new play by Bridgette Wimberly, now playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Wimberly began writing the play while a fellow at Lincoln Center Theatre's Director's Lab; it was submitted to the Mentor Project at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where it was selected by Wendy Wasserstein. In October 1999, St. Lucy's Eyes was staged by the Women's Project; Dee also starred in that sold-out show.
The production is, in general, wobbly. It seems everyone could have used a little more rehearsal time, from the actors to the lighting operators to the stagehands (some backstage clumping and clanking) to the sound people (misfired cues).
Nonetheless, Dee is magnificent and moving as "Grandma," an abortionist living in Memphis. She is ably supported by the other three cast members, especially Toks Olagundoye and Sally Stewart as two women who seek her services. Scenes One and Two are set in 1968, during the time of strikes, Martin Luther King's assassination in April, and the riots his murder provoked. Scenes Three and Four are set in 1980, the cusp of the Reagan era.
Beowulf Borit's multi-functional set becomes three different locations--a dingy apartment, a formerly well-kept hotel, and a jail conference room. This is no small feat in the smallish Cherry Lane, which has almost no wing space. Lighting by Jane Reisman features plenty of rain and storm effects, but suffered at the performance in question from some missed cues and odd placement.
St. Lucy's Eyes is playing at the Cherry Lane through Sept. 2.
Heard on the Street: West coast-based design firm Tribe, whose work can be seen on the current Madonna tour (if you can get a ticket), is currently designing an NBC television music special starring Jennifer Lopez. The show will shoot in Puerto Rico in late September; air date is TBD. Bruce Rodgers is the show's production designer and Joseph Kale is art directing. Mike Rhodes is design coordinator…Tahiti, Moorea, and Tetiaroa—better known as Marlon Brando's private island—are providing locations for The Stonecutter, a film directed by Daniel Zirilli and shot by Neal L. Fredericks (The Blair Witch Project). The two have previously collaborated on music videos for the Santa Monica Pop/Art Film Factory production company…The exhibition "Fritz Lang: Vienna—Berlin—Paris—Hollywood" opens Friday, Aug. 3 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. This installation includes documents, scripts, photographs, set designs, sketches, costumes, and props from such films as Metropolis, M, You Only Live Once, The Woman in the Window, and The Big Heat. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art Film Department will be screening 20 Lang movies in conjunction with the show. See www.Oscars.org. for more information.