Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Planet of the Apes (1968)

"You who are reading me now are a different breed - I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets. But one more thing - if anybody's listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It's purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man's ego. I feel lonely. That's about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor's children starving?"

- Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the prologue of Planet of the Apes (1968)

Franklin J. Schaffner's Planet of the Apes isn't only my all-time favorite movie.  I also happen to believe it  is the finest, most artistic work of science fiction film making produced in over one hundred years of cinema history.  

Planet of the Apes is a rousing action piece and a compelling mystery, but it's more than that. It is a detailed, convincing glimpse of an alien world never before imagined -- and on a scale never before seen --but yet it's more than that too. 

It's also a wicked satire that takes dead aim at man's self-destructive tendencies and delusions of grandeur.  Written by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, and based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes truly concerns the world of men during the Vietnam Era.  And it's not a pretty picture. 

I realize that to state that a film (or any particular work of art) is "best" reads like silly hyperbole, or at the very least like an amusing fan boyish caricature from The Simpsons, but I hope to argue my case.  When judging if a film ranks at the apex of its genre, one must consider a number of important benchmarks or thresholds. 

First, does the film succeed on a level beyond mere entertainment?  In other words, does the production in question make you look at the world and mankind himself in a new or different way?

Secondly, and this is especially important in regards to a science fiction film, does the movie expand the boundaries of the art-form itself? And in doing so, does it reveal to the audience something never before witnessed in the history of the cinema?  Simply put, does it use an advancement in film technique or methodology to transport us to a new place?

Additionally, one can certainly measure the success of a film by its impact on the overall culture.  Has the film entered the pop culture lexicon in near-permanent fashion, extended its reach beyond one generation and one demographic, and changed, essentially, the very face of the science fiction film tradition in the process?

Lastly, and this is my own critical benchmark, based on my experience with film as a visual art form, does the form of the film's presentation deliberately and intelligently mirror the content?  Do the visuals find symbolic ways of relating an important theme or other aspect of the narrative?

On all those fronts, one can answer in the affirmative about Planet of the Apes.

In the first category (success on a plateau beyond mere entertainment), the film asks a trenchant question about mankind and then spends 111 minutes hours answering that question.  Planet of the Apes' main character, astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) is a self-described "seeker" who leaves Earth behind because he believes there must be "something better than man" out there...somewhere."  He wants to know as well if man has outgrown his war like ways, if he has changed.

In answering Taylor's interrogative, Planet of the Apes searches for some deep (and dark...) truths about the human species and the nature of our life here on Earth. 

Again, the film provides answers based largely on how the writers viewed man in the era of the Cold War, in the turbulent 1960s.  This was an era when the Civil Rights Movement had not yet assured equality for all, and in which there was a strong youth or counter-culture movement.  It was a time in which it seemed possible (at least following the Cuban Missile Crisis) that all human life could end in a flash.  Old ideas and pillars of American society were being overturned, even as America was building up a nuclear arsenal that could tear down much more.

In terms of the second benchmark -- technological advancement -- Planet of the Apes certainly fits the bill.  In particular, John Chambers' (1923 - 2001) expressive and unique apes make-up appliances transformed dozens of actors into convincing-looking simians using a newly designed compound consisting of foam rubber.

Chambers' unforgettable make-up design made Planet of the Apes likely "the best effects film of the pre-digital era" and won him an honorary Academy Award for his achievement.  Chambers' special make-up effects not only succeeded in making talking apes seem plausible, the expressive nature of the appliances actually permitted the actors to develop full-blown personalities, facial tics and quirks for their simian characters.  The apes weren't monolithic "monsters" in rubber suits, but rather readily identifiable as personalities and people.

The believable make-up thus allowed audiences to visit a world populated entirely by believable but essentially alien characters.  By the dozen; large and small; young and adult.   In conjunction with fine costuming and production design, the make-up effects transformed Planet of the Apes into a travelogue of another alternate reality, a tangible one both meticulously conceived and executed.

In terms of impact, it's virtually impossible to question Planet of the Apes or its place in the film pantheon. It has been "aped" (if you'll excuse the pun) in films such as Hell Comes to Frogtown (1986) -- a kind of Planet of the Frogs -- and in countless other films that find a man (usually a scientist or astronaut) out-of-time, or alone dealing with a hostile world or society.  The 1970s version of The Omega Man owes a lot to Planet of the Apes, down to the casting of Charlton Heston in the lead role of the ostensibly last surviving human.

The film has also been satirized in Spaceballs (1987), in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), and on The Simpsons, and is probably the most heavily quoted Hollywood movie outside of This is Spinal Tap (1984). We all remember (with glee...) Heston utterances such as "get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape," or "damn you all to Hell!" 

Additionally, the original film has been sequelized, adapted to television series format, animated for Saturday mornings, re-imagined, and  is now countenancing a prequel.  For over thirty years, Planet of the Apes merchandise and comics have also proven exceedingly popular items.

On the fourth front, Planet of the Apes remembers -- in ways both droll and weird -- that its form should echo its content.  One scene (pictured at the top of this post...)  physically recreates an old Chinese proverb about three "wise" monkey who see, speak and hear no evil. 

Another sequence, set by the picturesque ocean, reminds us that we are but grains of sand in time compared to the endless, never-ending, never-changing tide.  Man may live and die, but time marches on, oblivious to who is master of the universe. 

And last but never least, the film's stunning climax literalizes the specifics of man's spiritual downfall.  Lady Liberty herself -- a clarion symbol of man's self-determination and love of freedom -- lays half-buried, rusted and forgotten in the sand, right alongside those ancient ideals.  Just imagine, for a moment, witnessing this ending for the first time; in a movie theater in 1968.  That Statue of Liberty moment captured the national Zeitgeist in an important way, and still carries incredible resonance.

Of course, there are other very serious contenders for best "sci fi" film. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a great film; no doubt. And the Russian version of Solaris from the 1970s is another masterwork; an unacknowledged well-spring of ideas for many American films and television programs. And there will be those folks who champion instead  Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), or even Star Wars (1977).

I don't begrudge anyone their selection, or the reasons behind that selection. But the purpose of this post is not to argue for these films, or for that matter to put them down in any way.  Rather it is to laud Planet of the Apes for what it remains over forty years after its theatrical release: a remarkable and visually-accomplished text that functions and excels on a variety of thematic and narrative levels simultaneously.

The question is not so much where we are as when we are.

An ANSA spaceship carrying four human astronauts crashes on a mysterious planet after several months in deep space.

The three surviving astronauts, Taylor (Charlton Heston), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Landon (Robert Gunner), believe they have traveled 300 light years from Earth, to the constellation Orion.

They also check their ship's chronometer and learn that Dr. Hasslein's theory of time travel at light speed is correct. Although they left Earth in 1972, their chronometer verifies that it is now November 25, 3978.

The humans brave an arid, seemingly endless desert as they leave behind the dead lake where their ship sunk, and soon discover that primitive humans exist on this world. But the natives are mute savages...unevolved and unsophisticated.

Then comes the real kicker: the planet is ruled by intelligent, civilized apes. The astronauts lose track of one another in a ferocious hunt of the savage humans (a tense, sustained action set-piece), and Taylor ends up in Ape City as a ward of a chimpanzee scientist, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), an expert in human behavior.

She and her fiancee Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), a chimp archaeologist, soon learn that Taylor -- unlike all the other humans they have encountered -- can both speak and reason.

The chimpanzee duo defends this unusual human specimen (whom they name "Bright Eyes") from Dr. Zaius (Evans), a self-righteous orangutan administrator who serves as both Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith in Ape City.

Zaius, as it turns out, has very good reason to despise humans, and to fear Taylor.  He knows from knowledge of the Sacred Scrolls that apes inherited their world from men.  And that men nearly destroyed...everything.

Taylor and a savage human consort, Nova (Linda Harrison), flee Ape City with the aid of Zira and Cornelius, who have been accused of heresy for defending the human and advancing the "insidious" theory known as evolution. Together, they head back to the Forbidden Zone to seek the truth of Taylor's heritage.

 Finally, as the ocean tides endlessly beat against a rocky shore, Taylor comes face to face with mankind's legacy and destiny. A strange rusted statue jutting out of rock and sand is mankind's ultimate epitaph and Taylor's evidence that he has at last returned home. In the sand he sees...The Statue of Liberty.

"You finally did it!" He exclaims, pounding the sand at his feet. "You blew it up! You maniacs...God damn you all to Hell!"

I'm a seeker too. But my dreams aren't like yours. I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man.

Many of the reasons I admire Planet of the Apes concern the nature and disposition of the film's protagonist, George Taylor.

In particular, this astronaut is an avowed cynic and misanthrope. Taylor boasts no love for mankind when he leaves Earth for outer space.

"Tell me," he rhetorically asks in the equivalent of a Captain's log, "does man - that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars - still make war against his brothers? Keep his neighbor's children starving?"

Then, after landing in the wasteland of the Forbidden Zone, Landon and Taylor bicker about their predicament. Taylor pokes fun at his companion for displaying an American flag on the shore line of the dead lake. The absurdity of patriotism and hence jingoism -- a reflection of Taylor's earlier comments about man making war on his brothers -- in this far flung place and time is not lost on a bitter Taylor.

Angry, Landon asks him what makes him tick then, if not patriotism or nationalism. "You're negative; you despise people," Landon accurately summarizes his skipper's attitude. Taylor doesn't disagree. His reply is: "I just can't help thinking in the universe there has to be something better than man..."

As you can guess from the film's title, Taylor's quest for something in the universe better than man will soon turn into a cosmic joke.  His quest will be turned against him.

These early scenes establish Taylor's character in a clever way. He's a cynic and critic of man, and suddenly, he finds himself the only intelligent human on a planet of apes. The man who hates mankind is thus forced into the position of being the defender of the species. This is an incredibly ironic development. 

Taylor knows all of mankind's flaws too well.  He calls our culture one in which there is "plenty of love-making but precious little love..." He has searched the stars for something better, but now must be man's advocate and champion on a world in which man has fallen low. What a rich set-up for the film's central debate, and one which fits the production's overriding conceit: that of a world turned upside down; of somebody who boasts one rigid agenda, yet is forced by circumstance to countenance another.  Heston is perfect for the role, as critic Pauline Kael wrote, a kind of ideal "strong" American figure.

Importantly, Taylor -- despite his feelings about man -- is also representative of the culture he hates.  He is arrogant, noting of the primitive humans that if they are "the best" the planet's got, he and his cohorts will be running the planet in "six months."  He is also cruel, showing no compassion or sympathy for Landon.  In fact, he takes great pleasure in Landon's discomfort and unease.  As much as Taylor hates what man has become, he is that man he hates.  And it's fascinating to watch a self-loathing human being put in the position of defending himself and his species.

Taylor's fascinating journey - from hater of mankind to last defender of the species - would mean little were he not faced with a powerful, worthy nemesis. Fortunately, the screenplay for Planet of the Apes provides him a terrific opponent in Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). Zaius, like Taylor, is a man divided by two thoughts. On one hand, he is honor bound and professionally responsible for the advancement of science.  And science by nature, is impartial.

On the other hand, Zaius also serves as Chief Defender of the Faith, which means he must rigorously maintain the apes' belief in their own superiority, transmitted through the auspices of organized religion. "There is no contradiction between faith and science," he asserts to Taylor at one point in the film; but clearly...there is.

Although Ape Culture is rife with commentary that asserts the simian as the supreme creature of the land ("The Almighty created the ape in his own image," is one very telling ape proverb), Zaius knows the dark truth: that apes rose because man fell; that the return of intelligent, technological man would inevitably spell the end of the ape dominion.

What I love about Dr. Zaius is this fact: by some point of view - perhaps another "upside down" or "inverted" one, in fact - he is the film's unlikely hero. Yes, he hates man and is ruthless to mankind. He performs lobotomies on man, and wants to see the species exterminated. Yet as we learn at the end of the film, he has valid reasons for his fear and loathing of humanity.

After all, It was the humans, not the apes, who turned their cities into deserts in a nuclear war. The 29th Scroll - part of the ape dogma thus warns: "beware the beast man. For he is the devil's pawn." Zaius understands the meaning behind the flowery prose and tells Taylor. "The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it ages ago."

In some sense, by preventing a new ascendancy of man, Zaius believes he is saving the planet Earth for future generations, just as he informs young Lucius. A great movie villain is one who believes in his cause; who believes that he is righteous.  And that's Zaius. He believes he carries all of ape civilization upon his shoulders.

Thus Planet of the Apes offers two very strong characters in dynamic opposition. It sends each of them on a journey in which their faith is tested by each other, and ultimately their prejudices are reinforced. Zaius believes man is a primitive destroyer of all things, and after dealing with Taylor, believes that more strongly than ever.

Taylor leaves Earth believing man is a war-like barbarian who would destroy his brother for his brother's land, and -- when faced with the Statue of Liberty -- realizes that he was absolutely right. Man's hunger for territory, for war, did ultimately destroy him. It made the apes supreme and turned the world "upside down."

It's a mad house! A mad house!

The ape culture as depicted so well in the film is a twisted reflection of our own; a mirror held up to our primate faces.  In fact, the film invites us to laugh at the apes' homilies and ridiculous, self-centered beliefs. 

For instance, the belief that only apes possess a soul, or that the ape was created in God's image.   I mean, that's just silly right?

Of course, it is not the apes being lampooned here...it is us, and our belief system.  When spoken by apes, the self-centeredness of such grandiose beliefs become plain...and laughable.  And Planet of the Apes is gutsy as hell for pointing it out; that mankind has constructed an egotistical mythology about his Godliness that doesn't necessarily fit the facts.  If we're so Godly, why do we let children starve?  If we are the only creatures on God's green Earth with souls, why don't we make better use of them?  Why don't we help the poor, or the weak?

Specifically, Planet of the Apes looks at our culture in terms of religious fanaticism.  The apes -- like most 2012 Republican presidential candidates, apparently -- believe that "evolution is an insidious theory."   Instead of answering questions with science or facts, Zaius constantly falls back on quoting Ape Scripture from the Sacred Scrolls.  The Ape Culture is clearly a theocracy, one that maintains the power of the few at the expense of the many.  As long as the Lawgiver's precepts of ape superiority -- really self-glorification -- are not challenged; this will not change.

The film also gazes at affirmative action and race relations, noting that "a quota system" had been established and then abolished.  "All men look alike to most apes," Zira notes at one point, touching on the sin of racism and thus furthering and deepening the film's social commentary.

Basically, the ape society is structured in Planet of the Apes to make us realize the insanity and "upside down" quality of our own religious and ethnic precepts. As long as we cling to such arrogant and egotistical notions - such irrational notions that the world is ours to do with as we please because we're God's "select" -- we are at risk of destroying ourselves.  Hubris precedes a great fall...

In witnessing the ape culture, we get a pretty good idea of how humanity could destroy himself.  The apes are capricious, combative, judgmental and essentially unfair because power rests with the few (the orangutans) and not the average ape.  It's a case of "monkey see, monkey do."  The ape culture functions this way because the human culture it is based on functioned this way too.  We see the apes in us, and us in the apes, to spell out the dynamic.

Planet of the Apes is also fervently anti-war, which is important since the film was released at the height of the Vietnam "police action." Here, the screenwriters imagine a world wherein man's predilection to "kill his neighbors for his neighbor's land" is taken to its logical conclusion: the destruction of civilization altogether.

The barren Forbidden Zone is what remains of New York after a deadly nuclear war. The film's final image, of the Statue of Liberty half-buried in the sand tells us everything we need to know. Mankind has forsaken his spoken ideals of peace and love for wars of conquest. He has destroyed himself and his world over petty, transitory, ideology (capitalism vs. communism, we assume...).

Consequently, the beliefs we hold now about freedom, liberty and God's Will shall ultimately prove nothing but ruined artifacts for future archaeologists to puzzle over.  They are but grains of sand on the beach of eternity. The waves just keep rolling in from the ocean. Rolling in and washing away everything...even mankindPerhaps the ocean represents an impartial God, unchangeable in the face of a changing Earth.

The ocean and the waves of the Forbidden Zone are cleansing on one hand, and also, strangely, impartial on the other. No matter what man (or ape) does, the tides just keep coming, and the ages pass. Civilizations rise and fall unmourned, and the tides take no notice.   In the end, the only way we can be truly immortal is to be remembered.  And how do we want to be remembered?  As destroyers of a world?  As mute, dumb savages?  Planet of the Apes seriously takes man of the nuclear age to task for his crazy dance up to the precipice of self-destruction and global annihilation.

Or as Zaius notes, "I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself."  This comment is both true and hypocritical.  It is true of man, but is also true of Zaius's Ape culture. 

In terms of its structure, Planet of the Apes is beautifully realized and perfectly paced.  The film opens with Taylor's question in the prologue (about the nature of man, and whether it has changed), and then descends into chaotic madness as his spaceship crashes. 

Created in the days before CGI, the film's opening crash sequence is downright stunning. There are no conventional modern special effects to speak of here. Instead, the film adopts dizzying P.O.V. camerawork, as if we're riding the nose of the rocket ourselves. The footage has been tweaked to make it more dramatic - sped up and turned upside down at points - to register the speed and angle of the crash. Even without contemporary visuals, however, the sequence is edited brilliantly. The terror of the crash is palpable.

After the crash, for nearly a half hour, the three lost astronauts explore the Forbidden Zone, and the location work is nothing short of stunning. So much of the movie's mood is "sold" to us here  in dramatic, alien-seeming long shots: utilizing the odd rock outcroppings of Death Valley and "big sky" of Arizona to represent the otherworldly Forbidden Zone.  But also, in these long outdoor sections of the film, something else important occurs.  We get to know who Taylor is.  We start to understand him. 

This is something the re-imagination of Planet of the Apes totally missed.  There, it took approximately fifteen short minutes to get Mark Wahlberg into contact with the apes, and consequently there was no time to develop his character; to make the audience like or sympathize with him.  When Ari (Helena Bonham) notes in that film that there is something special about Leo, her comment doesn't ring true to our viewing experience.  We simply don't know the guy, or detect anything particularly special or intriguing about him.  In the original film, when Zira befriends Taylor, we're already invested in his story and his personality.  He is established before we meet the apes at all.

Another great, and incredibly elaborate scene depicts the hunt in the corn-field.  This sequence gives the audience the first stunning look at the apes (armed, and on horseback).  Forty years later, this action scene remains powerful and even a bit terrifying, because of the exquisite use of sound effects, quick cutting, and some very dangerous-looking stunt work.  Although it is a product of 1960s-1970s cinema techniques, Planet of the Apes endlessly impresses with such formalistic flourishes.

In closing, Planet of the Apes is, in some senses, a ruthless and brutal film.  It doesn't monkey around. It reveals to us a new world where man - because of his arrogance and hypocrisy - has been brought low before a new master race. The humor, seen in many ape proverbs, is absolutely chilling.  And the ending is unceasingly startling: the ultimate statement about mankind's predilection to destroy himself.

Far from being "upside-down" or crazy, Planet of the Apes makes a surfeit of common sense in its observations about human nature.  And by visualizing and speaking meaningfully of that "evil,"  the film proves endlessly stimulating.  Science fiction cinema has never been better.   It has never been stranger, sharper, nor more imaginative than here, in the realm of the talking apes.


  1. Hi JKM;

    Giving it a moment's thought, I would agree with you. Best SF film ever. Perfectly paced, exquisitely cast, and full of depth that it would take a book to discuss thoroughly (the ape caste-system, the advanced role of females in ape society as evidenced by Zira's ability to be taken seriously by the orang-utans, Taylor's Nietzche-influenced philosophy and its humbling). The avant-garde soundtrack and set design. An amazing movie.

  2. DLR:

    We're in agreement, then. In particular, I feel you are right that it would take a book (maybe two books...) to discuss thoroughly all of the social commentary in the film.

    I could only touch on some issues, and leave unexplored many more. This post could have gone on and on (and it is already long enough!)

    Thank you for your comment!


  3. I like your comment regarding the Tim Burton remake. Burton, in my mind, is a purely visual director who can only wrap his mind around a single theme; that is, a social misfit trying to find his place in the mainstream. That's not exactly what POTA was about, although the main character is out of place. The other major themes that you brought out in this review were quite beyond Burton's limited abilities.

    I'm interested to read your reviews of the sequels since they certainly ran far afield of the original's lofty goals. As a kid, I loved the sequels more than the original because they were essentially adventure films, but as an adult, I can see that the original is so much better.

  4. Hi Neal,

    I had purposely avoided re-watching the Burton Planet of the Apes until this week -- ten years after my first viewing. I had hoped that time would give me distance, and I would be better able to see the value of the film. Unfortunately, it's still pretty bad, for the reason I mentioned in this review, and for others as well.

    I think the original ape sequels have their ups and downs; but I generally like and appreciate them because even if an individual chapter is kind of unimpressive, it still fits into this five-cycle time loop, and plays an important part. I'm looking forward to revisiting all the apes film again.

    But the original is truly magnificent!

    Great comment,


  5. I had never thought before that The Planet of the Apes could be the best science fiction film, ever. I would have definitely ranked it Top Ten. Top three, a puzzle tossed up between Star Wars IV: A New Hope, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Forbidden Planet.

    But after reading this reviews, other things you've touched on in recent posts (Cameron's work, for example), posts at Space: 1970 and ANSANAUT's site, I believe that I've come around to agree with this film being the best. EVER.

    Another example of the incredible sound is at the end. While everyone credits the camera angles, so that we don't see Lady Liberty until the last shot, there must be a good minute of him, after he saw it, slowly riding up in shock, with the sounds of the waves eternally lapping onshore. No music. Just waves. Before, during, and after his comments. Brilliant...

    And coming to think about it... this might be the best film series ever, even knocking off Star Trek and Star Wars--which coming from me is a lot. I don't think any look at a destroyed civilization has ever looked better on film. The archaeological dig is utterly convincing, having seen a few photos of them (favorable comparable to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is not all about archaeology but the only film in the series to show a legitimate dig site...but then again, Raiders had more money, adjusted for inflation, I'm sure). Later in the cities, this quality will show up in New York and San Francisco, too.

    As uber-incredible as 2001 is...PotA is better. We've always believed that spaceship models and special effects make or break a science fiction film, largely, in American culture and in science fiction fandom. 1968 is clearly one of the best years for science fiction film-making ever, along with 1982---Blade Runner, Tron, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and a few other select years such as 1977---Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But those films all rely heavily on special effects. Not Planet of the Apes. This relies on makeup, costumes, and set design, but this is no mere costume drama. It more than anything else finds its strength in its direction, acting, and writing. Those three most important parts of film-making. The rest is window-dressing in comparison. We believe in the apes, we believe in Taylor, we believe in Nova. Not sure we can really believe as well in Poole, Bowman, Floyd, or Moon-Watcher.

    I love this film, can you tell? :)

    Gordon Long

  6. I remember reading your earlier piece on this seminal film from awhile back, and like the film, it's lost none of its keen insights, John. I need to watch this once more... but this time, on Blu-ray Disc. Thanks for this.

    p.s., I still have no inkling to re-watch Tim Burton's film. While I love many of his works, that one should be accompanied by remuneration.

  7. You certainly make a compelling argument for PLANET OF THE APES being the best science fiction film of all time. I think that 2001 might just edge it out but I would definitely rank it right up there with the very best. I also thought, in its own way, that THE QUIET EARTH was an incredibly brilliant SF film, underrated in some respects but it definitely wrestles with some fascinating themes.

    But back to APES... man, what can you say about this film? Not a huge Chuck Heston fan but he is perfectly cast in this film as a man of action but also an intelligent man of reason and I love how the film pits this man of reason up against a world he perceives as "mad."

    Looking forward to you tackling the other films in the series!

  8. Anonymous2:52 PM

    If Democrat President Johnson did not get us ever involved in the Vietnam "police action" War at all, then I wonder how different this film would have been?


  9. While I'll always love both POTA and 2001 as films, they both leave me somewhat depressed in that they both came out in 1968 and both seemed to harken a new age (a "space travel age" if you will) and here it is 2011, over 40 years later and it seems like that we are no closer (maybe even regressed somewhat) to that type of world were space travel would be part of everyday life.

  10. Wasn't ANSA the American counterpart to EUROSEC in "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun"? This film and 2001 to me are infinitely rewatchable, mainly because I do believe in their separate universes.I would have to give a slight edge to 2001, though. Thanks for another great review.

  11. Anonymous1:07 AM


    I wish only to issue praise of this film and your review. I just wanted to add a few grace notes...

    First, I love how in many scenes, when we hear Taylor speaking (notably when he, Zira, and Cornelius are following the canyon to the sea) his voice echoes back and I think that's a wonderful aural expression of the idea that Taylor represents both sides of man equally. It's as if the lost world of man is speaking back to him.

    Second, if you want to extend the idea of man destroying a paradise, you couldn't do much better than using Lake Powell to stand in for the Forbidden Zone - Glen Canyon was drowned to the consternation of many environmentalists for the sake of "power generation and recreation" not 5 years before this film was released. I don't think this was an intentional decision by the filmmakers, but it carries resonance after the fact.

    Third, I think that this might be the best work Jerry Goldsmith ever did (for me, only Chinatown and Star Trek: The Motion Picture are at or near the same level). I have not, before or since, heard a musical score that so completely communicates the sense of the world lost and mad the way this score does.

    Fourth, I still can't think of a film that has such a strong "stomach-punch" ending as this film does. When I first watched the film from start to finish, I knew what the ending was, and yet at the end, my jaw was on the floor, and I felt like I had just been punched in the gut.

    I'm not sure I'm prepared to argue that this is the best sci-fi film ever (2001: A Space Odyssey would be my choice), but it's so close to the top that it's not worth arguing over. Great, great movie.

    Jeffrey Siniard

  12. Hi everyone!

    Great comments on Planet of the Apes, my choice for finest science fiction film ever made.


    I thought your comment was outstanding. I particularly enjoyed this dissection of the climax:

    "Another example of the incredible sound is at the end. While everyone credits the camera angles, so that we don't see Lady Liberty until the last shot, there must be a good minute of him, after he saw it, slowly riding up in shock, with the sounds of the waves eternally lapping onshore. No music. Just waves. Before, during, and after his comments."

    Yes! Your description really does this moment justice, and captures that timeless feel I was groping to describe. Perfect. I couldn't agree more. There's something downright portentous (not pretentious) about this finale, and the staging of it. It's a great moment in cinema history.

    I also admire 2001: A Space Odyssey, but appreciate -- as you do -- how much more lively and vivid the characters in Planet of the Apes are. 2001's gift is its cerebral nature and incredible view of man's technology. But Planet of the Apes burns so brightly, so hot, that it overpowers one. The characters, as you say, are well-drawn and live in our memories as "real." That's pretty incredible since many of them are speaking monkeys!

    Great comment. Thank you for this contribution to the discussion.


    to be continued...

  13. Hi Le0pard13:

    I used my earlier piece as the basis for this review, and then just tried to take the analysis deeper. I hope I succeeded.

    I agree with you totally about the Tim Burton film. I tried very hard to give it an even shake when I watched it again in the last few days, but it's awful. It's shallow and dull, and those are unforgivable sins when you've got a premise and world as rich as that offered by Planet of the Apes. Such a missed opportunity. I would have loved to see James Cameron's take on the material...

    Thank you for a great comment, my friend.


    more to come...

  14. Hi J.D.

    I totally understand putting 2001 in the position of #1 sci film ever. It's a great movie; one of the absolute greatest without argument. In the final analysis, it's probably a matter of subjective taste. For me, POTA just edges it out. But I'm a huge Kubrick admirer, and 2001 looks great on Blu-Ray!

    By coincidence, I watched The Quiet Earth just a few weeks ago and greatly enjoyed it. It's an interesting and even subversive film in some ways. I was watching it as part of my post-apocalyptic jag, and it reminded me of a World the Flesh and the Devil, but with quantum physics instead of nuclear war as the bugaboo!

    Thank you for the comment, my friend.

    Hi SGB: You have a point about the Vietnam War and our involvement. Certainly, were America not bogged down in Vietnam, the anti-war tenor of Planet of the Apes might have been modulated. But we were also, lest we forget, still locked in the Cold War with the USSR, and the fear of nuclear armageddon stemmed largely from that conflict, not Vietnam.

    Indianhoop: I was thinking the exact same thing, especially in light of the end of the shuttle program last week. Sometimes, I fear that man reached his apex in the year 1969 -- when we walked on the moon. Since then, we've begun to slide back down, and the stars have eluded us. I hope I'm wrong in that depressing belief. I hope we will explore the solar system and begin that endeavor soon. I can't believe I'm over forty and we haven't been to Mars yet. I wholeheartedly support NASA and wish it could get more money for the space program (which is unlikely these days...) because a species that stops looking up is doomed.

    More to come...


  15. Anonymous12:59 PM


    I enjoyed your commentary on the original Planet Of The Apes. You certainly hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head when describing the various social, political, and religious issues that made up the film's entire social commentary. Not only is the film one of the greatest science fiction films ever made(right up there with The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and the Star Wars Saga), it is also(like the original Star Trek), a serious morality play. Both Rod Serling and Michael Wilson(an unfortunate victim of the McCarthy witch hunts)certainly made their points about the madness of nuclear war and the foolishness of racial prejudice.

    To this day, I'm still amazed that the film's producers and writers got away with the Statue Of Liberty ending. For late Sixties Cinema, that is the most memorable and controversial of all endings. Especially since 1968 was the most turbulent year in a turbulent decade.

    Anyway, another excellent review. Keep up the good work.


    P.S. The original is one of my favorite films, too. There are times that I can relate to Taylor, myself. Let alone Corneilius. My wife said that she could also relate to Zira.

  16. Jdgriz: I also love Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, another very dark-minded outer space opus of the same time period, roughly as Planet of the Apes. For me, this was really the period that the science fiction cinema was at its best. 2001, Apes, Journey, Solaris, etc. This was when space was a mysterious, dangerous realm of awe and terror, not just a place for sword fights, robots and laser beams (though I love all that stuff too...).

    Great comment..

    More to come... (sorry, it's taking me a while to respond to everyone, but keep those comments coming! They're great!)


  17. Anonymous9:59 PM

    John, you and I are clearly kindred spirits when it comes to Planet of the Apes. For my money, the first POTA film is still the best. I love all four of the sequels to varying degrees (my favorites being Beneath and Conquest), but the first film is just about perfect. From pacing to acting to cinematography to scope to writing to directing to makeup to social commentary to the ending's impact, the 1968 film is pretty much unparalleled. I'd rank it right alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Time After Time, Star Trek II and Superman: The Movie as the finest science fiction films ever produced.

    --Rich Handley