I have seen the classic Planet of the Apes probably twelve times at least. Each time like any great film I find something new. This week I have dedicated this blog to the first science fiction movie phenomenon.
So be here! GO APE!
The original novel was written in 1963 by French novelist Pierre Boulle, who also wrote the classic Bridge on the River Kwai. In the book, two scientists in the year 2500 fly off to discover outer space. They discover an Earth-like planet so they land and discover what they think is a new paradise. When they meet the inhabitants of the planet they are primitive humans and that Apes rule the world. The novel’s twist ending is very much like Tim Burton’s 2001 remake. The lone survivor escapes the planet and returns to Earth 700 years after he left to discover that his Earth is now run by Apes as well.
In the film, Charlton Heston leads a group of shipwrecked astronauts on an expedition to find civilization. Slowly they start to find signs of life and after swimming at a waterfall their clothes are stolen by the locals. Buck naked they try to find their clothes and follow the natives into a clearing. The scene shifts when the natives take off running. Before they know it they are being hunted for sport by not humans but horseback riding gorillas.
Heston and his group are caught and sold as slaves into the Ape society. It is here where Heston meets Cornelius (Roddy MacDowell) and Zira (Kim Hunter), human rights sympathizers.
The film written by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson is a more condensed version of the book. It was Serling who said, what if it was Earth all along and it was Wilson who injected racial tension into the flipped-upside-down world of the Apes.
“Planet of the Apes” is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. But the reason for its genius probably can be attributed to Rod Serling. Rod built on Pierre Boulle’s novel and gave us one of the greatest endings in cinematic history.
The movie’s amazing photography, haunting score and tour-deforce performance from Heston makes this film a must see for anyone. It’s commentary on the human condition is astounding and how in a blink of an eye our world could change.
The makeup is legendary and won an honorary Oscar for the film. There is no way the makeup would pass today but it just brings so much character to each character. Roddy MacDowell talked about how he wore his mouth out overacting every line in the films to compensate for the makeup so it would look like he was talking.
The acting in the film is also quite brilliant. Heston’s hero broke the mold. He was more of an anti-hero, cynical and abrasive much like the 1960s themselves. Roddy’s Cornelius is skeptical but fair. Kim Hunter’s Zira is compassionate and curious. Roddy and Kim’s contributions to the series and how we reacted to their characters is exactly why later films in the series work so well.
This 12th time watching the movie I did notice two things I hadn’t notice before. During Taylor’s trial when Zira is offering Heston’s defense the judges are in the infamous “see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil” stances. The other thing I noticed that the apes actually have outlines of toes on their boots. Sticking out is the standard ape thumb.
If you haven’t seen this film I strongly urge you do. It is a cinematic landmark.
5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer