Planet of the Apes (1968)
June 2, 2018 6:32 AM - Subscribe

An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved.

The Hollywood Reporter: By its appeal to both the imagination and the intellect within a context of action and elemental adventure, in its relevance to the consuming issues of its time, by the means with which it provides maximum entertainment topped with a sobering prediction of the future of human folly, 20th-Fox's release of Arthur P. Jacobs' production, Planet of the Apes, is that rare film which will transcend all age and social groupings, its multiple levels of appeal and meaning winning response in similar kind if not degree at each.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner with an unfaltering ability to invest the basic fantasy with credibility while bringing the deeper implications into relief, and benefiting from a finely crafted Michael Wilson-Rod Serling screenplay adapted from the novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes stars Charlton Heston, in whose performance man the individual and man the symbol are uniquely conjoined. Planet of the Apes equals gargantuan box office.


Eminently successful on its primary level, the film has its weaknesses in the crowding of allegorical meanings. At one time or another the film deals with race relations, war and pacifism, church inquisition, senate investigation and suppression of thought, sexual myth, the credibility gap in official statements of position, the selective deductive processes of historians, the generation gap, blind allegiance to the status quo, the imperative right of dissent, social structure and the caste system.

As a means of mirroring the totality of civilization in the totality of another, this is certainly defensible. Dramatically, it is cumbersome. Since the film sets up an anti-war stance at the outset and builds to an overwhelming symbolization at the climax, a number of the tangential commentaries might have been sacrificed toward the unity of that theme, which in fact encompasses a good many of the other problems alluded to.

Roger Ebert: It is not great, or significant, or profound. Occasionally it is distractingly cute, as when the apes rewrite one cliché after another: "Man see, Man do," for example, or "To apes, all men look alike." But, this is part of the fun. So is that much-publicized ape makeup: it does look real, by jingo, and after awhile you really do start thinking of those apes as individuals.

The plot is cast in the time-proven Hollywood adventure tradition. A space explorer from Earth (Charlton Heston) crash-lands on an unknown planet where apes rank higher than men on the evolutionary ladder. He tries to convince his captors he is intelligent; there are some good action sequences; some amusing twists; some easily digestible sociological and philosophical points, and a thoroughly satisfactory surprise ending.

Heston is by now just about the only Hollywood actor capable of playing archetypal heroes -- Moses, Ben-Hur, the last man alive, etc. -- and there must be a reason. In stature and screen presence, he is heroic and he is noble; you've got to admit it. He's right for this role, however preposterous it really may be, and he carries the film effortlessly. The actors hidden behind that ape makeup (Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowall, etc.) are difficult to review as people, but they're fine as apes.

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that "Planet of the Apes" is much better than I expected it to be. It is quickly paced, completely entertaining, and its philosophical pretensions don't get in the way.

The Guardian: A promising idea, and yet ultimately too cute: it is a one-to-one allegory, and this much of the film is spent exploring this not very rewarding vein. For example, the priests refuse to believe in the evolutionary theory that apes might just possibly have developed from man, and a nice young chimpanzee social worker's idea that our hero (Charlton Heston in his usual top form) might be a "missing link" is jeered as heresy.

Except for the few (perhaps too consciously) beautiful bits of photography, the interest of the film is precisely in the working out of the plot, so I dare not reveal any more. Schaffner handles it well, but he does not add to it very conspicuously. (The screenplay, by the way, is by Michael Wilson and rod Serling after the Pierre Boulle novel.)

It's a film to see, all right, and it does confirm Schaffner's talent. It is only that one can now see more clearly the limits of that talent, limits which are much narrower than I had hoped. This explains my sense of disappointment; on the other hand, why look a gift horse in the face, and this particular horse, if not a thoroughbred, is nevertheless something of a safe bet.

Slant: Of course, Planet of the Apes became a blockbuster because it’s cannily crafted, in part, as a ripping adventure yarn, director Franklin Schaffner staging a long desert trek for survival by Taylor and his two surviving shipmates in the opening half-hour, a brilliant “hunt” sequence with gorillas pursuing the human brutes as targets and trophies (memorably enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s dissonant, percussive score), and a lengthy chase sequence where the escaped spaceman leaps and dodges past hairy denizens of church, museum, and marketplace. The action set pieces are an essential complement to the Taylor’s ongoing, futile argument for his right to survival with the wizened ape theocrat Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans, his sonorous Shakespearean voice venomously damning humanity through the foam-rubber makeup).

Though Heston’s jaw-clenched, hambone qualities are present here, with many iconic lines immortalized in an online audio shrine, never was a vehicle more cleverly built around the star’s epic persona as the embodiment of manifest destiny and Judeo-Christian civilization. Playing the last American male, he is netted, shot in the throat, probed in a lab, beaten with clubs, leashed, gagged, hosed down, stripped bare-ass, and threatened with castration and lobotomy. His Taylor, a misanthrope who undertook a 2,000-year space flight to abandon homo sapiens, becomes the species’ ultimate defender when an archaeological expedition to rescue Zira and her fiancé Cornelius (amusingly twitchy Roddy McDowall) from prosecution by the staunchly orthodox Zaius for “scientific heresy” uncovers evidence of an extinct human culture.

The immense appeal of Planet of the Apes to 12-year-olds of all ages—gorillas on horseback! A hot, silent chick (Linda Harrison)!—includes a few too many monkey jokes, and heavily laid-on allusions to the Scopes trial, Will Rogers, and Animal Farm. But Schaffner’s otherwise savvy, serious approach, highlighted by a persuasive monologue of despairing solitude from the caged Heston, gives the movie a forcefulness that’s survived the fever of its 40-years-past phenomenon. Its concluding scenes, with McDowall intoning from ape scripture, “Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn,” as Heston and his new mate go searching for the planet’s last mystery on horseback along a rocky shoreline, is given mythic heft by a celebrated fadeout. The much-parodied twist ending devised by Serling, which 20th Century Fox has spoilerishly taken the liberty of slapping onto DVD covers in recent years, still has apocalyptic impact in how it backs up the movie’s prime antagonist. Dr. Zaius has a point.

Empire: Its visuals have become so imprinted on our minds, through sequels, spin-offs and straightforward repetition on TV, that we sometimes overlook its subtleties. When Taylor laughs at the stars and stripes, it crystallises the heart of the film. Here is a man with little time for mankind, and less time for worthless symbols of his so-called civilisation. A misanthrope in conquistador's clothing, he laughs in the face of his mission, now so obviously gone awry; he fully expects to perish on this godforsaken planet, and if he were the last representative of his species left alive, then good riddance. Extinction was too good for them.

It is Taylor's journey — and by that token, Heston's credible, athletic performance — that makes Planet Of The Apes so much more than a piece of rubber-mask sci-fi hokum: he begins the story hating himself and his fellow man; in the face of ape tyranny he learns to love himself (and his fetching mate, Nova); but he ends up on the beach, damning the human race all to hell, an ambassador now, but a very disappointed one.


Art of the Title

Filming Locations

The original Planet Of The Apes series became more daring from movie to movie

Human See, Human Do: A Complete History of 'Planet of the Apes'

How the original Planet of the Apes reflected the counterculture of the 1960s

50 years of Planet of the Apes: why the original series still holds a warning for us all

How Planet of the Apes Kicked Off the First Sci-Fi Film Saga

‘Planet of the Apes’ Filmmakers Worried 1968 Original Wouldn’t Be Taken Seriously

24 Things We Learned from the ‘Planet of the Apes’ Commentary

Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off
posted by MoonOrb (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just rewatched this last weekend -- and then, for the first time, I watched all the sequels. Over the course of 48 hours. This is the strangest damn series, seriously. I had no idea. I don't think most modern viewers have progressed beyond the opening salvo, which really is very weird in isolation and requires no follow-up. But that follow-up is...not what I expected.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love that you included that final link..
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I love you, Dr. Zaius!
posted by Chrysostom at 6:20 PM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is what we, back in the days before Star Wars, considered a thrilling, optimistic Sci-Fi film. This is what science fiction films were about back then- telling us what we had to look forward to in the future. I recommend watching this on a marathon with Soylent Green, Silent Running, A Dog and His Boy, Zardoz, Logan's Run, and THX-1138. That'll give you a good feeling for the 70s.
posted by happyroach at 9:02 PM on June 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

I recommend watching this on a marathon with Soylent Green, Silent Running, A Dog and His Boy, Zardoz, Logan's Run, and THX-1138

When the suicide rate spikes following this marathon, blame happyroach.
posted by hanov3r at 8:51 AM on June 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Serious question: are the apes supposed to be (metaphorically) black people?

Beyond the obvious reason for asking that question, I'm also thinking here of Heinlein's infamous Farnham's Freehold, where the premise is that a nuclear war destroys most of the northern hemisphere, and from the rubble new superpowers emerge from Africa and South America. These new superpowers engage in the exact kind of colonialism that the European powers did, including the use of the decimated white survivors in the northern hemisphere as chattel slaves.

The Apes franchise seems to me to offer exactly the same kind of role-reversal story.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:05 AM on June 4, 2018

Serious question: are the apes supposed to be (metaphorically) black people?

What's interesting about the series of films is that the Apes take on a variety of metaphorical poses, echoing different elements of, then, current day society. In one of the films, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the connection to the black power movement is more cogently present than in some of the other movies and there the sympathy leans towards the Apes, now possess human like intelligence, who are held as slaves by humans and start a rebellion.

In the first couple movies though the metaphor is more broadly drawn, where the apes simply, well, ape, human society in all its forms. The "Apes" are separated by species into different classes in the first two films, where chimps are the scientists, gorillas the soldiers, and orangutans the political/religious class, if memory serves, highlighting the different factions and values of human civilization, each vying for control over the society and the humans, who the scientists wish to study, the gorillas want to enslave, and the orangutans wish to erase for fear of the effect talking humans will have on the society. In some sense, at times, it's more like Heston and the others are represented more akin to a PoC than the apes given their lack of standing and fear they generate.

In the second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, my favorite, the same basic structure plays out for the beginning of the film, with a new group of astronauts going through almost the exact same thing as Heston's crew did as they search for Heston. The last third of the movie adds a mutant human religious cult who worship a powerful nuclear weapon capable of destroying what's left of the world. The end of the movie, essentially, provides a reversal of sorts to Heston's plaintive cry at the end of the first movie. I won't spoil it, but it places Heston's character in the position making a decision that undercuts his accusation of "us" in the first film, which expands its reach with a dreadful logic.

The third film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, reverses the scenario from the first movie, with two of the sympathetic Apes coming back in time to "our" society and being dealt with in ways that aren't quite as crude as Heston was dealt with in their pre-industrial society, but, ultimately, every bit as brutally. That film switches the allegiance of the viewer from being with the humans seeking to free themselves from the Apes to that of attachment to the "Apes" as they seek to find a place in "our" world. Our society is now the villainous one.

The fourth film is Conquest and it follows on from the story from the third, connecting back to the beginning in a way as well, where the audience is still attached to the ape perspective but it's broadened a bit as sympathetic humans also play a role and lead towards a future of possibly some sense of equality, but at a major cost.

The last film, tries to follow that idea, but isn't all that successful in my remembering, so it's all a bit hazy to me now other than it didn't have the same sense of metaphor the others did or just didn't quite know how to wrap things up in a way that fit what came before. The movies as a whole, basically, took a shotgun approach to criticizing society, attacking all elements of it with the human/ape relationships adapting to different purposes in the various films. The plasticity of the metaphors was quite bracing when matched with a strong sense of pessimism over the social order from almost every angle save that of individual connection and the desire to reveal the truth, even as that could lead to destruction.

Needless to say, I suppose, but I'm a big fan of the series, though it's now been many years since I saw it last so some of my synopses could be off and perhaps more fitting of what I want to remember in some areas. I originally saw it as a kid, at just the right age to be completely blown away by the bleakness of the unsparing point of view, so that surely colors my thoughts about the movies as well given how formative they were in shaping my own perspective on things.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:19 PM on June 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

The last one in the series ends on both a hopeful and ambiguous note, with humans and apes living together in what seems to be peace, but with the Lawgiver intoning that they still have not reached a moment when they do not need weapons, and a statue of the ape Caesar, who led the resistance and built the shared future, weeping.

Yes, the STATUE weeps.
posted by maxsparber at 12:39 PM on June 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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