The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a movie that I remember a little about going in…I remember the iconic scene at the end and some of the memorable lines voiced by Charlton Heston…but beyond that I could remember very little of the details because it had been so long since I’d originally watched it.
“Planet of the Apes,” was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and had make-up design by John Chambers who won awards for the design of Spock in Star Trek and for the groundbreaking design of the Apes in this film and franchise.
The premise of the film is that three astronauts crash on Earth, losing the only woman in their crew. They don’t know what planet they have landed on but come to discover the world is dominated by Apes with an advanced social structure and civilization and full of humans who are mute and like small brained animals. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the primary protagonist and from whose eyes we see events unfold.
Here is the assessment of the film:
Pros: The World – The world of the “Planet of the Apes,” is fascinating. We see a world with complex social structures (Orangutans as Priests, Lawyers and Judges, Gorillas as workers and military and Chimpanzees as scientists and intellectuals). There is conflict between the chimps and the other social classes as expressed through the Chimpanzee protagonists of Zira and Cornelius.
The Make-up – There is a reason that this make-up was so groundbreaking. The prosthetics show the diversity of the Gorillas, Chimps and Orangutans and when they speak it looks like they are actually speaking. Emotion is seen in their expressions.
Zira and Cornelius – Zira and Cornelius are great. Zira is the idealist who takes chances and risks and in the process finds the truth of who George is. Cornelius is fantastic as well. He begins as fearful because of how he was punished for entering the Forbidden Zone where a past simian species was located. He comes around though as he comes to know George. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter do amazingly as their characters.
Dr. Zaius – Is the primary protagonist of the film who has some idea of what happened to humanity on this world. He uses religion to suppress free thought and punish heretics who go against the holy book. He is authority corrupt and a complex antagonist which makes him interesting. Maurice Evans does great. His final critique of humanity is perfect (The place where you were was once a paradise, not it is a wasteland…giving us our first hints of the truth of this world).
George Taylor – The anti-authority figure does a great job of fighting the power as represented by Zaius. He is able to build a bridge with Zira and attempts to with Nova…his actions drive the plot. He also sees the truth of his astronaut companions such as one who was seeking immortality as a reason for leaving Earth on the voyage.
The Trial of George Taylor – I really liked the trial scene. We have a tribunal of Orangutans who ignore every claim put before them. We also see them silence George when he is putting up a good defense. It is the perfect corrupt trial and we see later that it was all a ploy to get Zira and Cornelius charged with heresy and to find out where George’s tribe is in order to exterminate them.
The Reveal and Ending- The Planet of the Apes is Earth. We destroyed ourselves with Nuclear Weapons and war leading to the rise of our ape brethren. It is brilliant and desolate and a great warning about the future. Fact is another movie didn’t need to be made after this since the ending is so complete.
We Are the Apes – We are the ones who fear truth and discovery like Dr. Zaius. People in our species wish to suppress thoughts that go against their religious ideology and people are still killed for heresy today and science in the classroom is replaced by myths in some extreme religious settings. This message is profound and warning. In our fear of truth and knowledge and want for power we could destroy ourselves…We create structures where abuse can happen and ideology and can. We are the apes the movie presents as the antagonists except for those who are seeking knowledge and truth.
The Music – I loved the music. It captured the primitive world that Earth had become and gave a sense of discovery and urgency. Jerry Goldsmith did a fantastic job.
Cons: Nova – She is an empty character who is just their to love the protagonist. Here is to hoping she gets development in the other movies. She is a blank slate.
The Crew – The astronaut crew isn’t all that interesting. They are there just to die. (Also the black astronaut dies first). They were never fully fleshed out and seem to represent ideals. None of them receive the development George does.
Lucius – Another example of an idiotic child actor. All he does is whine and say that he’s a rebel. He doesn’t do anything but help Zira and Cornelius and more often than not needs to be rescued. Whenever he is helping he is whining.
The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a classic for a reason. It provides an excellent critique of some of the problems today as well as some of the problems in the past and even shows us what it sees as the way out…giving it’s desolate ending a bit of bittersweetness. I would definitely call it a favorite film.
My Final Score for this film is 9 / 10. Definitely recommend.