Planet of the Apes is hailed as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. It has been referenced in modern culture on countless occasions and parodied to the point everyone knows the brief musical number from The Simpsons (“Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius”). A sound clip of it is featured as part of the opening for the Monkeys Fighting Robots podcast. The real question is, does it deserve all the attention?
The answer to this is yes it does but not in the way most people think. When others think of this film they usually associate it with the infamous ending. This film is more than simply one of the best twist endings in cinema. It is a deep look at society and culture which holds up even today.
The story follows a team of astronauts on an experimental flight. They are awoken from their hibernation to find they have flown off course and arrived on a distant planet. As they start to explore the crew finds the planet is a nightmare, one where apes are in control and man is the lower species. The Captain of the exploration, Taylor (Charlton Heston) must find a way to stay alive amongst this new race which views him as being inferior or some as some kind of mutant.
Though the film is remembered more for the ending, there are a lot of great themes which are explored in the movie which help to make it such essential viewing. Concepts such as a stranger in strange land and being unable to understand what modern society is talking about. How those in power can sometimes not have the best interest of the individual in mind and will do what they can to maintain status quo. How even when presented with cold hard facts, some will cling to what they know instead of trying to embrace change. All of these themes and ideas can be related to life today and this film was made more than 40 years ago.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton) really had something in mind when he made this film. From the landscape which was used to where the film ends up, everything seems perfectly set up and detailed. It really makes it feel like he had the entire project under tight control.
The plot and direction really makes it feel like an alien world. Except for a hint here and there, Schaffer, really did fantastic job of masking the idea it was Earth the entire time. There was enough fake clues spread throughout the film which could make someone think the movie was indeed taking place on another planet and the crew had been knocked off course on their way home. Unfortunately, everyone knows the big reveal at the end of the movie but if someone has never seen the film and if they never seen any parodies of it, then the film does have a great deal of shock potential in it.
The orchestral music in the film is well paced and poignant. When the setting requires the music to be chilling it is. When it needs to be a driving force for the action it delivers. There are a few moments which are more silent than they need to be which do feel like they could benefit from a bit more accompaniment but these moments are few and far between. Overall, it’s a memorial score which fans of orchestral soundtracks should probably make sure is in there collections.
The acting in this film is top notch but Charlton Heston steals the show as Taylor. He comes off as a mixture of desperate and frustrated which really makes the viewer feel sympathy for his situation. Yet at the same time there are moments where he keeps a cool head and finds ways to figure out what needs to be done next. It’s the type of performance which makes him a character so memorable to the fans.
Another standout performance in the movie comes from Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius. He delivers the perfect mix of unsympathetic and egotistical which makes it seem like he truly has no regard for Taylor and his actions. Dr. Zaius looks at him as simply a human who has managed to learn a new trick and he will not allow such a creature to destroy all he controls.
The production work which went into this film is amazing. It needs to be pointed out this was all accomplished without CGI. Instead, the entire look and feel of the film was accomplished through the use of the make-up and by employing creative locations for shooting. This was all which was needed to make it seem like an alien planet.
The makeup and other prosthetics were accomplished by John Chambers. This name may ring a bell to any who have seen the movie Argo where he was featured. He was played in the film by John Goodman and showed on top of doing great effects he also was willing to go the extra mile for others when needed. He received an Oscar for the effects he achieved in this film and he deserved it.
The film is a must see for fans of Science Fiction, intense acting, and great effects. If you haven’t taken the time to check out this classic film you are truly missing out.
Planet of the Apes was presented by Fathom Events, through a showing of the TCM Big Screen Classics. The event featured a special interview with Dr. Zaius himself.