IMDB #237 Planet Of The Apes

Whatup, folks? Next up is the original 1968 Planet Of The Apes, which to my shame I have actually never seen before. But I’m savvy to countless pop-culture references that spoil the ending, and I have inexplicably seen the Tim Burton remake.

The Key Players:

Our director is Franklin Schaffner, who mostly worked in TV before busting out with Apes, and winning the Best Director Oscar for future entrant Patton. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, which explains why it feels like a double size Twilight Zone episode. They were working from the novel by Pierre Boulle.

In every scene of the film is Charlton Heston, who you may know as Moses, Ben-Hur, El Cid, Robert Thornton (who found out what Soylent Green was), Marc Antony (three separate times!), or that crotchety old guy in Bowling For Columbine. He died on April 5 this year, and is a lock for the end of the “People We’ve Lost” montage at the Oscars.

Robert Gunner and Jeff Burton play Heston’s human companions, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall are the apes most sympathetic to his cause, but the only other big part is Maurice Evans as the wise but ruthless Dr. Zauis.

The Story:

We open with Heston, the captain of a deep space mission (to where or what exactly we never find out) making a final captain's log before he goes into a deep sleep. Some recent theory suggests, he narrates, that traveling near the speed of light will cause centuries to pass on earth while they only experience six months (no mention of Einstein here, oddly. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of relativity as it relates to space travel since I saw Flight Of The Navigator as a young child. Because that movie is awesome: it has time travel, an adorable alien thing, and the voice of Pee Wee Herman. But I digress.)

Anyway, he takes a six month nap, only to awake to a ship crashed in a lake, one of his companions dead thanks to a cracked stasis chamber (the only lady astronaut, alas), apparently on some alien planet with little signs of life.

Until they find a jungle, and some mute human-appearing creatures that steal their clothes while our heroes are skinny dipping. They watch the simple-minded locals climb some trees, and speculate that at least they’ll rule the roost on this planet.

Cue the intelligent, superior race of apes, that come swooping in (on horseback?), kill one of our adventurers (the black guy-totally saw that coming) and capture Heston.

Then it turns into, essentially, a reverse Scopes Monkey Trial, as the apes argue about what the presence of a speaking human means. But nobody’s any match for Dr. Zauis, who occupies the unique position of both Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith in the ape community.

The Artisticness:

Given that references to this film mostly involve the campiness of certain screaming moments that we’ll get to later, I found it surprisingly moody and well, cinematic.

The first thing I noticed is a distinct 2001: A Space Odyssey influence, but then I looked it up to find that it was released… three days earlier? So scratch that. But there’s a definite Kubrickian pacing and use of extreme noise to portray the early crash-landing and desert sequences. Not to mention Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which pitched and groaned like "Peter and the Wolf" on LSD or something.

I appreciated the patience the movie had, to let us get to know Heston and co. before getting into the nitty gritty. He and Robert Gunner have an entire conversation about the reasons they’d sign up for a seven hundred year journey as they explore that I enjoyed- Heston’s character is the kind of cynical but inquisitive know-it-all that I recognize from the work of Robert Heinlein. All in all, it’s half an hour before we see our first ape.

The story-telling, while it gets a little heavy-handed in the reverse ape-man chicanery, is intelligent enough not to get too overly expository. And the level of dialogue puts most modern sci-fi to shame. This is, I suspect, perhaps a combination of Serling’s sense of erudite pondering (Heston says to himself at the beginning “Space is boundless- it squashes a man’s ego.”) and the Boulle’s novel (he’s also famous for The Bridge On The River Kwai).

Once you get your brain to stop asking questions about why the apes read, write, and speak English (Heston never seems to question this, much like on the original Star Trek), there’s plenty of fun in the “heresy” being discussed: Heston represents a “missing link” for some apes that theorize that apes “evolved” from man. It would be even funnier if this debate had gone away in the last forty-five years…

That said, it’s hard not to roll your eyes when the apes say things like “You know what they say- human see, human do,” or “I never met an ape I didn’t like.” Or at the moment when, when sitting in judgment during a tribunal, three apes strike the see/hear/speak no evil pose.


OMG you guys it was Earth the whole time! You maniacs!

But seriously, in the trial of science v. religion, science loses (like it always does), and Heston is sentenced to be lobotomized. Sympathetic ape scientists bust him out, and they eventually end up finding incontrovertible proof of the earlier existence of intelligent men (including a heart valve and eye-glasses, but Heston doesn’t quite put the whole “Earth in the future” bit together at this point) and show it to Dr. Zauis, clearing the good apes of heresy.

Heston rides off (with his new, mute gal-pal), and Dr. Zauis then orders the proof of ancient cultures destroyed and the good apes arrested again (bummer). A young progressive-type ape exclaims in anguish “Why must knowledge stand still? What about the future?” To which he replies “I may have just saved it for you.”

Implicit in that teachings of the ape religion, apparently, are that they must avoid the warring, destructive nature of an advance, completely “civilized” culture. Hence the text of their 29th Sacred Scroll (Verse 6):

“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.”

Anyway, Heston finally reaches the iconic ruins of the Statue Of Liberty, and has his famous hissy-fit at the folly of man’s past. After all the buildup, parodies of this scene had led me to imagine it would be way more over-the-top than it was.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I’d say higher, maybe, since it outdid any of my expectations, and has proved highly influential. It’s definitely not as campy as it’s made out to be, and it’s a heck of a lot better than the Mark Wahlberg version (man, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “it’s a heck of a lot better than the Mark Wahlberg version I’d have… fifteen cents, at least).

The Legacy:

Let’s see: it spawned four sequels and two television series, as well as countless pop-culture parodies/homages (well, they’re countable, but we’ll let Wikipedia do the work. My favorite, hands down, is the Simpsons where Troy McClure (who you may know from such self-help films as Smoke Yourself Thin! And Get Confident, Stupid!) revives his career by starring in the musical “Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off!”).

And it’s even a visual precedent for things like the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope where the Jawas stalk R2D2 through the desert much as the primitive humans follow the astronauts soon after they land.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Final scene, anybody? Watch this, and tell me if it's as extreme and over-acted as you've been led to believe. I feel like I've been short-shrifting Charlton Heston this whole time as a scenery chewer (though I've never seen Ben-Hur. Sacrilege, I know.). I mean, saw what you will about the guy, but he's not post-Scent Of A Woman Pacino in terms of pure salted ham.

Leftover Thoughts:

Difference from the novel #1: the apes speak a different language entirely, which the hero has to learn to prove his intelligence. Thank you. Although, while I thought it convenient that Heston has a convenient injury to his throat when initially captured, it provided a great buildup to the classic line “Get your paws off me, you damn dirty apes!”

Difference from the novel #2: (Spoilers) The planet of the apes is actually a different planet in the book, but the hero returns to earth proper to find that the exact same thing has happened, vis a vis apes being in charge and all (?). Boulle allegedly has claimed he wishes he thought of Serling’s ending. (End spoilers)

Speaking of which, I’d like to think that I’d have seen the ending coming if I didn’t already know it, but I guess I can’t claim that with complete impunity.

My favorite exchange: “I didn’t realize man could be monogamous.” Heston: “On this planet, it’s easy.”

0 Response to "IMDB #237 Planet Of The Apes"

Powered by Blogger