Monday, June 6, 2016

Planet Of The Apes!


I was only ten (I turn fifty-nine today...sheesh) when I first saw Planet of the Apes in the theater. It was a new movie, a high-profile science fiction movie, something relatively rare in 1968. Needless to say it left an impression. To my memory I never went to the theater to see any of the sequels, but I do have specific memories of this debut.


The plot everyone knows. Three astronauts imagine they are on a distant world hundreds if not thousands of years after their own times and instead discover that the world they find is their own, inhabited by humans who are effectively animals in behavior and assorted apes (gorillas, chimps, and orangutans) who are the ascendant and intelligent race on the planet. The astronauts are driven apart during a wild hunt which results in one being captured, another being mutilated, and a third killed. Eventually the truth about the planet is learned, but it has a steep cost for our hero.


Charlton Heston was a box office hero back then, a handsome tough hero who had been in many films, the guy was freaking Moses for gosh sakes. So when he shows up in this movie as Taylor, a hero sure, but an arrogant son of bitch for sure too, it was a complex brew. Taylor, the leader of the three astronauts (the other two are Robert Gunner as Landon and Jeff Burton as Dodge) who crash land on the planet is a misanthrope and at times a very nasty guy.


Whatever process the government used to select its astronauts, it seemed not exceedingly effective as they fell out with one another almost immediately on a mission which by definition was pretty much intended as a one-way ticket.


My favorite part of the movie though is the trek through the "Forbidden Zone" at the beginning. The desolate landscape which dwarfs the men and the bizarre music combine to really offer up an alien feel to the whole thing. I really feel that we are headed into something strange and something which will require some mental adjustments. They take their time in this portion of the movie and it pays off for this viewer.


The infamous human hunt which introduces us to the apes, specifically the gorillas is a fantastic melee of violence and chaos which at its finale pays off the scene with the truly weird hunting camp, humans hung upside down and talking apes in the banal but frightening picture taking scene. The clash of action and bizarre really strikes the memory.


Ape City is unusual and in this modern day seems a little unimpressive given what we've seen to this point. I rather like the architecture of the interiors, but I don't really understand why this scheme is any more apelike than some other approach. I know cost dictated the nature of the village and it does have a specific character, but it doesn't really track with the logic of the show.


The satire of the show really begins to hum when the gorillas take their infamous photo and ramps up when Zira (Kim Hunter) walks into the holding cells for human. The weirdness of Zira's fascination with Taylor contrasted with his relative indifference to Nova (Linda Harrison) makes for one of the oddest triangles in all of film, and which points up the sociological message of the movie all the more. This gets another kick when Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) gets thrown into this offbeat menage'quatre.


Planet of the Apes is a movie which does its damnedest to bring arrogant humankind to its knees and get us to see that we live in a complicated world full of far more differences than similarities. The nefarious way the creators of the movie mislead us with their ending is thematically elegant. We celebrate our hero's escape, his ability to assert his will and achieve in this crazy planet some measure of autonomy. Just when he reasserts his control over his own perception of himself (by shaving his beard) he is thrown for the ultimate loop when he finds that all he imagined about the world in which he lives is that he never left the world he hated all along.


Planet of the Apes is a science fiction movie, a satirical fable, and more. It successfully combines social commentary and entertainment into a delightful singularity which rises above the details of genre and craftsmanship and becomes art. 


It's a movie which never needed a sequel, but of course it got plenty. More to come.

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10 comments:

  1. One of the best sci-fi movies ever and definitely in my top ten favorites of all time. Happy birthday!

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    1. I'd have to agree with that assessment. And thanks for the good wishes.

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    1. A documentary which came with the my set of DVDs has the Robinson screen test, he's pretty good. Too bad he didn't do it. The movie pushes the envelope of credibility, but like many a good narrative keeps you wrapped up sufficiently to not ask most of the questions until later. Less clever movies let you fall out of story and start carping about the mistakes sooner.

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    2. The makeup design from the screen test was reused in the Lost in Space episode "Fugitives in Space".

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  3. It's interesting watching the movie these days knowing that it was mostly shot at the 20th Century Fox Malibu "Ranch", where the MASH TV series was shot....all of a sudden it seems like Charlton Heston and co. crashed in Korea.

    And given the high standard of many movie posters in the sixties, I always thought POTA's poster was a bit of a let-down.

    Full marks for that "Behind The Planet Of The Apes" documentary, though....oh that all classic films could have such a quality extra.

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    1. I have some of the same distraction with the setting now too, it's so familiar from so many other features and shows over the years. Like Bronson Canyon, it takes you out of the feature a little bit.

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  4. "I was only ten (I turn fifty-nine today...sheesh)"

    I feel your pain.
    I turn 58 next Saturday (the 18th)

    On an Apes note, I went to the "Go Apes for a Day" marathon with my best friend, Bob Beck, who did a dead-on Roddy McDowell impersonation...and knew all the lines by heart!
    The audience members arond us kept looking around when he did key lines along with on-screen Cornelius and Ceasar, wondering where McDowell was!

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    1. The old days when you had to go the theater. I've gotten so slack about that stuff, depending on DVD and TV for my entertainment. Back then I was in the theater a few times a week at least. Not necessary now, but there is still something missing. Like not having to search all over town for comics, a pain in the ass, but nostalgia makes it seem like more fun than it probably was.

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  5. One of my favourite moments in any film when Charlton Heston sees an ape on horseback for the first time and the music accentuates a brilliant moment

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