REVIEW: PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

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“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – Taylor (Charlton Heston)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Synopsis: An astronaut and his crew travel light years from earth to crash land on a strange planet inhabited by humanoid apes.

Review:

The sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes has spawned four sequels, a remake and a current reboot, and is still considered the best of the franchise. Based on the Pierre Boulle novel of the same name we are introduced to Astronaut George Taylor played by a bitter cigar chomping Charlton Heston.

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Opening Monologue:

And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we’ll finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space – by our time, that is. According to Dr. Haslein’s theory of time, in a vehicle travelling nearly the speed of light, the Earth has aged nearly 700 years since we left it, while we’ve aged hardly at all. Maybe so. This much is probably true – the men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets. But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It’s purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely. That’s about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor’s children starving?

Heston’s Taylor is a bitter man who is no longer interested in humanity and wishes for more. Unfortunately he will get more than he bargained for once he reaches his destination.

We are also introduced briefly to his flight crew, John Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Lietenant Stewart (Dianne Stanley) who doesn’t make the destination due to an air leak. Once they arrive on this new planet a century later Taylor continues to speak ill of the people he has left behind on earth, claiming man wouldn’t have made it. Landon believes man has survived but Taylor continuously laughs at him telling him to move on from humanity. The film introduces an interesting perception of the time and the social attitude of the 1960s. Did the creators of this film and the attitude of the people believe that man was no longer worth saving? Should we all abandon hope and move on from earth just as Heston’s Taylor had done. Interesting questions that only the best sci-fi films can ask and this is all in the first fifteen minutes. Looking back at this film from 2014 we all know the classic ending and where the series will go. However this film still holds up. Heston creates a powerful leading man who we follow despite his pessimistic sensitivity to humanity.

Taylor and his crew search the barren lands of this new planet for life and eventually find a small plant and then a pond to take a bath. It is here that the action amps up and the humanoid apes appear. As well as the humans who appear to be savage and dirty just like apes today. As the apes attack and capture the humans, Dodge is shot and killed, Landon taken and Taylor is shot in the throat left without the ability to speak.

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We are then introduced to Dr Zaius, Cornelius and Zira, humanoid apes who can talk and behave just like humans. The costumes for the time must have been amazing however don’t quite hold up today. Most of them look like Halloween masks with the mouths barely moving when speaking and the glue from the faces meeting the hair clearly visible. However none of this matters as we are completely taken in by the characters and plot movements. I could quickly let the effects go by a compelling story and interesting characters who mirror our own society without being too explicit.

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Zira sympathises with Taylor and with her husband Cornelius tries and saves him from his captivity by Dr Zaius. Zaius however is hiding a secret that Taylor wishes to uncover to unlock the key to what happened to the humans and how the apes came to rule. As the film builds towards its shocking climax these questions aren’t quite answered however we know that this is only the beginning of an incredible world that we will see unfold over the course of the next films as well as its remake and reboot. The questions this film asks leaves so many doors opened for further adventures that it is no wonder this franchise has lived on so well. Although only a few directors have been able to take this franchise into the high’s of this original adventure.

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With amazing cinematography, a wired performance from iconic actor Charlton Heston and a gripping tribal like soundtrack this film is truly a classic. One of the best sci-fi films ever created and also the beginning of a wonderful sci-fi franchise.

Rating: 4.5 Stars