#270 Planet Of The Apes

(1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

“Take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!”

Imagine if you will, a strange planet far beyond the stars where evolution did something very silly and made apes the dominant species instead of humans. Now imagine your reaction when you discover that planet WAS EARTH ALL ALONG! Yes, today we’re looking at Planet Of The Apes, with one of the most-spoiled endings of all time. It’s even on the cover of the DVD box these days! But even with the ending spoiled, how is it? Is it still good?

A group of astronauts led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) set off on a long mission to the far reaches of space, climbing into hibernation while the ship steers them to a distant planet. When they wake up, they find themselves on a desolate world. After wandering through the desert, the astronauts are all captured by strange ape men, who view Taylor with great curiosity. Taylor must now figure out how to survive in this strange new world WHERE APES EVOLVED FROM MEN?!?!

OK, so, the first thing that was notable about Planet Of The Apes was just how ridiculously hammy Charlton Heston was. From start to finish, this man was chewing the scenery. Sitting in a spaceship? Dramatic poetic speech for no reason. Exploring the desert? Hearty laughter about the fact that everyone they know is probably dead. Confronting apes over their treatment of him? Well, you get the idea.

In a way, though, this is part of what makes the film so much fun. With Heston hamming it up every second he’s on screen (which is almost every second of the movie, to be fair), it’s easy to be swept up in the adventure and mystery of it all. Well, mostly adventure because the frequently spoiled ending kind of took away much of the mystery.

In fact, despite the hamminess (or maybe because of it!), it’s easy to connect with Taylor and root for him as he tries to survive in a completely baffling society of apes. His constant treatment as a beast is troubling and the kangaroo court he has to face to prove that he’s intelligent is legitimately terrifying. You just want to reach through the screen and slap Dr Zaius for his stuck-in-the-mud ways of thinking.

I also just really liked how Heston and the apes interacted. There was tension, and it felt realistic. Well, about as realistic as man talking to ape-man possibly can be, at least. The interactions with Zira were also genuinely heartfelt, and I loved her as a character.

And it needs to be said – those makeup effects definitely do hold up today. This is over forty years old, and the apes look like apes. There are some minor issues with lip movements here and there, but overall the effect is convincing and I’m impressed at how well it still holds up.

That said, it is a tad rough around the edges in places. The soundtrack is laughably overdramatic, almost as if it’s trying to out-ham Heston at times. Admittedly, this drops off in the later scenes of the movie, but it’s incredibly noticeable at the start, and becomes a little silly.

It also takes a little too long to get to the apes we all came in to see. While I certainly wasn’t expecting them to leap in at the title card, it feels a bit strange that we’re waiting about 40 minutes for an ape when “Apes” is in the title of the movie. It spends a little too much time wandering in the desert at the beginning, trying to humanise two characters that we know won’t survive the full running time.

The ending also drags itself out a little too much. For a man who’s seemingly on the ball for much of the movie, his lack of realisation that the planet is Earth in the far future (and that Soylent Green is people and Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time) seems a little baffling, especially when confronted with artifacts such as a talking doll that’s clearly from his time.

Fortunately, these issues are minor and Planet Of The Apes is a fine movie that stands the test of time and manages to keep its racial subtext as, well, subtext, as opposed to the “subtext” in the previous two movies I reviewed. Basically, it’s an entertaining romp. Shame the ending has lost some of its impact from being so widely spoiled, but you can blame those maniacs for that, not the movie.

Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly & Linda Harrison
Written by Pierre Boule (novel) and Michael Wilson & Rod Serling
Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography by Leon Shamroy
Edited by Hugh S. Fowler

Favourite Scene: The “hearing”, where the orang-utan leaders simply refuse to accept the idea that a man might be more than a simple beast.
Scene That Bugged Me: The doll kind of gives away the ending far too early but acts like it’s still a mystery.

Watch it if: You like talking ape movies
Avoid it if: You’re up in arms that I gave away the ending in this review

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Posted on March 27, 2014, in 1960s, Action, Adventure, Sci Fi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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