Planet of the Apes (1968) – Franklin J. Schaffner

The further I get into the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list, the more films I know, and am enjoying the chance to revisit. It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen this classic film, based on a novel by Pierre Boulle and a script by Michael Wilson and The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling.

Schlocky fun, it still does a nice reversal on animal rights, with humans being the animals without them, religion and touches on the somehow still controversial theory of evolution.

Charlton Heston stars as Taylor, the leader of an interplanetary expedition, that crash lands on a planet in the far-flung future that is ruled by apes and humans are mute animals, gathered for study and experimentation. Until Taylor under the scientific care of Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (the AWESOME Roddy McDowall), two chimpanzees struggling in the class-system of their world, decides to speak, after having his throat wounded, and delivers that immortal line, “Get your hands off me, you damned, dirty ape!”

Bnovaeing indicted for heresy Cornelius and Zira help Taylor escape, and he brings along the lovely Nova (Linda Harrison).

Taylor has been advised by Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans), one of the most respected orangutans in the ape society that there may be more mutants like himself out there. If this was let out, he would be indicted for heresy as well, he’s not sure he believes his race’s own dogma, although he is its chief defender. He however doesn’t have the questioning curious nature of the chimpanzees.

The fugitives end up at Cornelius’, who is an archeologist, dig, one that suggests that there was an advanced species before their own, laying the groundwork for the film’s still brilliant twist of an ending, which everyone knows now, but seeing on the big screen is still a shot in the gut.

One of the things that I forgot, and actually love the most about the film, is the opening crash sequence. Their ships land in the water, and there is hectic chaos inside the ship as Taylor and his doomed crew try to escape, its loud and tense, and then it cuts to the outside, and its quiet, and the camera work is smoother showing the lonely, barren landscape. It’s a well put together sequence.

The hunting sequence, when the gorillas are out running down the humans is well done, and dark, up until the last moment, when the tongue finds itself firmly in cheek and three of them decide to pose for a photo with their captures.

I love the fact that politics and the society’s desperate desire to cling to its own beliefs precludes any chance of the real knowledge coming out, let alone ever being recognized as anything more than heresy, its amazing that there are still modern-day parallels there. But that is one of the best things about good science fiction, it shows us subjects and ideas that we know and can relate to, subjects we may be anxious or afraid to discuss in the modern context, but by couching it in the future, or aliens, and the like, we can examine it, and perhaps find a way to resolve them, or in the very least address them with an intelligent dialogue.

Apart from the ending, the other thing that the film is touted for is the appearance of the different casts of simians in the film, the gorillas, the orangutans and the chimpanzees. The makeup effects are pretty spectacular, and they stand up fairly well, you can see that in some cases the masks wouldn’t move enough while the actors underneath were talking, but more often than not, it works.

If you can believe it, the film went on to spawn a series of sequels, a remake, and of course last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as a television series, a cartoon series, comic books and a line of action figures.

The first film remains the best, and the subject matter still plays.

What did you think of it?


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