Planet of the Apes (1968) – Great Film Review

Planet of the Apes

Directed by Franklin J Schaffner

Shorter Review

“Get your paws off me you damned dirty ape!

-Charlton Heston as Taylor in Planet of the Apes

When Planet of the Apes was first released in 1968, it was something that most serious moviegoers did not want to see. Many people wanted to go nowhere near a movie called Planet of the Apes. I can see why. The title makes this movie sound like a cheap, dumb, ordinary blockbuster. Little did anyone back in the 60s know, that this would be held as a science fiction classic for decades afterwards.

Planet of the Apes is not a cheap blockbuster like any other, and it deservedly stands the test of time. This is a film that is not one dimensional like many other popcorn flicks, this is a film that pushes it’s audience to really think about it’s themes. It may occasionally do this kind of heavy handedly, but it’s effective, and it both entertains and educates it’s audience. 

Those looking for an empty good time of a film will be satisfied with it’s action, and it’s cool story. Those searching for something more thoughtful will be enthralled by it’s commentary on the animalistic nature of man, and how tradition and old beliefs can keep us from advancing in our society.

The story of Planet of the Apes is one of the coolest, smartest science fiction stories ever told. It goes like this:

A spaceship traveling into deep space with a crew of four has been traveling at hyper speed to the deepest reaches of space. They’ve only been gone for half a year or so, but since they’ve been traveling so fast, it’s been more than five hundred years on Earth.

We open up on Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, who gives his final captain’s log, as he prepares to go into cryogenic sleep till he returns to Earth. When he wakes up, his ship is burning up, flying through the atmosphere of a strange planet, and eventually crashing in a lake. He and his remaining crew members start trekking through the mountains surrounding the area of the crash sight. Eventually discovering a plant, and following a trail of life till they’re in a jungle.

The spaceship crew eventually finds a group of humans, all of them mute, all of them seemingly animals. They’re attacked by a group of apes on horses, who hunt them as though it’s a sport. Taylor is separated from his crew and captured by the apes.

When Taylor wakes up, he’s in some sort of zoo, where monkeys give him medical treatment. Taylor wants so badly to be able to communicate with the apes, and speak, but his voice isn’t working due to a throat injury he received in his capture. Taylor eventually learns to communicate with the apes, but they all refuse to believe that a human could talk. All but two apes that is, Zira and Cornelius, two forward thinkers who are looking to prove that there was a civilization on this planet prior to apes.

Eventually, Taylor is taken to trial, where the elders of the ape village decide that he must be killed, as he is a “scientific impossibility.” However, he manages to escape out to an archeological dig site in “the forbidden zone”, where Cornelius proves that men possibly ruled the planet before apes did.

Taylor then goes off into the forbidden zone by himself and discovers that *SPOILER ALERT IF YOU SOMEHOW DO NOT KNOW WHERE THE PLANET OF THE APES IS SET* he has been on Earth the whole time. The ending culminating in a scene where Taylor screams at the Statue of Liberty, one of the last remaining traces of human life.

Planet of the Apes is one of the most iconic films ever because of it’s final scene. Actually, it seems Charlton Heston is the go to actor when it comes to final scene reveals in which he yells things. From “You blew it all up!” to “Soylent Green is people!”. It seems to be nearly impossible to escape knowing the ending of this film, from the fact that the new prequel films are both clearly set on Earth. To the fact that even on the dvd box of Planet of the Apes you see a still of someone kneeling on a beach below the Statue of Liberty. It’s impossible to be surprised by the fact that the planet was Earth the whole time anymore, but that doesn’t make it any less of a great twist.

Just put yourself in the characters shoes, this whole time, you’ve believed you’ve stumbled upon this weird reverse world, this place where man is the animal, when really it’s been your home the whole time. It’s a brilliantly thought out and executed plot twist.

Planet of the Apes is so much more than it’s final scene though, from it’s first scene forward, it’s amazing in so many ways. I’ll try and touch on everything that Planet of the Apes does that are either revolutionary, or just plain excellent.

First of all, the make up effects of this film are amazing. While they may not look like the most realistic apes ever, it still looks real enough to make you believe that these actors in masks and prosthetics truly are apes. For the makeup to work to the degree they do is really freaking incredible. I mean, imagine how hard it is to believably make your scrawny actors look like they’re gorillas. That is an incredible feat, and Planet of the Apes is a landmark in makeup effects.

Second, the camera work is amazing as well. It has the scope of a spaghetti western, with all it’s epic landscape shots, it’s deserts, and the spectrum of color in the film. It photographs desert landscapes perfectly. It also creates some very intimate moments, and memorable shots. I don’t even know how to describe why I love the photography of this movie so much, I just do. It looks beautiful.

Third, the music is amazing. That is, it suits the film amazingly. I’m not sure if I would really want to put the music on my iPod and listen to it along with some of the other movie themes I have on there, but with the visuals and the story of the movie, the music is absolutely perfect. It’s an animalistic sounding score, using staccato xylophone notes to make us feel tense, and to give a kind of savage atmosphere to the film. The music is the epitome of building atmosphere through sound in film.

Planet of the Apes is brilliant, taking something that could have been a massive failure. A movie about a monkey planet. Making it something above that. Something that reaches some extraordinary artistic levels. This is a film that will be around for a long time after most other films of it’s era are long gone. Planet of the Apes is a grim, bleak, and truthful look at the human condition through the eyes of the new rulers of our planet. And it is spectacular.

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