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PLANET OF THE APES (1968) - PG

Charlton Heston stars in this camp classic from the 1960s that spawned a long run of sequels and prequels, but certainly no equals. Perplexed astronaut George Taylor (Heston) crash-lands on a strange alternative earth where the evolutionary slots of men and apes are horrifically reversed, with humans used for entertainment and experimentation by apes.  But turnabout is fair play as Taylor escapes and leads his simian jailers on a merry chase that culminates on a beach at the foot of a once-famous landmark that tragically answers one too many of Taylor's questions.

This film could be compared to BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur) commands the screen as the stranded astronaut. The ape makeup, thanks to Creative Makeup Design guy John Chambers, is quite impressive. The film's "twist" ending is the highlight of the movie.

The cast includes: Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, James Daly, Maurice Evans, and James Whitmore.

Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner.

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The Review:

Franklin J. Schaffner's, PLANET OF THE APES, is a well produced, thought provoking Sci-Fi epic.

Charlton Heston (The Omega Man) is the chief astronaut on a deep space, light speed spaceship, launched in 1972. The other three members of the expedition are in cryogenic/suspended animation deep sleep. As Heston prepares to put himself into the deep freeze for awhile, he takes a moment out to philosophize, "Seen from here, everything seems different, Time bends, space is ... boundless. It squashes a man's ego. I feel lonely".

Heston and his fellow astronauts, still in cryogenic sleep aboard their star ship, crash-land in a lake on an unknown, alien world. The crash scene, exciting, well paced, and involving, is my favorite in the film.

After making it to shore in a small life raft, the three surviving astronauts begin an arduous trek inland. Director of Photography, Leon Shamroy, delivers striking images of the blue, cloud filled skies, and rocky, sandstone terrain of the planet.

Before long, Heston and his fellow astronauts encounter a community where intelligent, talking apes are the rulers, with primitive, mute humans their subjects. The ape society is divided into three social strata: Orangutans rule, chimps are scientists and doctors, and gorillas are the military/police.

Charlton Heston, under Schaffner's confident direction, gives a more three dimensional performance than usual. Heston's head astronaut character is a feisty malcontent who left Earth in search of a better life. At one point, early on in the film, Heston proclaims, "I can't help thinking somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be!" Needless to say, man-hating Heston goes ape when he discovers the true nature of the planet he's landed on.

Roddy McDowall (Fright Night) and Kim Hunter (Streetcar Named Desire) offer good support as a human-friendly husband and wife chimp science team. Their ability to emote so effectively, despite the heavy makeup, says something about the triumph of art over artifice.

The Screenplay, by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling (based on the novel by Pierre Boulle), suffers from an unevenness of tone. The early scenes are poetic and dramatic. Later, Wilson and Serling seem intent on hurling as many ape variations on human sayings at the viewer as possible including, "Human see, human do." Ugh!

The elaborate chimp, gorilla, and orangutan makeup is still impressive after all these years. John Chambers receives credit for the Creative Makeup Design, and it is quite impressive, allowing for surprisingly subtle mouth movements.

The Music, by Jerry Goldsmith, is strange, jarring, intense, and unsettling, utilizing a lot of brass and percussion. Although a bit overwhelming at times, it adds to, rather than distracts from, the on screen action.

My favorite scene is the film's powerful (particularly if you don't see it coming) conclusion. Ironically, informed sources state that Co-Writer Serling was NOT responsible for the film's famous "twist" ending.

PLANET OF THE APES should be highly watchable for most Sci-Fi viewers. Heston fans may go ape! PLANET OF THE APES is a film worth making a monkey of yourself over.

BEST BETS:

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES
and THE OMEGA MAN.