Planet of the Apes (1968) Director: Franklin J. Schaffner Screenwriters: Rod Serling and Michael Wilson Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison Distributor:Twentieth Century Fox Rated PG-13 | 112 minutes Release Date: April 3rd, 2016
If I told you I was seeing Planet of the Apes in theaters in 2016, you’d assume I was watching the third film in the new series starring Andy Serkis in motion capture technology as Caesar. Thanks to TCM and their Big Screen Classics promotion, the original 1968 classic is back in theaters for only one more day. It premiered on Sunday, July 24th, at several theaters throughout New York City, and I was there with my entire family, including my 5-year daughter.
For those that have never seen, I’ll try not to spoil it. Charlton Heston plays George Taylor, who along with three other American astronauts signed on to a mission to the deepest parts of space. They’ve been up in space 6 months, but hundreds of years have passed on Earth. Hypersleep is interrupted as the ship crashes in the middle of the water on a unknown planet. The female astronaut died from oxygen deprivation (a scene that scared my daughter onto my shoulder for the next 15-20 minutes), leaving only Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) to fend for themselves with sparse provisions. Soon they encounter other humans, but these people muted and living in the jungles, before an invading force comes riding in on horseback; the leaders of this distant planet… apes.
Soon Taylor is caged, unable to speak from a gunshot to the neck. Professor Zira (Kim Hunter) and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) are a pair of chimpanzees that think there is something special about him, but you know, “human see, human do.” It’s not until Taylor regains the ability to speak that the real story kicks in, as suddenly he goes from being an angry zoo animal to a threat to the entire simian race. This threat is known almost immediately by Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), an orangutan who is both Minister of Science and Defender of the Faith.
The rest of the film plays out not so much as a science fiction action film, but rather a philosophical and political drama. Does an intelligent human have any rights on a planet run by apes? Can Cornelius and Zira prove there was some species here before apes? What happens if the simian scrolls are proven foulable?
Watching Planet of the Apes in 2016, you can totally feel screenwriter Rod Serling’s input. It feels like a 2-hour Twilight Zone episode in every way, from the music cues, to the plot twists, to the Cold War era paranoia. My son and step-daughter were surprised by how much talking there was, but those to me are the truly fascinating parts. During Taylor’s kangaroo court, it evoked memories of Inherit the Wind, and the Scopes… monkey trial, no pun intended. There’s also an obvious connection to the Civil Rights Movement, as Taylor, the human, begs for his rights, and even the apes are segregated with orangutans at the top of the social pyramid with their gorillas soldiers and chimpanzees underneath them.
The film is an absolute classic. To call it one of the greatest sci-fi movies is shortchanging it as a genre piece. Technically it’s a masterpiece, using a phenomenal score by Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith, and picturesque cinematography by multiple time Oscar winner Leon Shamroy. Heston delivers a tour-de-force performance, howling some of cinemas most famous lines of dialogue, all the while being a condescending jerk most of the time. Serling’s input to the script makes the film, like many great Twilight Zone episodes, timeless. There’s a reason why many TV stations play Twilight Zone marathons on July 4th and New Year’s Eve. Planet of the Apes is a movie that in 1968 fit perfectly with the times. Sadly, mankind has evolved exactly how Dr. Zaius might have suspected, and the film remains perfectly suited for today’s era as well.
TMC’s Big Screen Classics brings Planet of the Apes back to theaters one more time on Wednesday, July 27th at selected theaters. Go out of your way to see one of the best films of all time. TCM opens and closes the film with a sit down interview with Dr. Zaius himself. We saw it Sunday night and the theater was packed. Or, as Charlton Heston would say, it was a MADHOUSE… A MADHOUSE!!!
PLANET OF THE APES (1968) – Get Your Stinkin’ Paws Off Me
Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) attempts to escape from the Apes who are the dominant species on the plant he crash-landed on.