Movie Review: PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
There are some amazingly well done time travel films that are fun, adventurous and, over the years, have become epic classics. From BACK TO THE FUTURE to more modern day films like LOOPER (My Review here) it’s a genre that’s always interested filmmakers and audiences alike. Being one of those hardcore fans myself, I’ve always considered one franchise, before ‘franchises’ were even a concept in the film industry, to have told the best Time Travel story ever through a series of films that are still relevant to this day, as evident by the success of the recent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. This is my Movie Review of the original THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Blank Page Rating: 4 out of 5 Talking Humans
While each individual movie in the original PLANET OF THE APES series may not have been perfect, the franchise as a whole is one of the best Time Travel stories ever told. THE PLANET OF THE APES is the first film, which introduced us to this strange new planet of intelligent Apes, who have seemingly evolved better than humans, as an almost counterpoint of progress compared to our own Earth. A group of astronauts crash land on a strange Dessert planet during a mission that took them thousands of years away from Earth. Acknowledging that despite months for them, decades have passed on Earth and they’ve outlived everybody they knew, is the first and only exposition regarding time travel in the film. The 3 travellers try to find water, and upon doing so are met with ferocious beasts in the form of armed Gorillas on horseback capturing them along with a group of other humans nearby, almost like wild animals. The rest of the movie focuses on the protagonist, Taylor played brilliantly by a pre-NRA rambling Charlton Heston, and his adventures through this weird strange world, and the disturbing origins that he uncovers.
Through Taylor’s eyes, we are shown a world completely the opposite of ours, where Apes are the dominant intelligent species, and Humans lack the capacity for speech and act, and are treated , no better than wild animals. An injury prevents Taylor from speaking, however, he makes his own intelligence known to a Human veterinarian Chimpanzee named Zira. Zira and her husband Cornelius are scientists and have theories regarding the origins of their own Ape lineage that may differ from their conformist and religious government. The presence of a talking Human capable of thought, further fuels their theories, and threatens to destroy the generations of indoctrinated belief of this Ape society. This society is governed by blend of Religion and crude Science, established by a ‘Lawgiver’ who acts as their Jesus.
The most amazing thing that the PLANET OF THE APES movie does well, are the parallels it draws to real world issues that existed at the time in the 1960’s, and exist to a point today as well in America, and generally, the world as a whole. Showing humans being mistreated and experimented on is exactly how we as a society treat animals ourselves. The hate, anger and paranoia with which the Apes regard humans, almost mimics how minorities of religion, ethnicity & sexuality were, and are still treated today. The conflict between rational science and pragmatic religion is also very much explored in this film. The representation of a right wing Religious nut is provided by an Orangutan known as Dr. Zaius, who is the spiritual leader of this Ape society, protecting their traditions and histories from the ancient ravages of man, by any means necessary. Taylor could care less, he just wants to get home, and his unabashed condescension towards the Apes is almost amusing in an otherwise serious movie.
Taylor’s claims of having travelled through an area of their planet deemed ‘The Forbidden Zone’ creates chaos in this society, as it puts into question everything they believed, that has passed down from generations. Most notably, Dr. Zaius refuses to acknowledge his existence as anything other than a mutation of Nature, although he knows more than he lets on. PLANET OF THE APES relies the classic approach of providing a lot of dramatic tension through dialogue and the intensity of the setting further punctuated by the amazing Musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. There are many actions scenes that are so much more effective due to blaring music that intensifies every pursuit and interaction. The performances really sell the film though, mostly the actors in Ape prosthetics. At a time when the fantasy genre might not have been taken as seriously, there is a very professional ensemble cast, who are able to give such emotional depth through their characters that it’s just plain mind boggling to witness. From Roddy McDowell playing the optimistically cautious husband to Zira, to Maurice Evans’ cunning portrayal of Dr. Zaius, to Kim Hunter‘s idealistic outrage as her own people’s treatment of lower beings… are all so wonderful in an era before Mo-Cap performances were all the rage.
The movie also works independently as a sci-fi action adventure movie, with a story that can easily be compared against other conspiracy theories in a outrageous backdrop. It’s a very symbolic film with themes and tones of political happenings that are limited to that era, however, can be related to events still happening today. The final scene remains one of the most iconic in the history of cinema and the film launched a franchise, that I personally think is the best Time Travel franchise told with so many shades of a political drama that it captures your interest right away, while still being the tragic story about human kindness in an otherwise cruel world.