The Planet Of The Apes Films – Part 1 of 8: Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Do I really have to tell you what this one is about?

REALLY?

OK. I’ll make it brief.

A spaceship crash lands. Three of the four crew members survive. The world they’ve landed on is barren – but habitable.

After discovering a tribe of primitive, mute humans they are captured along with them. By talking apes!

One of the crew is killed, the other is lobotomised and the only survivor is George Taylor. He is taken to Ape City.

A savage throat injury renders him temporarily unable to talk. Two kindly chimpanzee scientists take a liking to him after discovering his above average intelligence.

Taylor is shocked to see the disdain that the apes treat the humans with. They are considered no more than animals.

When Taylor regains his speech his simian captors are stunned… and frightened.

It’s his destiny to venture into the Forbidden Zone. Only by making a grim discovery there will Taylor come to realise where he really is.

This science fiction masterpiece from director Franklin J Schaeffner is a guilty pleasure for me. It’s a film I like to wallow in when I’m in one of my “fuck the human race” moods. Given the shitty state of the world right now – that happens more often than I care to admit.

It has groundbreaking make up effects. A daring avant garde’ score by Jerry Goldsmith (I LOVE his work!),  Stunning performances by Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans all encased under ape masks as Cornelius, Zira and Dr Zaius.

There’s that classic twist ending. It may have been parodied many times in pop culture for a generation, but it’s still a punch right to the gut.

Next year this film is 50 years old but it’s still mind boggling how ahead of it’s time it is.

I see this as something a little more intimate as an epic sci-fi potboiler. This is a character study. A glimpse inside the mind of one man. Colonel George Taylor played by Charlton Heston in a seminal performance.

Taylor is one of cinema’s most iconic anti-heroes. With his hard boiled cynicism and sarcastic laugh – he is the bitter core of this movie. This is a guy who’s given up on the human race before the story has even begun. A guy who’s left Earth because he just wants to see if there’s anything better elsewhere.

Oddly his overall sourness makes him more sympathetic. We all know how he feels. He says what we’re all thinking but are too afraid to say.

Taylor has lost hope but he can allow himself a sarcastic laugh about it. He’s got a good inkling that mankind are probably extinct when his ship splashes into the lake on this new (?) world. He doesn’t see it as necessarily a bad thing.

Although he is distressed when he found out how things came to be that way.

He wanted to be proven right, but not that right.

I love this bitter and miserable old bastard. He’s a character I can live vicariously through.

Self loathing is an appealing quality if done right. It’s something Charlton Heston has always done very well.

It’s interesting how in this movie the apes considers themselves superior to the humans – but make all the exact same mistakes.

They have their own form of racism by differentiating class by sub species. It’s like the film is saying that the more sentient a species becomes the more it learns to discriminate within itself.

Remind us of anyone?

Also the concept of heresy against an extremist religious doctrine – and any admission of the value of science being punishable as blasphemy.

The apes were always a metaphor for the human race. Designed to point out our most worthless attributes.

Planet Of The Apes is a bleak and nihilistic classic. It tells us everything we need to know about ourselves.

One little nitpick though. Taylor assumes he’s landed on an alien world right, and doesn’t realise until the end that he’s been on Earth the whole time?

Why doesn’t he think it’s odd then, that all the apes speak ENGLISH??! Wouldn’t that have at least given a little bit of the game away before he saw Lady Liberty half buried by sand?

 

The Man Who Saved Movies. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell! 

 

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  • The seventies. The real golden age of cinema. Edit: ok this is 1968. Earlier than I thought. Never mind.

  • L.H.Puttgrass

    A lot of Sci-Fi overlooks language to simplify the presentation and get to the story. In this case it may have been cool to give the apes a kind of “pig latin” version of English. Every language changes over the centuries. Why not Ape English? Changed just enough where you still understand what is being said.
    Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to the language for fear of giving the twist away too soon? Still that ending was a kick to the balls. The whole movie felt like it was holding up a mirror to the bad side of humanity. An ugly side reflected in the apes. Then that twist shows that there never was a mirror.
    Welcome back, welcome back, welcome, baaaack!

  • This is going to be an interesting series. I haven’t seen the recent ones but the Tim Burton one is worth discussing.

    • On it’s way! ?

    • I_am_better

      Oh christ – that one’s such a mess

      • It had a lot of potential, and you can see a great film in there if you squint. But it suffers from too much Mark Wahlberg, among other things.

        • I_am_better

          There are no human characters that have any depth in that film. Zero. Burton shouldve just focused on apes. But this is a discussion for another article, I think

          • Indeed so. But shallow characters could still inhabit a good film, yet it misses the mark repeatedly.

  • The Magic Hunter

    Great breakdown of this classic, Stu! Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the others, so consider me a wallflower for the rest of this series.

    In the meantime, a few thoughts: Walter R. Brooks got to this twist first (maybe others did earlier) in the 1953 installment in his seminal talking farm animal chapter book series: “Freddy and the Space Ship”

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0142300896/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498968445&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=freddy+and+the+space+ship&dpPl=1&dpID=51AyI5xbwoL&ref=plSrch

    Then: I’m a sucker for stories where the alien race/sentient animals turn humans into pets. It gives us so much to think about. We’ve got it here, we’ve got it in “Slaughterhouse Five,” and then big time, with crazy complications I won’t spoil, in Mary Doria Russell’s 1996 novel “The Sparrow” (and its sequel “Children of God”), which maybe AMC is adapting for tv, after Brad Pitt’s production company dropped a film adaptation years ago.

    EDIT: I got distracted because my wife just brought my daughter home from a birthday party, and the young un said it was “the worst!” But my wife clarified that everyone was having fun when she arrived, but that when my daughter asked to bring home a second balloon for her brother, the birthday girl rudely said, “No!” (As is her jacked-up on sugar right). Anyway, I was going to wrap up my second paragraph by saying that that theme especially interests me as a vegetarian.

    • I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the rest so is it cool if I hang with you?

      • The Magic Hunter

        Of course! We’ll be like the old guys in the balcony in “The Muppets.”

  • I_am_better

    I’ve been planning to crack open my BluRay box set of the originals. You read my mind, Stu!

  • I_am_better
    • Brilliant! ?

    • Mistah Doe

      Hah! It was only a matter of time before someone photoshopped that arrogant fat bastard in a POTA backdrop.

  • Mistah Doe

    “They have their own form of racism by differentiating class by sub species. It’s like the film is saying that the more sentient a species becomes the more it learns to discriminate within itself.

    Remind us of anyone?”

    Hmm, Hitler? Trump? (:’

    I like this movie for various reasons primarily, due to its its metaphors and this scene holds a modicum of truth whether people agree or not.
    https://youtu.be/AjB8zDj2y0A

  • Fantastic write up of a fantastic movie. Imagine the balls it took for the filmmakers to pin their whole endeavor on prosthetic makeup that would make or break the entire show. Talk about daring!

    • Kershner took a similar risk with Yoda twelve years later.
      Could it have been POTA that gave him the courage to go ahead?
      There’s a question! ?

      • Man that is EERIE. I was thinking that exact same thing when I typed that!

      • The art of puppetry is as close as you can get to real magic. The effect it has on people is incredible when done well. Any CGI creature, even mo-capped, is inferior. Why? Because your brain knows the puppet isn’t real, yet still suspends disbelief because of the skill of the puppeteer. This more or less is the same for all vfx. The idea that they need to look real is flawed. If that stuff isn’t sleight-of-hand, it loses appeal.

        • Balki Bartokomous

          Yoda was magic. For those of us who grew up with Empire, the trick isn’t believing the puppet is real, the trick is realizing that Yoda is just a puppet.

        • Plus with a CGI Yoda, you’re looking at something created in a computer. With a puppet Yoda, you’re looking at something that is actually there. Realistic or not – it has a physical presence and that alone goes a surprisingly long way.

          • Yes indeed. Gravity is something animators struggle with. But there’s a very real tendency to believe something less the more real it looks too.

    • The make up in the remake is stunning. It deserves some credit for that alone.

  • franks_television

    It was easier to get into leading man shape back then.

  • Strange that Charlton Heston can recognise the Statue of Liberty, but not the Grand Canyon.