Monday, August 24, 2015

MR Planet of the Apes (1968)

It's about time I reviewed this science-fiction classic.

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

Movie: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner 
Release date 1968
Genre Science-fiction/Social fantasy/Post-apocalyptic film
Country USA

Who hasn't heard of Planet of the Apes?

This huge franchise spawning over decades and across all mediums was originally a science-fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle. Released in 1963, his novel "La Planète des Singes" was first translated in English  translated as Monkey Planet. The book was about this human astronaut landing on a planet where some kind of reversal happened, it was full of intelligent apes and the humans there appear to be simply wild animals. The book has a satirical tone, and Boulle never liekd to call his work "science-fiction", rather he always saw it as a fantasy piece.

Naturally, due to the huge impression his book left, words of a film adaptation quickly began.

"La Planète des Singes" quickly got the attention of an American film producer, Arthur P. Jacobs. At first hesitant to adapt it himself, since as he said "King Kong had already been made", but he finally set on making the film of a story with this much potential. Once he secured the rights, Jacobs needed to find someone to direct the film. He saw several filmmakers during this process, were he was finally able to get veteran TV writer Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, aboard the project. Rod Serling would script the film. He did a great job adapting the story for the big screen and keeping most of it intact, but he would also play up the Cold War theme and put a much bigger emphasis on the twist at the end of the film, hinting at a nuclear fallout.

Planet of the Apes was set to be one of the most expensive films at the time, no studio in Hollywood wanted to make something like this back then (which still is only a fraction of most blockbuster budgets nowadays to be fair). With production that quickly falling in place,they were able to get legendary actor Charlton Heston to star, who then got director Franklin J. Schaffner on board as well, which would finally convince 20th Century Fox to produce the film. The crew of producers and writers on Planet of the Apes already worked on another adaptation of Boulle's novels, The Bridge over the River Kwai. The only real notable concision they had to make was to change the ape society to a more primitive form unlike the more advance society from the novel, to limit the costs of the special effects.

The cast was rounded by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall playing the sympathetic chimpanzees, Linda Harrison playing Heston's human love interest and Maurice Evans as the now iconic villain Dr. Zaius.

Help, the human's about to escape!!

The tale begins aboard a spacecraft, the "Icarus" Liberty 1. Aboard the spaceship, four passengers are waiting in cryostasis for their ship to land at destination, an experimental hundred years-long travel to what they expect to be another star system. They are not aging, of course, since they will sleep for most of the travel. But suddenly, an unexpected condition forces the ship to crash land. Upon awakening they find out the fourth astronaut, a woman, did not survive.

Now Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Taylor (Heston) are forced to venture outside this strange world. At first glimpse it looks like another inhabitable planet like Earth. They can breath oxygen and there's plenty of water to drink. They roam across the land until they reach greener lands. They find what appears to look like other humans. And they're being hunted! By primates!!

It turns out this planet is in the hands of higher evolved apes, while humans are instead the wild animals. Gorillas appear to be the bulk of the workers and soldiers, smarter chimpanzees have the roles of scientists and intellectuals and orangutans seem to be in control of the government. Taylor loses sight of his friends and is wounded at the throat. He can't talk anymore. He is taken to some kind of compound where this Dr Zira appears to be conducting several types of experiments. Zira is an animal psychologist. He "mate" is Dr Cornelius. Zira dubs Taylor "bright eyes". From her perspective, "bright eyes" appear to be smarter than all the other humans. She thinks humans might be more than meets the eye, but the great science minister Dr Zaius doesn't want to hear anything from it. Zira gets a "girlfriend" to Taylor, Nova.

Taylor is able to escape from the labs, since he's no animal. They all find out he can talk!

The rest of the film takes us to the "Forbidden Zone", a mystical place in ape culture where they claim life originally came from. Taylor finds himself on the run, helped by our sympathetic chimp scientists. Dr. Zaius has always known the truth about their ape planet and he doesn't want it to get out.

In the end they discover some ruins of what appeared to be our own mankind deep beneath the ground. They allow Taylor to run off.. where he finds out a half-buried Statue of Liberty... Those maniacs! They finally did it! They blew up the world! It was Earth all along, the year is actually 3975...

Can I play the piano anymore?

At heart both the original novel and this first 1968 film are the story of those three human explorers from Earth that crash landed on a distorted planet where they find a civilized intelligent ape society as the dominant species and humans are the ones reduced as wild animals.

The original idea came to Pierre Boulle has he was inspired by the very human-like comportment and expressions of the gorillas he saw at the zoo. Which got him thinking about the relationship between animals and man. He then wrote a narrative, inspired by the likes of  Jonathan Swift's own satirical classic story Gulliver's Travels.

Planet of the Apes is not exactly a pure-science-fiction story. It merely uses the genre to make this comment on society. That's why he always preferred to call his story "social fantasy". Book and movie have lots of themes going for it. Alluding to mankind's over-reliance on technology (which would get a bigger role in later installments), as well as segregation, racial tension, etc. How we take our own intelligence for granted.

Planet of the Apes was originally supposed to be filmed in England, but in a brilliant move they ended up moving the production to US locations. They were able to find some places that could actually work as this "alien" yet familiar landscape. Most of the film was in fact filmed in the Utah desert.

It's a classic film, brilliantly directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. There's a long build up to the first appearance of the apes on screen, an idea taken from the similar previous film King Kong. In a brilliant role reversal, Taylor ends up stripped from his clothes for most of the films while the apes are always found in traditional costumes and garbs. For the apes, Taylor is just an animal after all.

The finale in which Taylor comes upon the now-ruined Statue of Liberty is perhaps the film's most defining scene, despite coming so late at the end (and it's always spoiled on covers, posters and DVD menus nowadays). Like the film itself this twist ending has since become an iconic image of its own, leaving a deep mark on 1960s film imagery. The finale was and remains powerful, impressive. And yet it only took the use of both paper maché for the huge replica we glimpse from an overshot and this gorgeous matte painting perfectly integrated in the film.

Our hero thought he had found an alien planet ruled by apes... but it was Earth's distant future all along, a future where the apes rule the planet...

Ooh, help me Dr. Zaius!

When you stop to think about it, all the clues were presented to you all along. This astronaut crashlands on some mysterious distant planet, yet as "alien" as this world appears to be the apes appear to be talking proper fluent English! What are the chances you would find another planet with a similar language, it doesn't take a genius to calculate those odds... It was just our own world in the distant future, in a world where the simians took over the planet! Our protagonist never notices it, but it's actually a quite clever hint.

Planet of the Apes is such a captivating science-fiction film, one of the best of the genre produced that decade.

Thanks to stunning effects bringing these talking apes to life. Great camera work, great use of natural scenery. Establishing our tale in this untamed wilderness, a place where our three astronauts stuck out. The first appearance of the talking apes is magistral and impressive. Great sound effects and music that keep us on our toes.

All in all, it's a pretty smart movie. With some great fight scenes. The ape culture seems intriguing and we only get a brief glimpse at it. There's also a few clever jokes and allusions, such as the scene in which the ape council cover their ears, eyes and mouth during Zira defense speech for Taylor.

Another of the many great aspects of this film is how fun Charlton Heston performance as Taylor is in the film. He doesn't play this role as your traditional hero, he's more of a jerk through the entire film to both his other co-astronauts at the beginning of the film or the apes and the other humans later on. He has a great dynamic with our duo of scientist chimps and a great chemistry with most characters he interacts with.

Strangely, part of me never really liked much to see him get with Nova, the mute human girl. She always seem more animal than human, species aside. It would have felt less weird to seem him get with an intelligent sentient talking ape than some kind of animalistic human. But that might just be me.

The film has a lot going for it, you can approach it from all kinds of angles, it has a lot of philosophical, social, and racial subtext - specially for a film from that era! Great iconic imagery and a really memorable twist ending that made it part of pop culture for generations.

Yes, you've finally made a monkey out of me

Planet of the Apes has pretty good special effects and make-up prosthetics. At the time the film had one of the biggest budgets for make-up alone, over $1 million (about a sixth of its entire budget).

The film was able to reach a huge audience beyond B-movie filmgoers that were the only ones more used to science-fiction films. IT was an amazing film which became a huge hit with ease.

The film is a pure produce of the 1960s culture, with imagery and allusions to nuclear weaponry, the Cold War, racial tension, urban decay and even gun violence.

The music was brilliantly composed by one of my favorite film composers, Jerry Goldsmith. He did a great modern score compared to what came out of that decade. Using great modern techniques and the use of the use of percussions and other instruments to create an eerie unsettling feel through Taylor's journey.

The film was released on February 1968 to a great reception from both critics and the audiences. The film would be nominated for two Academy Awards (which you really don't see happen much nowadays with the science-fiction genre). For both its 'Original Score' and the fantastic 'Costume Design'. It would break most box office records back then and get the film an honorary Oscare for "Make-up effects".

Originally 20th Century Fox approached Jacobs and Abrahams to make a sequel, despite not having made the film with sequels in mind. Rod Serling only wrote a brief outline, an idea to use for possible sequels.

Overall, Planet of the Apes is a timeless cult classic. Often imitated, rarely equaled.

Such a fantastic and imaginative film! For better or worse, it become one of the most influential and better early examples of a good post-apocalyptic movie out there. On a second experience the film can be read entirely differently. It's one of those rare better examples of a twist ending making an entire film a better experience.

At the time of its release Planet of the Apes became a huge commercial success. Arthur P. Jacobs would stay on helm of the series producing them under APJAC Productions until his death in 1973. Since then 20th Century Fox has owned the entire rights to the franchise. It was a huge influential film that helped define the whole post-apocalyptic genre.

Besides a pacing that starts a bit slow even for 1968, the film didn't really age that much specially compared to the other films in the series. As such this one comes Highly Recommended to any movie fan worth his dime out there!

Of course, you can imagine Planet of the Apes would be translated trough all kinds of mediums and receive its fair share of continuations - counting sequels, prequels, TV adaptations, movie remakes and reboots!

There would be a second adaption of Pierre Boulle's La Planète des Singes, the very loose infamous 2001 remake by Tim Burton. As well as a 1975 animated series titled Return to the Planet of the Apes, which unlike most other Apes installment was a direct continuation of the original novel.

The 1968 Planet of the Apes film would be followed by four sequels, released between 1970 and 1973: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. A live action TV series would follow those films in 1974.

Finally after Tim Burton's disastrous take, the series would get stuck in development hell until it was completely rebooted with a fresh new start in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a sort of reimagining of Conquest, which was itself followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, this time more or less based on ideas from Battle. A third new episode is expected for 2017, titled War of the Planet of the Apes.

There's been all kinds of merchandising tie-ins, comic books, video games and toys. From Marvel Comics' classic 1970s black & white comics which saw renowned comic book authors such as Doug Moench and Gerry Conway work on those, to two Japanese manga adaptations, to the recent BOOM! Studios books set in both the classic Ape movie continuity as well as the new reboot film series.

I give it:
3 / 3 VaultBoys!

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