Planet of the Apes: 35th Anniversary Edition
February 23, 2003
Franklin J. Schaffner, ,
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Lou Wagner, Woodrow Parfrey, Jeff Burton, Buck Kartalian, Norman Burton, Wright King, Paul Lambert, ,
One of the greatest science-fiction movies of all time gets a lavish two-disc special edition.
It’s hard to be objective nearly four decades on from Planet of the Apes’ initial release. It was such a daring idea for a movie in all respects, yet it was a huge hit and spawned four sequels, a television series, a cartoon and even a recent remake by Tim Burton. The idea of man being enslaved by apes in the future is the perfect way to show how brutal and ridiculous we are to animals in the present day, locking them in cages and torturing them for our own selfish interests. Put Charlton Heston in a cage and suddenly the world took notice. And all this happened way back in 1968, long before Greenpeace or the NSPCA. But look deeper and you’ll find darker themes such as racism and science versus religion.
Basically turning evolution on its head, Planet of the Apes tells the story of four astronauts who are sent out into space in hybernation pods. Two thousand years later they awake and crash land on a mysterious planet where humans are simple-minded cavemen and simians have control. During a fight, Taylor (Heston) is separated from his crew and ends up the only survivor, unable to speak after taking a bullet in the throat. An ‘animal psychologist’ ape called Zira (Hunter) and her friend Cornelious gradually realise the truth about Taylor and try to show their elders that man isn’t just a useless pet and that their civilisation was built on a lie.
Even if you haven’t seen the film, the ending is such a deep-seated part of pop culture that it has been spoofed in every comedy from the last thirty years, from Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back (“Damn you’s! God damn you’s all to hell!”) to The Simpsons (“He can talk! He can talk!” “I can siiiiiing!!”). Sadly this means that said ending has become ironic rather than chilling.
The best science fiction takes a modern issue and dresses it up as fantasy. So as well as getting across an important message, the film also works purely on an entertainment level with fights and scares and even broad comedy (“You know what they say,” one ape says. “Human see, human do.”).
Heston is every inch the iconic hero with his chiselled jaw and gruff attitude, and McDowall and Hunter provide solid back-up thanks to the ground-breaking make-up. The look of the film still impresses, from the ape town set to the epic locations used in the Utah dessert and some ahead-of-its time camerawork. The script never resorts to spoon-feeding the audience information and the story is allowed to develop at its own pace, so we get to know a bit about Taylor and the mission and don’t even see an ape until thirty minutes in (the remake had the crash and meeting the apes all in the first ten minutes).
Numerous repeats on TV over the years may have dulled your view of the Planet of the Apes so now is a great time to see the original at its very best. Classic stuff.
The three audio commentaries vary in quality (the actors say very little) but the second disc holds a bounty of information, the stand-out being a lengthy documentary hosted by Roddy McDowall which looks at all five movies in depth and the cultural phenomenon of the Apes series in general. There are also make-up tests and home movies shot by McDowall.
Continuing through the supplementilary material you’ll also find dailies (rough, individual shots from beginning to end) and five behind the scenes featurettes made in the 60’s for television. Not completely thorough perhaps (No Heston input anywhere), but this set certainly doesn’t disappoint.