"Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death."
-- The Sacred Scrolls of the Apes
"It smells like a monkey
house in here... Hey!"
We did it! We finally did it! We reviewed Planet of the Apes, the classic film from 1968. This film has been parodied so many times that even if you haven't seen it, you probably know the gist of it.
Misanthrope astronaut Taylor, sent on a mission with three other astronauts to a distant planet that circles one of the stars of the constellation of Orion. The mission hits a slight snag, though, when Taylor's ship is accidentally propelled into the future, where it collides with the Jupiter II flown by Joey from Friends.
Just kidding. Actually, Taylor's spaceship crash-lands into a lake in the middle of a desert. One of the four-member crew is dead before the ship lands, but the other three escape. Because Planet of the Apes was written by Rod Serling, we are subjected to long scenes of sweaty men hiking through a desert discussing philosophy and the baser portions of human nature. Here's a hint for all of our readers at NASA: our planet might not be best represented in other star systems by astronauts who find other humans repulsive.
Taylor: I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.
"Yesss!" Charlton Heston finds out that
Ape Law has a 2nd Amendment too.
Eventually Taylor and his companions find life, and then (in a frightening sequence involving unwarranted astronaut nudity) they find savage humans who run around in leather rags. It turns out that on this world, humans are uncivilized and are hunted by the dominant life form, which just happens to be three species of intelligent apes. The gorillas are the military caste, the orangutans the leader/spiritual caste, and the chimpanzees form the scientific/service caste. When Taylor is captured by the apes, who think him an uncivilized human like the rest, it is a female chimpanzee named Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) who befriends him and eventually discovers his intelligence.
The film follows Taylor, Zira, and her archaeologist fiance' Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) as they escape from the ape city and then find clues about the mystery of the Planet of the Apes. It ends, of course, with a shocking revelation about the planet's origins that no one could possibly have guessed.
The real stars of Planet of the Apes are Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter. They are a darn sight more civilized and (dare we say it) humane than their fellow simians and even Taylor himself. We couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't sent into space not because we people on Earth wanted him to meet other civilizations, but because we people of Earth wanted to get rid of his annoying, "I'm so superior because I know humanity sucks" rantings.
Taylor is played by Moses. No, that doesn't sound right. Taylor is played by Charlton Heston, who is often mistaken for Moses by people who watch cable. Heston spends a good part of his screen time doing a Marcel Marceau impression when his character's throat is injured during capture. These are Heston's best acting moments, because he can't rely on his impressive baritone voice. But when he does talk, his clench-jawed delevery is a lot of fun.
We invite readers to insert their own
"Spanking the Monkey Joke"
in this space.
Although Heston is nominally the hero of the film, it is the plight of Zira and Cornelius, trying to discover the truth about the history of apes and men, that captured our attention. They have a Mulder-and-Scully dynamic going, in which Zira tries hard to convince the skeptic Cornelius that the established stories about the rise of apes might be wrong. Cornelius obviously wants to believe her, but his own status as an archeologist has been questioned by the scientific community for just these kinds of ideas. The relationship between these two helps the story tremendously.
Planet of the Apes has been maligned many times in the past for its hokey acting and implausible story, but we're actually quite fond of it. Viewers who are quick to criticize the film for its 1960's eccentricities often miss the irony of Taylor's eventual conversion from misanthrope to evangelist for the human race, and his eventual confrontation with evidence that supports his initial pessimism. The similarities between Taylor and the inscrutable Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) should be noted as well. One 1960's eccentricity we won't allow the movie is Jerry Goldsmith's score. Yes, it was nominated for an Oscar, and yes, it was considered really innovative at the time, but today it sounds excessive and downright inappropriate at times. (Ironically, Goldsmith would also be nominated for a Golden Raspberry award for his work on another ape movie, Congo, in 1996.)
While not the most entertaining of the Planet of the Apes series (that honor would probably go to Escape from the Planet of the Apes), the original film is certainly the most important film in the series, both for its thought-provoking premise and stage-setting qualities.