Planet of the Apes (1968)
Science fiction has been around for well over a century. It has become a leading genre in literature, television and films. There are two basic types of Sci-Fi, entertainment and social commentary. Some representative works are just to be enjoyed as pure escapism. Other members of this genre use the thin veil of Sci-Fi to explore deeper social issues that many would shun if the actual themes were more overt. At its best both of these purposes are fulfilled. One example in film is the original 1968 version of ‘The Planet of the Apes’. There has been many forms for this masterpiece of science fiction with four sequels, a television series, an animated series and a re-imagining remake but the first stands alone as the best of the lot. Almost everybody around can quote by heart some of the dialogue for this movie. Many of these lines have transcended over to becoming part of our popular vernacular. This is a film of imagination that looks at themes as prejudice and racial profiling while maintaining an action filled flick. The film had a budget reported to be about $5.8 million out of which almost a million went to the extraordinary simian makeup, the largest makeup budget of any film up to that time. Many venues have made fun of this movie but it retains its place as one of the classics of science fiction. Admittedly it sounds like a silly premise. Some astronauts land on a planet where apes are in charge and humans are hunted. This deceptively simple foundation would give rise to one of the mot well regarded films of its genre. Awhile back Fox released the ultimate set for fans of this franchise. Now they are doing something similar with Blu-ray. The cornerstone of both of these collections is this initial film which can be purchased on its own in both formats. It is only proper that this year see the return of this film to a now format. It is the fortieth anniversary of it and for those who remember seeing it in the theater it is difficult to believe that four decades have past. Back then it was one of the most highly anticipated films around. Now it is possible to just pop it into your home theater, sit back and enjoy.
The original story came from French novelist Pierre Boulle. In that story the ape city was a little more advanced technologically than the present day on earth. Building such an elaborate set would provide to be too costly so the writers were told to make the setting more primitive in nature. Accepting this task were Rod Serling and Michael Wilson. Of course the name Serling is well known to all Sci-Fi fans. He was the creator of the perennial genre favorite ‘The Twilight Zone’ writing many of the most popular episodes. He was also well versed in more dramatic faire. His original script was also deemed too expense to consider but since many of his ideas were retained he kept the script credit. The actual shooting script was handled by Wilson. He wrote many scripts for incredible films without receiving credit. He was one of the Hollywood writers blacklisted by the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities back in the mid fifties. This denied Wilson credit for screen plays of amazing merit as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ although he did receive credit for his screenplay for The Sandpiper’. One of the main themes explored here was the caste system. We may think that this is an outdated concept but it is very much alive in almost every aspect of our lives. Here the scientists were chimpanzees, the government was orangutans and the military was gorillas. Just look around any office and watch the class structure playing out with blue collar employees, middle management and senior management. If you need more proof that we still have a caste system think back to the prime example, high school. There was an interesting sociological event observed when the movie was filming. During breaks actors would tend to congregate according to their designation of ape type with groups forming containing only that species. It wasn’t planed or discussed; it just happened. There is also an inclusion of elements of issues like animal rights and the use of live animals in scientific experimentation. With the increasing influence of animal rights groups this film takes on a brand new direction.
The film was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. He had a few film credits to his name before taking on this movie but most of his work was on television. After this he would direct the classic Sci-fi thriller ‘The Boys from Brazil’. He breaks most of the established rules for a science fiction action movie in the style he uses here. It is also thirty minutes before you get to see an ape. This allows him to build the expectations of the audience to a crescendo before the revealing shot. It seems like the film will be more of a Robinson Crusoe type flick with the astronauts stranded on a strange planet. Then, wham, apes on horseback wielding guns come out of now where for the hunt. The way the film concludes is still considered one the best shocking reveals in the history of films. When I first saw this film in the theater as a teenager the whole audience gasped. Schaffner also uses the musical score to the best possible advantage. The score was mostly unusual percussion instruments giving the movie a feel of a disconcerting and alien environment.
Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) were on a long deep space mission. For most of the journey they were in hibernation and due to a malfunction the female member of their crew died in transit. The crash on a distant planet and their ship immediately sinks. The three get out and while taking a refreshing swim have their clothing shredded. They resort to some leaves and spot a group of wild humans. Soon they are all hunted by gorillas on horse back. They are all captured. Doge is killed and Taylor shot in the throat is unable t speak. They are taken to the ape city where Taylor discovers that Landon was given a lobotomy as part of some research project. Taylor is befriended as a kind of pet by two chimpanzee scientists Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and his wife Zira (Kim Hunter). She names Taylor ‘Bright Eyes’ since he seems more intelligent that the other primitive humans. The thought that a human could speak is too controversial t consider. One of the ruling law makers, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) warns Zira and Cornelius that they must abandon any course of research that would go against the scared scrolls of the Lawgiver. Their investigation also angers the military gorillas.
This new Blu-ray release is the best ever for this film. It features 1080p video and both the original Dolby mono soundtrack as well as the re-mastered DTS HD audio. Since there is a lot of room left on the disc Fox has filled it up with extras. This is a classic film that now looks and sounds better than ever.