Planet of the Apes (1968)

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

I saw this movie when it came out in 1968. I would have been twelve at the time and, believe me, I was damned impressed with Planet of the Apes.

Roughly 35 years later, seeing it again, I’m still pretty impressed though perhaps not for the same reasons. (Note: This review was written in 2003.)

In an era of cool prosthetics and computer sleight of hand, the make-up and special effects that were pretty riveting in 1968 don’t have the same impact.

Two astronauts, Charlton Heston as Taylor and Robert Gunner as Landon, crash land on the Planet of the Apes.

But being older and hopefully a smidgen wiser, I think I can see the film in some historical context – at least to some extent – and still be impressed at what was accomplished given the technical constraints of the time (and budget, of course).

If you saw the Tim Burton remake of a few years ago you’ll see one of the tricks contemporary films use to get around the credibility of effects and make-up.

Generally, special effects are most convincing in black and white (like in 1937’s The Hurricane). In the original Planet of the Apes a lot of natural light is used.

Or, to put it more accurately put, most of the scenes are in daylight. They are well-lit and you see warts and all (as the expression goes).

Taylor (Heston) speaks with Zira and Cornelius (Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell) tries to understand what has happened to him.

In Burton’s movie, many of the scenes are night scenes (largely for the drama of it). Overall, the movie is not nearly as brightly lit and this, even with the high quality of the effects and make-up, helps the look.

It’s hard to see the magician’s moves when they are done in shadow.

But when any movie works it is usually because of the story and in Planet of the Apes we have a good story, even if it is fantastical.

It’s a cranky story, too. It begins with four astronauts out on a long term mission – so long, by the time they get to where they’re going (some planet, somewhere) the world they knew will be deep in the past.

They will have aged about six months; earth numerous centuries.

As it turns out, something goes wrong.

After escaping captivity, Taylor (Heston) grabs Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) as a hostage.

The one woman with them dies as they crash land in water. They don’t know what planet they are on, only that the earth is roughly two thousand years older.

One of the astronauts (Charlton Heston) is misanthropic. His reason for even being on this mission is to escape humanity and find a world where people aren’t greedy and destructive.

What he finds is a world ruled by apes, where human beings have the status of animals and where humanity is also seen as a threat.

In other words, the apes of this world view humanity the same way Heston’s character does. In many ways, Planet of the Apes is like a longer episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s not surprising to find Rod Serling was involved with the screenplay.

Roddy McDowell as Cornelius and Linda Harrison as Zira in Planet of the Apes.

The movie is a good action-adventure with a message, albeit a simplistic, sophomoric one about humanity’s destructive nature. (There are even late 60’s expressions used like, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”)

The one part of the film that doesn’t work very well, or rather makes it a bit dated, is the music.

The score uses a discordant, 1960’s experimental music style that, for me, doesn’t work and is even annoying.


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