Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (2001) and Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within

 I can't really remember how or why it happened, but Planet of the Apes and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ended up in an improbable double feature some time in late July / early August 2001. It certainly wasn't intentional - I know this because I saw two different films with two different people. The end result, appropriately, was the same: why the hell did we watch that movie?

 Let's start with Planet of the Apes, the remake that began my slow decline in interest for the films of Tim Burton. After Sleepy Hollow (which I really liked), I was interested (if wary) of his remake of a movie I happened to also really like. It feels like I should have put a colon after that and then typed "Planet of the Apes" or the name of some other movie that Tim Burton would later remake (badly), but I'm so past the point of being bothered by every announcement of "The Tim Burton Players Present ______ (insert name of TV show, musical, movie, or comic book you hold dear)" that the joke didn't seem worth it.

We've all seen his Planet of the Apes. Some of us heard the story about how Burton was rushed into completing the film by Fox's July 2001 release date and that the script (particularly the ending) hadn't been settled on during production. (I was generally under the impression that Burton was a late choice for director, but doing some research for this review, it seems like he was on board with the script written in 2000, so either I'm remembering this wrong or it's been whitewashed from film history) The end result is a film that looks pretty cool, doesn't make any sense most of the time and REALLY doesn't make sense with it's "Ape Lincoln" twist ending.

 I haven't really watched Planet of the Apes all the way through since. Well, the 2001 remake; I watched the 1968 Planet of the Apes not too long ago, before watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'm not as obsessed with the series as Cranpire is, but I do watch the original films semi-regularly. When I try to watch Burton's "re-imagining" I usually get bored quickly - I'm not sure if it's Mark Wahlberg's "eh" performance or Estella Warren's vacant gaze, or the apes that look cool but get dull quickly. And we're talking about apes played by Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Warner, Glen Shaddix, and (briefly) Charlton Heston. The makeup by effects guru Rick Baker is top notch, the sets look great, but nothing works. The movie never seems to have any momentum or story or characters that do anything that makes sense. When I try to watch the film again, I usually turn it off shortly after Wahlberg is captured and sold to Limbo (Giamatti) because it isn't worth investing two hours in. There's always something better to watch.

 While I can't remember who I saw Planet of the Apes with (it was either my brother and his friends or another friend that should have been in Connecticut, but maybe was home for break), I do remember driving to Raleigh to pick up Neil to see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Remember that movie? The "all CGI photo-realistic" film that was going to blow everybody away? I didn't think so. It's sort of a footnote in the CGI cinematic evolution, one remembered for not being very good but that it looked all right and is probably still something Final Fantasy fans watch.

 The rest of us? Well, I'll be honest and say I've seen Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within once - nearly eleven years ago. This is what stands out in my memory: characters who look like specific actors but with voices of different actors (like Alec Baldwin playing a guy who looks just like Ben Affleck) and that the spirits were... ghosts? Stars in the sky? Geez. Beats me. They weren't aliens - no wait, they were ghosts of aliens... hold on.

 Here, this is copied directly from Wikipedia:

In the year 2065, a future Earth is infested by Phantoms: alien life forms capable of killing humans by physical contact. The remaining humans living in "barrier cities" all over the world are engaged in an ongoing struggle to free the planet. After being infected by a Phantom during one of her experiments, Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), uncover a means of defeating the Phantoms by gathering eight spirit signatures that, when joined, can negate the Phantoms. Aki is searching for the sixth spirit in the ruins of New York City when she is cornered by Phantoms but is rescued by Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad "Deep Eyes", consisting of Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi) and Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin). It is revealed that Gray was once romantically involved with Aki.

Upon returning to her barrier city, Aki joins Sid and appears before the leadership council along with General Hein (James Woods), who is determined to use the powerful Zeus space cannon to destroy the Phantoms. Aki delays the use of the Zeus cannon by revealing she has been infected, and the collected spirit signatures are keeping her infection stable. This revelation convinces Hein that she is being controlled by the Phantoms. Aki and the Deep Eyes squad succeed in finding the seventh spirit as Aki's infection begins to worsen and she slips into unconsciousness.

Aki's dream reveals the Phantoms are the spirits of dead aliens brought to Earth on a fragment of their destroyed planet. Sid uses the seventh spirit to bring Aki's infection back under control, reviving her. To scare the council into giving him clearance to fire the Zeus cannon Hein lowers part of the barrier shield protecting the city. Though Hein intended that only a few Phantoms enter, his plan backfires and Phantoms invade the entire city. Aki, Sid and the Deep Eyes attempt to reach Aki's spaceship, their means of escape but Ryan, Neil and Jane are killed by Phantoms. Sid finds the eighth spirit at the crater site of the alien asteroid's impact on Earth. Hein escapes and boards the Zeus space-station where he finally receives authorization to fire the cannon.

Sid lowers a shielded vehicle, with Aki and Gray, into the crater to locate the final spirit. Just before they can reach it, Hein fires the Zeus cannon into the crater not only destroying the eighth spirit but revealing the Phantom Gaia. Aki has a vision of the Phantom home planet, where she is able to receive the eighth spirit from the alien particles in herself. When Aki wakes, she and Gray combine it with the other seven. Hein continues to fire the Zeus cannon despite overheating warnings and unintentionally destroys the cannon and himself. Gray sacrifices himself as a medium needed to physically transmit the completed spirit into the alien Gaia. The Gaia is returned to normal as the Phantoms ascend into space, finally at peace. Aki is pulled from the crater holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.

 No joke: I did not recognize any of that. I remember laughing during the movie, and laughing even more on the way back home, but the specifics of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Nah. That sounds like it might be a watchable movie, but that doesn't fit with my experience of this film. Square Pictures went on to make one more short subject: The Final Flight of the Osiris, a part of The Animatrix / prequel to the equally unwatchable The Matrix Reloaded. They then disbanded and I guess someone else made Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which I also didn't watch.

 As you can see, neither film made much of an impression in the long run for Cap'n Howdy. Tim Burton made Big Fish, which I liked, and then Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Alice in Wonderland. I did not like any of those movies, which is why I sincerely doubt I'm going to like Dark Shadows, a full-length animated Frankenweenie, or the in-discussion Beetlejuice sequel. I'd love to be wrong, but again, from 2001-2011, he's one for six in Cap'n Howdy's book. That's not so promising.

 Next week, we'll look at a much more interesting double feature: Panic Room and Death to Smoochy. I did see those on the same day with the same people and while one of them isn't so great, it does make for a nice story...

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