Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968. Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter. Science-Fiction.
Planet Of The Apes (1968)

This is a rant. Make your kids watch Planet Of The Apes. If you have not seen it yet, then you watch it. It is the greatest Science-Fiction film of all time. Some will argue for Blade Runner or 2001 or maybe an old timer would vote for Metropolis, maybe a hipster would call out Solaris (the Russian version from the '70s). But me? I’ll take Apes.

Just check out the crazy all-star pedigree it carries: - Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who, on his next film, Patton, would win the Oscar. - Written by Michael Wilson (Lawrence Of Arabia) and the legendary Rod Serling, creator and sometime writer of the cult TV series, The Twilight Zone. - Based on a novel by the acclaimed French writer Pierre Boulle, author of The Bridge On The River Kwai. - Starring Moses himself, Charlton Heston, Oscar winner for Ben Hur. This would start his run of action and Sci-Fi flicks that would make him almost a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger of the early '70s. - An exotic original score by Jerry Goldsmith and make-up by the innovative designer of the Star Trek TV series, John Chambers. Etc. Etc.

If you don’t know the story already of Planet Of The Apes, well what planet are you living on? Here’s a rundown…Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the last survivor of a team of astronauts who crash-landed on a mysterious planet. He comes to find that humans are feral mutes in this world and the dominant species are apes who live in a Little House On The Prairie type of desert community and treat the human as sport to be hunted or to be experimented with. Aided by a female chimpanzee doctor, Zira (Oscar winner Kim Hunter, Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire), and her archaeologist fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), he fights the system in the form of militant gorillas and lawmaking orangutans, lead by the pious Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans, Hutch of Rosemary’s Baby).

The exciting last act takes place in "the forbidden zone," an archeological dig with remnants of the planet's past cultures. What helps Apes stand out from most sci-fi films before it are the locations. Filmed in the mountains of Utah and California’s Zuma Beach, the realistic look give the incredible twist ending even more punch than expected.

Planet Of The Apes is a perfectly entertaining piece of pulp; I loved it as a kid and I enjoy it as much now. In terms of its placement in film history, it’s interesting to note what was learned with the merchandising and toys based on the film were later put to full use by George Lucas with the Star Wars merchandising bonanza. It also helped usher in the era of multiple sequels and spin-offs. Because Apes was such a massive hit and had an ending that begged for a sequel, a sequel, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, followed it. Charlton Heston only pops in at the start and then for an explosive moment at the end - an ending that rendered another sequel impossible. But the studio found a way with Escape To The Planet of The Apes and then two more which count progressively worse, Conquest For The Planet Of The Apes and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes. And later even more unwatchable were the live action and animated Planet Of The Apes TV series and then of course, most unwarranted of all, was the pointless Tim Burton remake in 2001.

I must also recommend the massive "making of" documentary, Behind The Planet Of The Apes (which comes with the Planet Of The Apes Complete Box Set, The Planet Of The Apes 35th Anniversary Edition or it can also be found as a stand alone DVD). It’s a must for any Apes newbie or for the hardcore fan. At over two hours, this competes with the amazingly in-depth docs that are on the Alien box set and the Blade Runner multi-disc sets. Behind… covers the entire Apes series, mostly concentrating on the first film, the creation and filming of it. It has some fascinating early makeup test footage with Edward G. Robinson playing Doctor Zaius.

If you want to turn a young viewer on to quality adventure or Sci-Fi, forget Avatar or Spiderman or whatever. Go with the original Planet Of The Apes. It holds up. It holds up very well. The make-up and special effects still play better then most of the today’s CGI money pits. The action is intense and exciting. The political satire, though maybe dated (even in '68 I would imagine the allegories to the Civil Rights movement may have felt even too obvious then). It’s great to see Charlton Heston at his coolest (remember years before he became a right wing gun nut he was marching in Selma with MLK). Hell, then give Boulle’s book a read (it’s much different, the apes fly airplanes and live in a modern 20th century city). Like say, The Wizard Of Oz, Planet Of The Apes is a film that every generation of film watcher should be exposed to as a rite of passage. And then if you really want to go "Heston crazy" follow it up with The Omega Man. I envy a young person seeing it for the first time. Enjoy.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 17, 2010 12:44pm
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