I wonder if people make movies and realize how much of a cultural impact they will have on society. Take today’s movie for instance. Back in the day, this was just your typical sci-fi that was based off of a book. However, its popularity among movie goers would have it spawn 4 sequels, 2 tv series, a remake, and then a reboot, while the movie itself would be quoted and parodied countless times. Not to shabby a feat for a movie about a bunch of talking apes. To be honest, I was introduced to this a little bass-ackwards as I used to watch the old TV show with my dad when I was a kid before I saw any of the movies. Still, this is definitely one of the more iconic bits of classic sci-fi in my collection so let’s get right into today’s movie, Planet Of The Apes (1968).
The plot: Astronaut George Taylor is dictating his report into the computer as his ship travels at near light speed on it’s way back to earth. The ship, which launched in 1972, has been traveling for roughly 6 months but due to time dilation, over 700 years have passed on Earth. Finishing his report, Taylor goes to check on the rest of his crew (Dodge, Landon, and Stewart) before joining them in hibernation. The ship crashes into a lake on a seemingly barren planet and as Taylor, Dodge, and Landon emerge from hibernation, they find Stewart has died and her body is almost mummified. When water starts leaking into the ship, causing it to sink, Taylor orders the others to abandon ship but as he gets some supplies, he notices that the have been gone almost 2000 years from the time they launched on Earth. Reaching the shore, they check their supplies and find that the have enough food for three days, then head out to explore the area and find food. As they travel through the arid landscape, where they witness strange lightning and avoid a rock slide, Landon and Taylor argue about each other’s outlook on their situation but stop when Dodge discovers some flowers, indicating plant life nearby. Continuing on, they enter into a ravine but are unaware that they are being observed from atop the cliffs by a group of people. Pressing on, the astronauts spot some strange scarecrow like structures and Taylor chooses to investigate them and they end up in a lush oasis complete with a waterfall and pool of water below. The men decide to go swimming in the water but when they get out, they notice footprints in the shore and see some people stealing their clothes and supplies. The astronauts chase after the men and find that their supplies have been all smashed and their clothes ripped up. They continue following the people into a corn field and realize that the people are behaving like wild animals and appear mute. Suddenly, a strange cry is heard and the people start running and the three astronauts are shocked to discover gorillas riding on horseback and firing rifles at the humans. killing some of them and steering others into traps. Dodge is killed by one of the gorillas and Landon is captured. Taylor attempts to escape but is shot in the neck and captured. He is taken to a campsite and placed in a cage where he soon passes out, but not before he sees a captive female that caught his eye earlier while the gorillas act like big game hunters, having their pictures taken over piles of dead humans. When Taylor comes too, he is strapped to a table and a chimpanzee is tending to his wound while another chimpanzee named Zira, and animal psychologist watches. Later, Taylor is placed in a cage and is able to learn the pecking order of the apes’ society; with gorillas serving as police, military, and hunters, orangutans as politicians, and chimpanzees as scientists and doctors. Zira has become fond of Taylor, who she refers to as “Bright Eyes” and believes he shows signs of intelligence but her superior, an orangutan named Dr. Zaius believes Taylor is merely mimicking her actions. When Zaius leaves, Zira has the woman brought that Taylor saw earlier brought in as a companion for Taylor. The next day, Taylor and the woman are placed in a large outdoor cage with the other humans from Zira’s lab. Zira sees her fiance, a chimpanzee archaeologist named Cornelius, and takes him to the cage to show him Taylor. While the two are talking with Zaius, Taylor writes “I can write” in the dirt but as he tries to get Zira’s attention, the woman rubs out some of the writing and Taylor quickly shoves her, then fights with another human that also destroyed his words. Some gorillas come in to break up the fight and Taylor is taken to back to the lab but as he walks away, Zaius notices what was left of what Taylor had written and quickly destroys it. Back in the lab, Taylor manages to steal Zira’s note pad and pen and writes “My name is Taylor” on it and when she sees this, she decides to take Taylor back to her place. At her home, Zira and Cornelius try to learn where Taylor came from and can’t believe some of the things he writes down, such as Taylor flying in a ship, but Taylor makes a paper airplane to show them it can be done. Taylor asks for a map and shows them where he crash landed but Cornelius says that it is in the forbidden zone and that nothing can survive out there. Zaius arrives with another orangutan and two gorilla guards and he chastises Zira for taking Taylor out of the lab without permission and destroys the paper airplane before Zira can show him how it works. That night, two guards order the lab guard to bring Taylor to the lab for castration but Taylor manages to overpower the guard and escape. As he tries to makes his way out of the ape city, he is pursued by the gorilla soldiers and ends up in a museum, where he sees the stuffed corpse of Dodge on display. Leaving the museum, he is soon surrounded and captured but as Zira pleads with the police not to hurt him, Taylor stuns the crowd when he yells out, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” Taylor is soon brought before a tribunal, where Zaius and some other orangutans try to prove that Taylor is a mockery of their ape culture and that Zira and another doctor surgically altered Taylor to allow him to speak. When Taylor mentions that he arrived with two others and one is unaccounted for, Zaius and the other orangutans have Taylor lead out into a courtyard, where the other captured humans are being held and Taylor sees Landon. When he approaches Landon, he discovers that he has been given a lobotomy and rendered catatonic and he accuses Zaius of doing this to silence him. Back in the tribunal, Cornelius and Zira try to defend Taylor, with Cornelius saying he has discovered evidence of a simian culture in the forbidden zone that predates their sacred scrolls but the tribunal says they are speaking heresy and has Taylor brought to his chamber. Speaking with Taylor alone, Zaius tries to get him to admit that there is a hidden tribe in the Forbidden Zone but Taylor says he doesn’t know and Zaius says he will learn the truth, threatening to castrate and lobotomize Taylor to get it. That night, Zira’s nephew Lucius helps Taylor escape and Taylor frees the woman, whom he calls Nova and takes her with them. They are met by Zira and she takes them out to where Taylor was captured, where they meet up with Cornelius. Taylor says that he plans on going into the Forbidden Zone to look for this tribe that Zaius believes is out there and Cornelius says that they are going to the cave he explored a year ago to prove that they are not heretics. The group makes their way through the desert and eventually come to a ravine that looks over the river Taylor traveled down. He asks Cornelius why it is called the Forbidden Zone and Cornelius says that it was written in the sacred scroll a long time ago. Making their way to the cave Cornelius explored, Zira spots Zaius and some gorilla soldiers approaching and warns Taylor and Cornelius. As the soldiers approach, Taylor quickly fires at some gorillas trying to take position above them, then warns Cornelius he will shoot him first if any shooting starts. Cornelius sends the soldiers away, then tells Cornelius and Zira to reconsider what they are doing. Taylor says that Zaius’ duties as Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith are at odds with each other, and asks when the Sacred Scrolls were written. When Zaius tells him 1200 years ago, he asks if they can prove a civilization existed before the scrolls were written, would he drop the charges against Cornelius and Zira and after Zaius agrees, Taylor says they should go in the cave. Zaius, Cornelius, Zira, Taylor, and Nova enter the cave but Taylor has Lucius stay outside and stand guard. Inside the cave,
Planet Of The Apes (1968) met with high praise from the critics, earning a 90% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that, “Planet of the Apes raises thought-provoking questions about our culture without letting social commentary get in the way of the drama and action.” The film was groundbreaking in it’s use of prosthetic makeup techniques and would earn artist John Chambers an honorary Oscar at the Acadamy Awards. The movie itself was a commercial success, earning $33.4 million at the N. American box office off of a $5.8 million budget. Coinciding with the release of the 2001 remake, the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
Sometimes I think this movie doesn’t get as much credit as it should because this is a great classic sci-fi movie. Charlton Heston (Taylor) was good in his role but I honestly thought that Roddy McDowall (Cornelius) and Kim Hunter (Zira) were much better in their roles. However, my favorite actor was Maurice Evans, whose portrayal of Dr. Zaius as knowing the truth but hiding it to preserve his people’s way of life is something that has occurred throughout history and he head some of the more profound statements throughout the movie. The story is interesting, being a popular topic and idea bounced around sci-fi writers for years as to which animals would become the dominant species if humans were no longer relevant. The special effects were honestly only so-so but the make up effects for the “apes” was really good, especially in getting the mouth’s moving along with the actors speaking. A great classic that is one of those sci-fi movies that is a must see.
Rating: 4 out of 5