Fox // 1968 // 112 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 10th, 2004
"Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty apes!"
-- Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes
Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is about to find himself at the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder. After his spacecraft lands on an alien planet, 700 years in the future (bummer), Taylor discovers in this jungle the "main man" isn't man at all, but monkey. He's been stranded on the Planet of the Apes. It seems that simians have the run of the place while humans dwell on the fringes like packs of wild dogs. When Taylor is captured by the walking, talking apes, he finds himself fighting for his life against a race that believes the only good human is a dead human. Taylor is befriended by two logical chimps, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). Upon discovering that Taylor can speak and reason, the two question their species' history which has been handed down through sacred scrolls and guarded by such fanatics as Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). One thing leads to another and Taylor is put on trial for crimes he doesn't understand. When Taylor breaks free of his captors, Zira and Cornelius show him a new discovery that will shake the ape's historical foundation and give Taylor one last, shocking revelation.
For a complete review of Planet of the Apes, check out our previous review by Norman Short as well as Chief Justice Mike Jackson's review of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake. To make a long story short on my side, Planet of the Apes is hands down one of the best science fiction films ever made, and certainly the best of the 1960s. Co-written by Twilight Zone host Rod Sterling (from Pierre Boulle's novella "Monkey Planet") and starring the 1960s/70s precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, mega-hunk Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes combines impactful, relevant storytelling with rambunctious action to form a unique movie-going experience. There is a lot to appreciate in Planet of the Apes, not the least of which is Sterling's comment on human society and our intolerance towards those who are different from us. It's a message of universal importance that is, at its core, the reason the film still resonates with audiences today. Yet even without any hard-hitting social themes, Planet of the Apes would still have been a pretty darn good flick. Heston -- an actor who appeared in seemingly dozens of sci-fi films including The Omega Man and Soylent Green -- gives one of his best performances as Taylor, an egotistic astronaut who isn't about to roll over for anyone, especially monkeys who like to keep humans in giant rat cages. Roddy McDowall (Cleopatra, Fright Night) and Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Named Desire) are excellent as Taylor's allies, even though they're planted on the wrong side of the evolutionary chain. Capping off the performances is John Chambers' make-up effects, still convincing over three decades later. While Tim Burton's remake may be technically more advanced in terms of special effects and costumes, it still can't top Franklin J. Schaffner's (Patton) sharp direction and a thinking man's screenplay filled with both pointed social criticism and a few great laughs (the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" gag is inspired). Planet of the Apes is a true classic in every sense of the word and that ain't no monkey business. Recommended.
Planet of the Apes: 35th Anniversary Edition is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Finally! Back in 1998 Fox released a box set of Planet of the Apes and its sequels, all in non-anamorphic widescreen. While it's a little baffling they didn't release this set during Burton's Planet of the Apes remake back in 2001, I'm glad to see it back on DVD with an improved video transfer. Though there are still some inherent flaws in the picture (including a slight amount of grain and dirt), overall fans will be happy with how attractive this transfer looks. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered without any graying or haloing. This may not be a perfect looking picture, but it is a large step forward from the previous DVD incarnation. A full screen version is also available, but not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround. Both of these mixes decent, if not great. Overall there isn't much in the way of directional sounds in either track. Even Jerry Goldsmith's original, trend-setting musical score tends to be front heavy. However, the music, dialogue, and effects are all crystal clear without any major hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix in English, a 2.0 Mono mix in Spanish, and a 2.0 Surround mix in French.
This is the two-disc set Planet of the Apes fans have been waiting for and what the original release should have been. Starting out disc one are not one, not two, but three commentary tracks featuring various key players from the film. The first is by Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy and Kim Hunter, and makeup artist John Chambers; the second an isolated score track with commentary by composer Jerry Goldsmith; and the third, a text commentary by Eric Greene, author of "Planet of the Apes as American Myth." The first track featuring the stars is a bit disappointing. There are many long gaps of silence during the film, making for a very uneven listen. Also, most of the information in this commentary can be found in other supplements. In other words, if you're not a die-hard fan you won't be missing anything if you skip it. The commentaries by Goldsmith and Greene are much more interesting. Fans of movie music will get a kick out of hearing Goldsmith's thoughts on the film and music while Greene's text track is about as thorough as it's going to get when it comes to Apes info.
On disc two, there is a virtual cornucopia of supplements, starting with a great documentary under the section "Exploring the Apes," originally aired on American Movie Classics. This feature-length look at the making of the film, as well as its four sequels (all of which I wasn't a big fan of) will thrill any Apes fan that wants to know everything and more about how the series came into being. Interviews with actors Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall (also the narrator), and Kim Hunter, as well as producer Richard Zanuck and writer Pierre Boulle, give rare insight into Planet of the Apes's impact on science fiction cinema, as well as how time consuming that damn dirty ape make-up really was. Also included is a promotional short for the documentary. The "Make-Up Test with Edward G. Robinson" shows the consummate actor in make-up acting in a scene with Charlton Heston. Two more featurettes -- "Roddy McDowall's Home Movie" and "Planet of the Apes Dailies and Outtakes" -- don't include any audio, yet sport a wealth of treasures from the making of the film. McDowall's home movies are especially interesting with tons of behind-the-scenes footage shot by the actor. A 1967 N.A.T.O. presentation features clips from the film and Heston pitching the film to exhibitors. "Planet of the Apes (1968)" and "A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes (1972)" are vintage featurettes that include Heston narrating ("Behind") and a lot of typical promotional materials geared towards hyping the film. "Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes" and "J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" includes raw footage of the directors at work on their respective sequels. Under the publicity gallery, there is a theatrical trailer for the film, a few film reviews from 1968, and a poster gallery. Finally, there are galleries for the original costume sketches by Morton Haack, behind-the-scenes photos, "Planet of the Apes" merchandise, Ape Collections, and some DVD-ROM features.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Commentary Track by Actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy and Kim Hunter, and Makeup Artist John Chambers
* Commentary and Isolated Score by Composer Jerry Goldsmith
* Text Commentary by Eric Greene
* Various Featurettes
* Behind-The-Scenes Footage
* Still Galleries
* Theatrical Trailer