Fox // 1968 // 112 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // November 17th, 2008
A planet where apes evolved from men?
Planet of the Apes -- director Franklin J. Schaffner's (Patton) film adaptation of the novel by Pierre Boulle -- was a huge success at a time when Hollywood still considered science fiction a niche genre for children. Its $33 million haul on a budget just shy of $6 million was so impressive in the late '60s that, less than ten years later, George Lucas hoped a little movie he'd made called Star Wars would match Planet of the Apes' box office muscle (for the record, it did a little better than Lucas had hoped). Planet of the Apes was such a cultural phenomenon that it spawned four sequels, all of which aired perennially on television throughout the 1970s (that's where I first discovered the delights of apes in pants shooting guns). It also earned make-up designer John Chambers (who designed Spock's ears for the original Star Trek television series) a special Academy Award, 13 years before the make-up category was instituted.
After a 2000-year space voyage at time-dilating near-light speed, ANSA astronaut and misanthrope George Taylor (Charlton Heston, The Ten Commandments) and his crew land on a rugged alien planet. They soon discover that the planet's humans are dumb savages while its apes speak, wear clothing, and have created a rudimentary civilization. Taylor is captured during a gorilla raid against a tribe of humans. Caged, he is studied by a scientist chimpanzee named Zira (Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire) and her archeologist husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowall, Fright Night). Zira is fascinated by Taylor's intelligent demeanor and seeming ability to speak through sign language (an injury during his capture has left him unable to speak). The Minister of Science, an orangutan named Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans, Rosemary's Baby), is skeptical of Zira's inferences about Taylor's intelligence. When the astronaut proves him wrong by finally speaking, Dr. Zaius takes drastic action to ensure his society's long-held beliefs about the origins of apes are preserved.
They don't make them like Planet of the Apes anymore -- the movie is an odd mix of G-rated action and cynical social commentary. In the middle of the restrained and mostly bloodless ape violence, screenwriters Michael Wilson (Lawrence of Arabia) and Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) place astronaut George Taylor, a man whose weary dislike of human beings drove him to participate in a space voyage that rocketed him forever away from the world he knew, returning him to a surreal and unknown distant future. The irony of Taylor having to become humanity's lone spokesperson (literally), defending his kind against the prejudices of a dominant class of apes, is obvious but it works.
Roddy McDowall (who plays Cornelius in the original film and Cornelius and Zira's son, Caesar, in a couple of the sequels) became the de facto face of the Planet of the Apes franchise, the actor most associated with the movies, but Charlton Heston is the glue that holds this original outing together. Every moment of his performance is outrageously entertaining. Whether showing his contempt for humanity by acting like a complete jackass to his fellow astronauts, pontificating about his sexual conquests to the blissfully ignorant (and hot!) Nova, or hollering colorful non-obscenities at various gorillas and orangutans, Heston chews scenery with a gleeful, full-throated old-school professionalism that seems entirely appropriate given the fact that we're watching a world in which apes walk around in leather-accented footy pajamas. From "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" to "It's a mad house!" to "Damn you! God damn you all to hell!," the series entered the pop culture zeitgeist of the late '60s and early '70s largely through key lines of dialogue -- all of them delivered by Heston in the first film. The man does a masterful job of selling the ridiculous.
Truth be told, Planet of the Apes handles its themes of prejudice, religious intolerance of intellectual inquisitiveness, and the self-destructive streak that distinguishes humanity from other animals with heaps of obvious symbolism and page after page of hamfisted speechifying. In his book, Planet of the Apes as American Myth, as well as on some of the extras included on this Blu-ray, writer Eric Greene examines in nearly exhaustive detail Planet of the Apes' subtext about America's folly in Vietnam and the rising tide of the counter-culture. That subtext makes the film fascinating when viewed through the lens of history, but also leaves it feeling dated and unintentionally funny to modern audiences used to a Hollywood that no longer feels obligated to couch its political statements in stories about talking apes. Planet of the Apes continues to entertain four decades after it was made not so much because of its prescient political sensibilities, but because of the whimsy of its story. A movie that was made for children, it continues to appeal to the children inside us all.
Planet of the Apes looks on Blu-ray the way only those rare classic cash-cows that can pay for their own extensive and expensive restoration and remastering do: stellar. The movie languished for years on a 2000 DVD release with a lousy, non-anamorphic transfer. Fox remedied that crime against humanity (and apes) with a 2004 two-disc Special Edition that offered a fully restored and remastered image. A slimmed down single-disc release of the same transfer hit shelves in 2006. Now we have a high definition version created from the same master. Though the DVDs were impressive, the Blu-ray offers bolder and more accurate colors, as well as superior detail (master shots of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon are particularly impressive). The downside is that the greater clarity of the image means the seams on a few of the optical special effects are more noticeable.
The massive slate of extras contained on this 50GB dual-layered Blu-ray begins with a variety of commentary tracks. Actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Natalie Trundy, and make-up artist John Chambers provide the first of two audio commentaries. The second is by composer Jerry Goldsmith, who speaks alongside his isolated score. A text commentary by Eric Greene offers a wealth of trivia about the film's themes and ideas. Science of the Apes Bonus VIEW is a picture-in-picture feature that layers on even more information about the movie's production.
A Public Service Announcement from ANSA (6:06) is an aged 16mm promo reel for the American National Space Administration, discussing their latest space projects, including Project Liberty. Relying on photon propulsion, the Liberty I will be sent to the constellation Centaurus, four light years away.
Evolution of the Apes (23:37) discusses the Planet of the Apes phenomenon from Pierre Boulle's novel to the success of the film franchise.
Impact of the Apes (11:39) examines the cultural impact of the film series.
Behind the Planet of the Apes (2:06:44) is a comprehensive feature-length documentary about the entire Planet of the Apes film series. The documentary is presented with an optional interactive mode that sets the feature in a picture-in-picture frame and enhances it with a wealth of text-based notes. Its first half thoroughly covers the production of Planet of the Apes, while the second half moves quickly through the four sequels as well as the short-lived live-action and animated television series. Narration is provided by Roddy McDowall. The presentation is 480p.
There's also a promo for Behind the Plant of the Apes; an archives section that contains deleted scenes, home movie footage by Roddy McDowall, Edward G. Robinson's screen test (he was originally slated to play Dr. Zaius before he bowed out and was replaced by Maurice Evans); trailers; and other goodies. Finally, Beyond the Forbidden Zone Adventure Game is a trivia game that you can play while watching the feature.
Planet of the Apes is corny, silly, and far too convinced of its own brilliance as social and political commentary. Yet it remains every bit as entertaining as the first time I saw it on television back in the mid-'70s. Given the quality of the transfer and the massive array of extras, fans of the film will find little reason to fling poo at this Blu-ray release.
Some talking ape movies, it seems, are more equal than others.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Audio Commentaries
* Text Commentary
* Science of the Apes Bonus View
* Beyond the Forbidden Zone Adventure Game
* A Public Service Announcement from ANSA
* Evolution of the Apes
* Impact of the Apes
* Behind the Planet of the Apes Documentary
* Behind the Planet of the Apes Promo
* The Archives of the Apes
* The Galleries of the Apes