Planet of the Apes (1968)

May 14, 2016 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

I love the Planet of the Apes movies. Only the 2001 remake fell flat for me, for obvious reasons that I will explain at a future date. The most recent string of movies (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rises of the Planet of the Apes) have done something which most remakes and adaptations can only dream. They are good. More important than that, they were necessary. As much as I love the original series, I will be the first to admit that these movies have not aged well. Today, though, I will go back to the beginning.

Charlton Heston plays Taylor, an astronaut who has crash landed in a mysterious place. Much like Aliens, astronauts traveling long distances are put to sleep in order to survive the trip. Also like Aliens, our hero has over slept and is way off coarse. They found out Stewart, a female astronaut traveling with them, had her hibernation pod malfunction and she aged to death while asleep. Taylor figures out that they have traveled to the year 3978 but can’t tell where they are. With his fellow astronauts Landon and Dodge, Taylor explores the planet. After traveling through a desert, they find a green area. Before too long they are capture by apes on horseback and locked in cages. Taylor suffers from a throat injury and can’t speak. He is taken to a city where apes have evolved from men and the humans are treated like animals. Through Taylor, we experience this world turned upside-down and the cruelty with which apes treat humans. Eventually, Taylor speaks and ape society is thrown into crisis. Chimpanzee scientists Cornelius and Zira are idealistic young people who believe in treating humans humanely and that studying them has value. Doctor Zaius is the old guard of scientists, resistant to Zira and Cornelius’ ideals and is incredibly bigoted towards humans. With the discovery of Taylor, the establishment begins a massive cover-up. Taylor reunites with Landon, who has been given a lobotomy. They plan to do the same to Taylor. Zira and Cornelius risk everything by helping Taylor and his female companion ,Nova, escape into the Forbidden Zone. The Forbidden Zone is an area in which the apes Lawgiver has decreed long ago as off limits. In the Forbidden Zone, they discover the horrible truth. Doctor Zaius has followed them out there. He knew the truth all along and is determined to keep the status-quo, no matter what. Taylor and Nova head out into the Forbidden Zone setting up the iconic ending that has been referenced a million times in pop culture. It’s not as funny as you were lead to believe. The credits play with no music to give you time to think about what you have done.

Planet of the Apes is a landmark movie. So much about this movie was groundbreaking in the late 60’s and has been etched into the pop culture consciousness ever since. I avoided spoiling the ending but chances are you have seen it referenced somewhere at sometime. Lines of dialogue from this movie has been quoted and re-quoted throughout the years. The makeup effects may not look good by the standards of today and the apes in this movie aren’t even in the same ballpark as the most recent movies. For the time though, these apes looked better than anything that came previous. The score was simply amazing in way it helped service the story. The social commentary can seem dated on the surface but the overall themes explored were universal. The younger, idealistic generation fighting against the ridged dogma of the older establishment. That theme can be explored in a movie during any generation. You also get the sense that Doctor Zaius was once not too different from Zira and Cornelius until he learned the truth, which caused him to be bitter and jaded. The social commentary can seem a bit dated. It is definitely reflective of the 60’s and ,without the proper historical prospective, might be lost on some contemporary viewers. The cinematography was alright. The mood of this film was dark but the look of the film did not reflect that.  It was so bright and sunny all of the time. They did shoot it mostly in the desert so that explains why the film looks this way but I would have appreciated better use of lighting to tell the story. From a plot standpoint, it doesn’t surprise me that Rod Serling has his hands in this project at one point. It does feel like a feature length Twilight Zone episode, if you just lay out the plot points. There is nothing wrong with that. Just an observation.  It is difficult to comment on the acting for anyone who was playing an ape. It was hard to emote through those masks. Much of the emotional performance was communicated through body language by necessity. That was the limitations they were forced to deal with. I liked Charlton Heston in this movie. That is an incredible understatement considering this is one of the roles he is most known for and probably the role in which he has the most quotable dialogue. I have seen only a handful of his movies, expect to see more reviews on those eventually soon. He didn’t seem to choose many cheerful movies in this time as an actor. Omega Man and Soylant Green are both great films but also incredibly dark. The Ten Commandments may be his most upbeat film.

Everyone should see this movie. Especially film students. You have to get past the ape masks and see what lies beneath, which is one of the best films of the 60’s that really does hold up today. The sequels are less required viewing but this first movie is an all time great that should be enjoyable to everyone.

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Entry filed under: Action, Science Fiction. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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