Dir: Tim Burton. US.2001. 120 min.

Tim Burton's singularcinematic vision is very much missing from Planet Of The Apes, his eagerly-awaited remake of the 1968 cultclassic. Part sci-fi, part action-adventure, part ape/human romantic melodrama,but not particularly satisfying on any of these levels, it's a truly mediocrepicture that suffers in several departments: a pallid performance by MarkWahlberg, who again proves he's neither a charismatic star nor a commandingactor; confused storytelling confined by the PG-13 rating; lack of genuinedramatic momentum; a "twist" ending that's disappointing but almostguarantees a sequel; and a mish-mash of visual styles that's uncharacteristicof Burton's former work. As close as a movie ever gets to being critic-proof,20th Century Fox's $100m mid-summer release should enjoy a strongopening (even stronger than Jurassic Park III's last weekend), resulting in mega-blockbusterfigures, both domestically and internationally. Planet Of The Apes should benefit from having the whole field foritself, with no major competition.

The premise of PierreBoulle's novel, Planet Of The Apes,upon which both the original and this picture are based, has become not onlyone of the most recognized, but also one of the most provocative concepts inthe canon of sci-fi fiction and cinema. Accordingly, a pilot crash-lands on astrange planet, finding himself in a brutal place where tyrannical apes are incontrol and humans are hunted and enslaved by them. Back in 1968 (the same yearthat saw the release of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), Boulle's premise had socio-political relevance dueto the zeitgeist, highlighting as it did issues of race, class, and gender.

In the current times,however, the premise has lost its novelty and immediacy, which may explain thedesperate nature of the story, credited to William Broyles Jr. (who scriptedthe terrific Tom Hanks adventure, Cast Away), with additional help from Lawrence Konner and MarkRosenthal, who wrote the screenplay for Star Trek VI: The UndiscoveredCountry, among others.

Burton goes out of hisway to prove that his Planet isnot a straight remake, but rather a revisiting of that world and a re-imaginingof the mythology surrounding the novel and the 1968 picture and its four sequels.But to what effect' The producers may think they have a "fresh" storydealing with the same basic idea -- an upside world where apes are in chargeand humans are subservient -- but except for the central axiom, many of thethematic elements and characters are new. For starters, in sharp departure fromthe original, the human residents in Burton's movie speak (perhaps too much).

Set in 2029, the moviebegins in a research center, where Captain Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) isintroduced as an astronaut dedicated to his mission. Defying authority, hetakes his spaceship in search for a missing chimp and crashes on a strangeplanet. Soon after he's tracked down by fearsome apes on horseback, led byAttar (The Green Mile'sDuncan), the silvery gorilla-captain of the army. Attar is loyal to his"spiritual" leader, Thade (Roth), a tyrannical general, who favoursexterminating all the human pests because they "breed quickly and spreadterrible diseases." British actor Roth plays him as a blue-bloodwarrior-mobster chimp who holds that politicians, such as senator Nado, justget in the way of how the world should be run.

If the fascist Thade isthe villain of the piece, Ari (Bonham Carter, pictured above) is its heroine, a passionate,independently-minded human rights activist, who believes in co-existence of allspecies. As in the original, social class plays a crucial role: Ari is anupper-class chimp of liberal persuasion, disgusted by the way the humans aretreated as slaves and pets. To complicate matters, Thade is attracted to Ari,though her heart goes to Davidson. Other new roles include an orangutanslave-trader, Limbo (Giamatti), who later finds himself on the run for his lifeand bonds with Davidson, and Daena (Warren) and her father Karubi(Kristofferson), noble humans beaten down by the apes' rule.

Davidson's suddenappearance on the planet causes havoc and disorder. Alien to the present systemand unaffected by its oppression, Davidson ultimately serves as heroic symbolto the enslaved and hunted humans, soon becoming a challenge to the status quoand a catalyst for a revolutionary social change. Indeed, the yarn isstructured as an escape to freedom by a culturally diverse group that includesboth humans and apes. New to the saga is a full-on ape versus man battle, withsimians on all fours outracing horses.

Most disappointing of allis Burton's inability to bring his visionary, iconoclastic sensibility to thekind of material that on the surface seems perfect for him. Planet's denizens should have been a fertile ground for adirector who has dealt with the animal-human dichotomy before, populating hispictures with Penguin, Catwoman, Batman, and eccentric outsiders like JohnnyDepp (the quintessential Burton actor) in Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood.

Nonetheless, intrigued ashe must have been with the upside-down world of the ape planet, Burton isunable to find the core of the story, resulting in a patchwork of a movie thatchanges tone and visual mode from one sequence to another. Intense pressures tomake the movie ready for its long-set July 27 release partly account for thehodgepodge script, which was in flux during shooting and is now hampered by asurprise but muddled ending that will raise many eyebrows.

Only a director with awild imagination, which Burton certainly possesses, would cast a lightweightlike Wahlberg in the macho role that the usually stiff Charlton Heston playedso well. In a nod to film history, the new movie pays homage to Heston, who,having played the lead, here has a cameo as a dying ape. With his boyish lookand tiny voice, Wahlberg never dominates the screen, again showing that he'snot cut to be a star, but a secondary character in an ensemble piece, as someof his best performances (Boogie Nights, Three Kings, PerfectStorm) have been.

Responsible fortransforming the actors -- and 300 extras -- into simians is multipleOscar-winner Rick Baker, whose apes don't look like those in the former