Planet Of The Apes

Planet Of The Apes

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Forget about the four follow-up movies, the short-lived TV series and (especially) the Tim Burton remake - the ’68 original is the only ape-planet flick worth giving a monkeys about. Indeed, despite being over 40 years old, Franklin J Schaffner’s epic adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s French source novel remains a classic genre piece to this day. Sadly, it’s ‘oldness’ may put the CGI-loving MTV generation off (pah!), but for the open-minded, the intelligent and anyone who likes sci-fi, this is a must-see…

During a light-speed exploration into deep-space, Col. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and a few other astronauts awake from suspended animation 2000-odd years in the future as they crash-land on a desolate planet. Though seemingly uninhabited at first, the survivors are horrified to find that it’s ruled by evolved apes who walk, talk and rule their world, while humans are hunted mutes.

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Arguably the birth of modern studio movies bothering to put ‘ideas’ behind their budgets, there’s a lot more going on here than futuristic settings and silly simian skirmishes. Obviously, there’s action included (who’d miss the chance to pit Chuck against an army of beasts?), but it is the underlying themes that raise Planet Of The Apes so high. Racial discrimination, the fragile relationship between faith and science, post-Cold War anti-nuclear damnation… the script misses no opportunity to use an ape society for clever analogy. While primarily about humanity (cynical Taylor initially despises mankind before fighting for its survival), the most staggering subtext is the powerful statement about religion and how belief systems might have begun.

Still, for all the brains behind it, Schaffner’s twisted journey wouldn’t have worked without believable primates. Never once looking like people in hairy costumes, John Chambers’ pioneering make-up design uses moulded masks with moving rubber-parts that shift with the actor’s facial expressions. Making the most of this, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall are superb as a pair of sympathetic chimp scientists, while Maurice Evans brings credibility to the human-hating orang-utan Minister. As for Charlton, there are the usual doses of over-acting (see any time he tries to speak with an injured neck), but his screen presence is such that it’s simply impossible to imagine anyone else in the part.

Given that it was originally scripted by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling (before Michael Wilson was brought in to do a rewrite), the eerie overtones are as unsurprising as they are effective. From the chilling prologue to the ominous trek through the wastelands to the pulse-raising first sight of gorilla troops, the sense of foreboding is palpable. As for the ending, it’s one of the greatest cinema rug-pullings ever and nothing short of iconic. Just mindblowing.

Standing the test of time, the original Planet Of The Apes is a genuine science-fiction classic for which smart movie-fans everywhere will still go ape.

Reviewed on: 20 May 2010
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Astronauts crash-land on a world ruled by apes.
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Director: Franklin J Schaffner

Writer: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling, Pierre Boulle

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

Year: 1968

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: US

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