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Planet of the Apes Movie Review

taylor humans heston zira

1968 – Franklin J. Schaffner –

It is strange to see an astronaut smoking a cigar on a space ship, but that is what happens in the opening scene of Planet of the Apes. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) dictates his final entry into an audio time capsule prior to putting himself to sleep for the rest of the journey … a journey through time as well as space, since he and his crew are testing a theory about time/space travel that they hope will return them safely to Earth. However, the ship crashes and Taylor and his crew wake up two thousand years later on a planet run by apes. Man now becomes the animal, and the apes, who speak perfect English, control society. It is a fascinating premise (one sure to be loved by animal rights activists), and a great twist comes in at the end.

Although some of Jerry Goldsmith's music may be a bit cliched (he seems to like the anticipatory ominous chords), the passages underscoring Taylor's escape effectively add to the excitement of the chase. The film style is somewhat uneven as well. In the opening crash scene, for example, the camera simply twists and turns over and over to depict the downward fall of the spacecraft, but the action scenes are handled in a suggestive, mysterious way that makes the viewer alert for potential danger. Some breathtaking panoramas also appear. Exteriors were shot at Lake Powell, Utah, and Page, Arizona, while the surprise ending was filmed at Point Dunne, California.

Under all the heavy costumes and thick makeup, the acting manages to stand out. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter do a wonderful job as Cornelius and Dr. Zira, a very loving simian couple who befriend Taylor. Charlton Heston is … well, Heston. His typical arrogance and headstrong nature suit perfectly a representative of an overconfident culture about to find himself in a position of subservience. A non-empathetic actor like Heston makes the humbling Taylor gets more effective (“Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women. Lots of love-making but no love. You see, that was the kind of world we'd made”). Maurice Evans is marvelous as Dr. Zaius, the ape zealot for religion and science who is referred to as both the “Chief Defender of the Faith” and the “Minister of Science.” Linda Harrison plays Nova, Taylor's new girlfriend. Since all of the humans on the planet are mute, she may be the best actor in the cast. Her longing looks are very convincing.

Planet of the Apes certainly deserved its nomination for best costume design (no category for best makeup existed, though John Chambers was awarded an honorary Oscar for his work in creating the convincing apes). Not only do the apes appear life-like and believable, but their facial makeup, which achieves several different looks, is unusually expressive. The male hunter and guard monkey seem to have one look (that of a common simian) while the intelligent, scientist monkey, such as Cornelius and Dr. Zira, have a softer, more keen look to them. And then there is the elite monkey like Dr. Zaius, Honorious, and the President of the Assembly. Their features reveal a lighter coloring (a latent prejudice in the film?) and a more regal and distinguished behavior.

Planet of the Apes finds much of its epic quality in reversing how we see the world. By making our closest relative in the animal kingdom the ruler, the screenwriters show humans being caged and tested, prodded, tortured, given over to medical and scientific experiments, and exploited. “Humans see, humans do,” an ape remarks. The film does not fail at developing its premise in a thought-provoking way.

The popularity of the film led in quick succession to four sequels. First came Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1969), in which a second mission is sent to find the missing crew from the first. In the 39th century, man has still not learned to live in peace. He has the bomb, and Taylor, seeing how the world of the apes and the mutant humans can never co-exist, uses it to destroy the planet. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1970) sends Zira, Cornelius, and Milo (Sal Mineo) back to the twentieth century to escape the nuclear obliteration of their age. Zira is pregnant with the monkey child who will challenge human supremacy on Earth. In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), the apes turn on the humans and defeat them to assume control of the planet. Finally, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), set in 2670 after a nuclear devastation, shows the efforts of a group of mutant humans to disrupt and defeat peaceful apes. Two television series followed, the second one an animated cartoon.

Cast: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Dr. Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr. Galen), Paul Lambert (Minister) Screenwriter: Rod Serling, Michael Wilson Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy Composer: Jerry Goldsmith Producer: Mort Abrahams for Apjac and Twentieth Century Fox MPAA Rating: G Running Time: 112 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: National Board of Review Awards 1968: 10 Best Films of the Year; Academy Awards 1968: Nominations: Costume Design, Original Score.

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