Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes (1968)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: April 3rd, 1968 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner Actors: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison

 


 

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t’s been six months since a special missions crew journeyed into deep space, having left Cape Kennedy in the year 1972. Since they’ve been traveling faster than the speed of light, Earth has aged over 700 years while they’ve hardly aged at all – this fact is noted by Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) in a mission log recorded before he joins his team in hypersleep. Sometime after the year 3978 (Earth time) and 300 light years away, the ship crash-lands onto a brightly lit, habitable planet, where three surviving crewmembers quickly begin reconnoitering. Landon (Robert Gunner) can’t quite believe that 2000 years have passed while he’s only gained a few gray hairs, but agrees that an expedition to locate food and potable water is the next priority – as opposed to hypothesizing the year and location of this strange new planet. Dodge (Jeff Burton) is the only one who refuses to give up the guesswork, while Taylor and Landon bicker over their decision of volunteering for the mission and contemplations on dying on the lifeless, sandy, alien desert.

As day turns to night, they march onward, desperate to find signs of life. Luck lands them in the path of a waterfall, but as they take a swim, a group of mysterious scavengers swipes their clothes. This curious tribe of primitive, mute, caveman-like humanoids appears only to be interested in foraging for food, which leads Taylor and his men to believe they could become kings of this rudimentary world. Just as they ponder the thought, a band of marauding, talking, apelike hunters riding horses and shooting rifles swoops down on the unsuspecting onlookers and captures a handful of them for experimentations.

Taylor is shot in the throat and rendered temporarily speechless, causing him to blend in with the other prisoners – but the ape scientists studying him know he’s capable of more than the others. Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), the ape Minister of Science, is skeptical about “animal” psychologist Dr. Zira’s (Kim Hunter) intentions to domesticate the human, but she continues her research, aided by her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). She’s particularly amused with Taylor’s ability to write. Although the freakish prodigy has every intention of escaping, the biggest surprise for the community of apes is when he finally regains his voice.

There’s an undeniably humorous, silly look and feel to the talking apes, but the role reversal of man and simian is nonetheless entertaining. It’s an introspective look at what is acceptable, cruel, or inhuman for the treatment of captives and for the advancement of science. This examination similarly encompasses the related testing on human lab rats, their consideration as beasts, animals, or pets, and the use of organized faith and government to justify such practices. The trial Taylor receives is notably hilarious, complete with judge, bailiff, prosecutor, and defense attorneys, which goes further in providing insight into the nonsense of equality amongst multiple species vying for superiority – especially since the leaders have no interest in losing status by allowing the introduction of detrimental knowledge. Taylor is proclaimed a missing link and, due to the dangerous truths he might be capable of revealing, sentenced to fatal, surgical experimentation by top veterinarians. In this “upside-down” civilization, it’s not the creatures with the highest intelligence that reign supreme but rather those with enough power to keep the masses ignorant.

Space special effects have aged, but the makeup effects for the mutant apes remain perfectly adequate. The mouth movement is limited and it’s obvious that masks adorned with wigs are all that separates humans from primates, but it’s surprisingly effective. The inherent goofiness adds to the substantial contrasts of an intelligent ape-dominated world turning on uncivilized humans. The film also features sensational music by Jerry Goldsmith (perfectly matching the intense science-fiction themes), which is not entirely unlike the memorably sharp, pounding notes and piercing percussion in Alan Silvestri’s “Predator” score. Twanging instruments create unmelodic, disturbing sounds as well. There’s also an eye-candy girl, Nova (Linda Harrison), thrown in for good measure, serving no other purpose than to flash some gratuitous female skin.

“Planet of the Apes” is a seminal sci-fi masterpiece, providing thought-provoking ethical lessons through creative visual parables, not without humor thanks to obvious faults in design, ironic dialogue, and the very idea of super smart animals outwitting people. It’s a fascinating exploration of dark fantasy, thrillingly producing an iconic twist ending and numerous, oft-quoted lines. It went on to spawn several theatrical sequels, TV series, remakes, making-of documentaries, and reboots, on top of all the obligatory merchandising.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10