By Chris Campo
We are very close to the third film in the Planet of the Apes reboot series. I speak on behalf of all moviegoers when I say that both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are some of the finest blockbusters we have, so it's safe to get very, very hyped for War for the Planet of the Apes (JACK NOTE: Review up on the 20th). To celebrate its release, I thought it would be fun to go back and review some of the older instalments in the franchise. You guys know this, I've done this before, so let's get started with the 1968 classic that I have never seen until now, Planet of the Apes.
Thousands of years after they first left Earth on a long-lasting space voyage, three astronauts find themselves crashed on a distant planet with no immediate signs of life. Marooned on this strange new planet with no way back home, the three men, led by Taylor (Charlton Heston), must search for suitable living conditions. Shortly after running into what seems to be humans, the astronauts are captured and imprisoned by a race of walking and talking apes. Taylor soon makes enemies with the apes, as he proves he can talk and is far more evolved than the other humans on this planet. Tensions rise as the apes decide what to do with Taylor.
I had a lot of fun with this movie. I didn't know what to expect, really. All I knew about this film prior to watching it were the ape masks and, unfortunately, the now iconic ending. It kind of plays out like a Star Trek episode with bit of 2001 and a dash of Alien. I found myself intrigued with the bulk of the film. The surprisingly bleak film has a lot of hidden meanings under it's goofy rubber mask. It looks great and features beautiful, practical sets and convincing performances. I now see why this film is so beloved, and I think I love it too. Part of me presumed it would be one of those films that becomes huge based on the concept alone but no, this is just a great film.
As I watched this in 2017, nearly 50 years after release, I did notice how some aspects don't hold up, most notably the weird and often awkward zooms the camera does every so often, but for the most part, I was blown away by how convincing the film's effects were. The masks do look goofy, only because apes don't really look like that, but the way they emote is astonishing and way ahead of its time. The mouths aren't perfectly in sync, but that can be excused for the real star of the film is the set design. Wow. It's so tangible and real, never making the world feel like it's on some studio lot. It feels real and lived in.
Nowadays, the depiction of poor treatment towards captive animals is nothing new, but it's so damn cool in this film. Using humans as the animals puts a fresh spin on it, and it's deeper than anything I expected. My favorite scenes were when Taylor was captive and trying to explain himself, only to have the apes disregard him. And when he escapes near the halfway point, it was riveting. I think it works so well because of Charlton Heston's incredible and believable performance. He sells every line and I would be lying if I said I didn't get goosebumps at "get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty ape!"
Although, my least favorite parts of the film are towards the latter half, when it focuses on the politics and how the apes decide on what to do with Taylor. It wasn't bad, per se, just not as interesting as the other aspects of the film. I'm also a little bummed that I knew the ending of the film before seeing it, because I was waiting for it the whole time and all the suspense and shock of that scene was lost. It's still a hell of an ending and I appreciate it, but having it spoiled is no fun at all. On the contrary, it was fun noticing all the scenes and scenarios that the later films pay homage to. It was like retroactive fan service and I loved it.
The amount of sequels this thing has is ridiculous, and with my schedule (of mostly nothing) I won't be able to get around to all of them. Jack will be covering the 2001 Tim Burton remake, and I'll be concluding with a review of Rise. Watching the original was a great time, and even if it's 50 years old, it barely feels like it. It's a piece of cinematic history and rightfully so. I am certainly a fan.
4 1/2 Stars
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