Fox // 1974 // 644 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // November 20th, 2001
Go ape! For 14 hours.
All right kids. It's a lesson in Hollywood thinking time. The time is 1974, you are a movie studio that has a film franchise about intelligent apes, and you have made five films. Each one has made less money than the last. What do you do? Hello, television! In the complete box set of a television show that practically no one asked for, here comes Fox and the complete TV series, Planet Of The Apes.
* "Escape From Tomorrow," air date 09/13/74
It is 1980, and a NASA mission has gone terribly wrong. Ending up in the year 3085, the surviving astronauts, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper, Pearl Harbor, The Odd Couple II) and Pete Burke (James Naughton, The First Wives Club, The Paper Chase) find themselves on a strange version of Earth where apes are the dominant species and humans are little more than slaves. Not wanting these people to infect the rest of the population with their wild ideas of human superiority, our heroes find themselves on the run from General Urko (Mark Lenard, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Annie Hall) and Professor Zaius (Booth Colman, Norma Rae, Return to the Secret Garden). It is the humans' good fortune that they meet a chimp named Galen (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes, Fright Night), who finds himself sympathetic to their plight. Deemed enemies of the state, the three go on a mission to try and get the astronauts back home while also trying to survive.
* "The Gladiators," air date 09/20/74
Burke and Virdon are captured and forced to fight in the apes' version of gladiator games. The thought of the local prefect is that humans are a violent species, and that if given an outlet for their savagery, they will remain productive and docile. Our intrepid heroes, of course, prove otherwise. Character actor under all that make-up alert for this episode is Star Trek's original doctor, John Hoyt, who guest stars as the prefect, while cult actor William Smith turns up as the local lord of the ring and a very young Beastmaster AKA Mark Singer is his son who has no desire to follow in his father's footsteps.
* "The Trap," air date 09/27/74
General Urko and Burke find themselves trapped underneath the streets of San Francisco and discover the remnants of Karl Malden's nose. No. Really. Actually, they are trapped in a BART subway station and are forced to put aside their differences and work together before the oxygen runs out. Character actor du jour under the ape mask is Norman Alden
* "The Good Seeds," air date 10/04/74
Galen is injured and the group seeks shelter with a family of ape farmers who are suspicious of humans. In a running theme of the series, Virdon and Burke teach apes the benefits of "advanced" human thinking and technology while also showing they are pretty good guys. There is no character actor du jour here because I did not recognize anyone's name or voice. Sorry.
* "The Legacy," air date 10/11/74
In Oakland, Burke and Virdon find a holographic recording buried in a building that promises to show the reason for mankind's downfall and the sum total of human knowledge spread out in similar recording across the United States. Things are pretty much assured of not working out.
* "Tomorrow's Tide," air date 10/18/74
The astronauts are captured by a fishing village where they must prove their worth as fishermen or be sacrificed to the sea gods. Sucks to be them. This episode's character actor alert features the always droll Roscoe Lee Browne and the always dreadful Jay Robinson.
* "The Surgeon," air date 10/25/74
After escaping from some gorilla soldiers, Virdon is shot and Galen must enlist the help of his former fiancée, who just happens to be the best surgeon in the district. Breaking into Zaius' office, Galen and Burke steal an ancient book of human anatomy with which to help in the operation.
* "The Deception," air date 11/01/74
The murder of a beloved ape in a small township has occurred, and humans have of course been blamed. So, while a witch hunt of the area's human population is underway, Burke, Virdon, and Galen launch their own investigation. In doing so, they discover an ape version of the Klu Klux Klan with roots growing in surprising places. Also, Burke allows a young and very blind ape to fall in love with him. Thinking Burke to be of the correct species, this ape helps give the trio information to track down the true killers.
* "The Horse Race," air date 11/08/74
John Hoyt returns as the luckless Prefect Barlow in this episode that deals with, well, a horse race.
* "The Interrogation," air date 11/15/74
Burke is captured and finds his life in the hands of Zaius, who wants Burke to be the guinea pig in an experiment utilizing human brain washing techniques, and General Urko, who just wants to grind his bones into dust. Also in this episode we are introduced to Galen's parents. I was so excited.
* "The Tyrant," air date 11/22/74
The astronauts find themselves trying to foil the plans of a tyrannical ape who is using any means available to control a village of human farmers. Character actor alert for "The Tyrant" is Michael Conrad, best known for his role of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus on "Hill Street Blues." I need to be more careful out there when I request certain screeners. [Editor's Note: He asked for it. Really.]
* "The Cure," air date 11/29/74
An outbreak of malaria is sweeping through a human village and the astronauts have to convince the local ape doctor that their methods of fighting the disease are superior to his own. Longtime Clint Eastwood squeeze and costar Sondra Locke turns up in this episode, and seeing her once more seriously calls into question Dirty Harry's taste in women.
* "The Liberator," air date...never aired
Burke and Vidron get captured by a cadre of humans who in turn sell their hostages to gorillas as slaves. Dirty scumbags.
* "Up Above The World So High," air date 12/06/74
The series final episode is a tale of flight and concerns an ape and his attempts to build a flying device otherwise known as a glider.
It almost does not seem fair to pick on the television version of Planet of the Apes. After all, TV was a simpler medium then and it had yet to discover what it could really do in regard to telling a story. Not fair at all, but it's what I do. It's also not fair to say that I sat there watching all 14 hours of this and spent a great deal of the time wishing the series had been produced in the past 10 years or so. I felt this way because the fuel was lurking there in 1974 to produce compelling television; couple this raw material with the changes in the narrative structure of television that were created with the advent of Steven Bochco and Hill Street Blues, and the potential would have been there for something great. Instead, we are treated to the same old "Fugitive" style plot where our heroes come to some town as wanted men with General Urko hot on their heels and they stay long enough to teach the people they meet something they did not know before. Then they leave. End of story. There is no growth for the protagonists or for the apes chasing them. There is no continuation of a greater story. It's the beautiful part about going back and watching the repeats of my favorite show on television at the current moment, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sitting down and watching everything back to back, I can see how seeds were planted in seasons 1 and 2 and how they only start to bear fruit a year or two later. The show begins to exhibit a wonderful and complex tapestry that is the best of what modern television can produce. With this series based on Planet of the Apes, there is no such growth. Case in point for me is the episode "The Legacy." Here, Burke and Vidron discover the vault with its wealth of human knowledge and the information that there are other such vaults littered across the US. In today's television, this would be a launching pad for the rest of the series. Back in 1974, at episode's end the humans have none of the information and the concept is dropped. Another example is the magnetic disc that contains the complete log of the spaceship's journey. Much is made of its existence by Virdon. In the pilot episode, he believes it contains the information to get the two men home, if only they can find a way to access the information. By the second episode, this Holy Grail is reduced to a plot device to get our heroes in the arena of combat. By the time "The Legacy" rolls around, the disc is talked about in passing and pretty much dropped. Like I mentioned earlier, it is tough to criticize something that is the product of its time and probably did not know better, but the main feeling I came away with was that I was glad I was done watching it when I wish that I could have felt regret when it was over because I had just witnessed something creative and that took chances. It's the beauty of science fiction and science fiction on TV especially. It gives its creators a chance to play on a long, continuing canvas that can take such taboo modern issues as racism or sexuality, dress them up, and give them a spin that makes people think, all the while escaping the wrath of the network censors. It worked for Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek, and it could have worked for Planet of the Apes.
This is not to say that all of the episodes were terrible. The aforementioned "The Legacy" in fact stands as a decent hour of TV. A couple of other highlights include "The Deception" and "The Interrogation." The sum total, however, ends up being fairly slim pickings. Yet, who is to stay that if the ratings had been better the show might not have developed into something more? Unfortunately, we will never know. As it stands, this is all we got and it's just plain mediocre.
The production end of the series is fairly sparse as well. The make-up, which was so crucial and functional in the films, here looks to be little more than high-end Halloween masks. The costumes are functional at best, while cinematography for the series just looks drab and tired. I probably should not have expected anything else, but there you are.
Acting, like the physical production of the series, is strictly by-the-numbers. The "star" of the series, Roddy McDowall, is simply playing a watered down version of his two characters from the movies and is relegated, for the most part, to the background. The two human leads show little excitement or chemistry and do little to generate interest, while the recurring bad guys are simple, one dimensional creatures who enter and exit as plot devices require.
This being television from the early '70s, I was not expecting much in the way of audio or video. Let me just say I did not end up being disappointed. The video is standard 1.33:1 full frame and considering its age I'm surprised things did not look worse. Colors look generally authentic but not much can make up for the blandness of the palette used during production. Detail tends to be fairly sharp when the numerous instances of softness don't rear their ugly head. The main problem lies in the condition of the source material. Specks, nicks, and scratches are a pretty constant reminder of the age of this series and after a while I almost learned to not notice them.
The sound fairs a little better. It's strictly mono, and for what it's worth, the overall sound is fairly clean. There is the expected limited fidelity but background hiss and distortions are held to a minimum.
Being released to cash in on the success of Fox's other ape feature of the day, Tim Burton's mess of a remake of Planet of the Apes, this box set is pretty much bare bones. I'm not really complaining, but if the time was spent to release the entire series, some kind of background documentary might have been nice. As it stands, the only things included with the set are a pair of trailers; one for the DVD release of the five original films, and the second for the Burton remake. I don't know if you can call it a special feature or not, but the main attraction of the series is the actual keep case it comes in. Looking like a really thick paperback, the case is actually an Alpha storage unit that could easily hold up to six discs. It certainly looks sweet on my disc shelf, and is almost enough reason for me to hang onto the set.
I pretty much covered all my complaints about the set and the series in the section above so I don't have much else to say.
If you are one of the 17 fans of the series out there, then picking this up is a no brainer; otherwise, I would have to say pass it by. That in and of itself is a difficult statement for me to make since I am such a large proponent of TV series being presented season by season on DVD. Every person that passes on this sends a signal to the bean counters that TV on DVD is a bad business move. Spend your cash elsewhere. Pick up The Simpson or any one of the The X-Files box sets or start saving your pennies for the upcoming goodness that is sure to be the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season One box set.
One last thing for this section. John Chambers, the man who received an honorary Oscar for his make-up work on the original Planet of the Apes film and the man who worked on the ears of Spock for the original "Star Trek" series, recently died. I will be the first to admit that growing up I was a sci-fi and movie geek. From all the movie and monster magazines I read at the time, John Chambers was a name that I very much knew. Never as well known as someone like Dick Smith, Chambers was still a man with a tremendous reputation and an impressive resume. Certainly with all the acclaim Rick Baker's make-up effects justly received for the new Apes movie, the man who first blazed that creative trail should to be noted and given a moment of respect. I just wanted to mention his passing.
Guilty of never trying to be more than was expected of it at the time. The entire series based on Planet of the Apes is sentenced to be played late night on Sci-Fi when all the infomercials are done and the insomniacs of our country are looking for a cure-all to help them sleep. The judgment of this court is passed and we are done.
Review content copyright © 2001 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 644 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer for Planet of the Apes (2001)
* Trailer for Planet of the Apes DVD Box Set