It seems that more and more classic science fiction movies are getting a makeover. Star Wars had its prequel trilogy. Star Trek is getting a shot in the arm with Abrams and a younger cast, and soon Star Wars will get similar treatment. Now Planet of the Apes is getting revamped with CGI apes all set off by James Franco. But before all this new stuff happened, there was the original.
In 1968, Planet of the Apes began a new era of science fiction. We meet a space mission crew who has been drifting through the galaxy for over a year, that would be over 2000 years on Earth. They crash land on a strange looking planet and wander until they find wild men who are hunted by ape people. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his surviving crew are rounded up and thought to be mute and wild, like the other humans, until Taylor can finally speak. Taylor’s intelligence sets off a fierce trial and debate within the ape society and reveals a conspiracy that could rock the ape’s world.
Throughout my youth, I unfairly wrote off Planet of the Apes for two silly reasons. One: I thought the ape masks were awful. From the clips and scenes I had seen, the masks did not convince me at all. How foolish. Today I find a sincere appreciation of the artistry that went into creating such a one-of-a-kind look. And my second reason for not seeing this movie sooner: an episode of The Simpsons ruined the ending for me. You know the one, I can still hear Troy McCLure singing the last few lines completely ruining the surprise ending. “You finally made a monkey out of me!”
But what terrible excuses for someone who claims to be a film fanatic. Even though I knew the big surprise ending, I found the film enjoyable and engrossing. The tension between when Taylor is captured and when he finally speaks is wonderful, and may be my favorite part of the film. I also enjoyed the evolution vs creationism ideas present in this post-human world. And the set design is felt so authentic, and at times I felt that it could have been used later for Flintstones movies. And I don’t mean that as an insult.
During the Oscar season, Planet of the Apes was not forgotten. It was nominated for two awards: costume design and music. The film won neither award, but it was awarded an honorary Oscar for outstanding achievement in makeup. A category for makeup would not part of the Academy Awards until 1981. Shows how much my younger self could see in those elaborate ape masks.
I realize some readers, especially younger ones, may have seen the new Planet of the Apes prequels that have been coming out recently before the original or any of the classic sequels. I’m sad to say, that I too am guilty of this cinematic sin. I saw Rise before this. However, it’s easy to enjoy each film on its own, at least I try not to beat myself up too much over this error. The original Planet of the Apes is one of the sci-fi greats and deserves a view from all film fans.
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”