Friday, October 10, 2014

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the ApesI recently watched this original version of "The Planet of the Apes" for the first time since seeing it at a drive-in theater back in 1968. First I was amazed at how much of the film I had forgotten. Actually, most of what I remembered was the (then) shocking ending. What I was impressed with this time around was what an intelligent and well-scripted film this was (and still is). Like any good science fiction, this film provides an interesting commentary on the human condition. One the one hand you have the Minister of Science and Defender of the Faith debunking and destroying an archeological dig, because it is contrary to the faith of the Apes, but on the other hand in his reading from the sacred scrolls you hear the accurate description of the destructive (dare I say "sinful?") nature of humans. I've been pondering this segment of the film quite a bit over the past few days. Like others, I think Charlton Heston is in fine form here. It's easy to picture him as president of the National Rifle Association after seeing this film. I still prefer Heston in "Ben Hur" and "the Ten Commandments," but that probably reflects my personal interest in the stories that are told there. As one Academy Award film-maker recently said upon receiving his lifetime achievement Oscar (I think it was Norman Jewison), "Find a story that needs to be told and tell it." This version of "The Planet of the Apes" certainly tells a good story, and tells it well.

20th Century Fox released the film previously on DVD by itself and in a box set with the rest of the Apes films plus a bonus DVD of extras. Now, for those who just want the first (and best) film of the series and all of the extras, Fox has released an excellent two-DVD special edition of Planet of the Apes to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

The DVD's extras get off to a shaky start with the two lackluster audio commentaries. The first is by legendary composer, Jerry Goldsmith, and the second by actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, Kim Hunter and make-up artist John Chambers. Both commentaries could benefit from some extensive editing. There is way too much dead air that one has to sit through to get to the few interesting tidbits of information. The DVD producers should have edited down these commentaries to only the scenes in the movie that are actually commented on, like with the audio tracks on the Glengarry Glen Ross and The Right Stuff DVDs.

The text commentary by Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth, redeems things by cramming a ton of interesting factoids on the screen in the form of subtitles. It's scary when the text commentary is better than both audio commentaries combined.

The second DVD contains the bulk of the extra material. The first section, "Exploring the Apes," contains a comprehensive, two-hour documentary entitled, "Behind the Planet of the Apes." Hosted by Roddy McDowall, it takes a look at the entire Apes saga from the films to the cartoon and TV series with an emphasis on the first (and best) film. Fans of the Apes films will be delighted to see all the major players from the films back for new interviews done exclusively for this documentary.

Also included in this section is the make-up test reel with Edward G. Robinson that convinced the 20th Century Fox brass to pony up the money for the film. There is "Roddy McDowall Home Movies" taken while making the first Apes movie that shows the step-by-step application of his ape make-up. There are 19 minutes of dailies and outtakes from the film.

There are also two vintage featurettes from 1968 and 1972 respectively. They are nothing more than superficial promos but are now fascinating time capsules of their times. Finally, there are two brief featurettes that showcase footage of directors Don Taylor and J. Lee Thompson shooting a scene from the Apes films that they worked on. These last two extras feel like unnecessary padding.

The "Publicity" section contains theatrical trailers for all of the Apes films, two glowing reviews for The Planet of the Apes and a collection of movie posters from all around the world.

The "Galleries" section features sketches by costume designer Morton Haack and a small stills gallery.

Finally, the "Ape Phenomenon" offers a brief glimpse into the vast Apes merchandising empire with a gallery of action figures. Also included is a collection of costumes and make-up from the films.

This new two-DVD set does justice to this landmark science fiction film. The transfer is amazing clear and free of any artifacting. The movie also hasn't sounded better with a crystal clear 5.1 surround soundtrack. While the audio commentaries are a let down, the two-hour documentary more than makes up for it. This is well worth picking up if you are a fan of the first film and want all the supplemental materials included in the box set without having to pay the extra money for the inferior sequels.

Buy Planet of the Apes (1968) Now

This is a review of the quality of the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray. The video looks good for a film as aged as this, but is not even close to stunning. The high def transfer in some cases actually serves to accentuate problems you might not have noticed otherwise. I saw more than a few soft scenes where they looked unfocused. Grain was never too obtrusive, but the colors were uneven through a good portion of the film. Some scenes were rich and vivid, and others washed out. My biggest problem is the sound. They present the sound here as a DTS 5.1 mix, and a mono mix. I chose DTS and was sorely dissapointed. My subwoofer never kicked on. That means that there was never an instance when there was a frequency lower than about 85hz. This made for a very shallow sounding mix. Adding to that, the surround speakers never seemed to register anything, and you've got what sounded to me like a mono mix anyway. All of the sound seemed to come from my center channel. To me, digitally remastering a film soundtrack at this level means accentuating the lower registries by adding lower frequencies, and placing atmospheric and musical elements in the surround channels. If you don't plan on doing that, what's the use of calling it a DTS 5.1 mix? Anyway, this is by far the best transfer I've ever seen of the film, but don't be looking for anything more than a slightly better than average transfer, and a glorified mono track.

Read Best Reviews of Planet of the Apes (1968) Here

There weren't many memorable science fiction films in the 1960s, but the few that met with success found it unusually enduring. "Planet of the Apes" didn't achieve the canonical status of "2001: A Space Odyssey", released the same year. But it spawned a 5-film franchise, inspired a reconceived version in 2001, and it still makes an impression. Rod Serling, of "Twilight Zone" fame, and Michael Wilson wrote the screenplay based on Pierre Boulle's 1963 French novel at producer Arthur P. Jacobs' behest. Beyond its surprise ending, cult appeal, and socio-political undertones, the film's makeup and score are notable. This was the second of seven films on which the late composer Jerry Goldsmith worked with director Franklin Schaffner. And John Chambers ground-breaking prosthetic makeup won an Honorary Oscar for Outstanding Makeup Achievement.

George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the leader of a 6-month deep space mission that left Earth in 1972. The four-person crew expects to return to Earth some 700 years after they left, owing to the speed at which their craft was traveling. They place themselves into a state of stasis for the journey home not knowing what they will find when they awake. The ship unexpectedly lands in water. The crew has to bail out, and they find themselves in a landscape devoid of vegetation. The ship's clock said 3978, implying that 2000 years have passed, and they suspect they've missed Earth by 300,000 light years. But a primitive human-like species inhabits this planet, along with a society of ape-like creatures who possess something akin to 19th-century technology. But the Apes are not friendly towards humans, and Taylor is taken captive.

Viewed more than 40 years after it was made, "Planet of the Apes" didn't seem nearly as campy or dated as I expected. Even the ape makeup is not too bad. I wonder if Taylor's disposition might partly account for it. His misanthropy and arrogance age better than earnestness or patience would have. The film's stance against animal experimentation, its criticism of the assumption that a species is unintelligent and unworthy if it can't speak, its Darwinism, its ruminations on the human capacity for self-destruction, particularly through nuclear war, address hot-button issues of the 1960s. It's not subtle. More subtle, though, is the reflection on the role of religion and of community leaders in shaping our views of the past: History as a socio-political tool. The horrific consequences of lying with good intentions. It's a neglected and provocative topic, even now.

The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): There are two "audio commentaries" that seem to be interviews recorded at different times, pieced together, and played over the film. The first is a commentary by composer Jerry Goldsmith. The second is by actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, Kim Hunter, and makeup artist John Chambers. These "commentaries" are sparse and would have been better simply as interviews or run over short excerpts of the film, so the viewer could locate them easily. There is also a "Text Commentary" by Eric Greene, author of "Planet of the Apes as American Myth". This runs in the lower frame, like subtitles. This also would have been better if we could just read the essay, instead of reading a few words at a time. Subtitles for the film are available in English SDH and Spanish. Dubbing available in Spanish and French.

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Oh, man...I love this movie. I can watch it over and over and over again and still find it absolutely fascinating. I love the Charleston Heston character; Taylor. He's so anti-human himself and then winds up on a planet where "the only good human is a dead human..." I am well aware of the fact this particular line is from the second movie, but even before that line was even uttered you got the feeling that this was the overall attitude of the inhabitants.

The part that still gets me is the ending. I remember watching it with my dad for the first time on network television; that scene played out and my dad let out an audible gasp. It was just totally ironic. Taylor has discovered the destiny of the human race. It still sends chills up my spine just thinking about it.

The Tim Burton remake was absolutely horrid. My friend and went to go see that piece of monkey **** only to drive home and rewatch the original. Maybe Tim Burton needs to enroll in some kind of class where they can teach him some of the basics on how to make movies.

Stick with the classic original. Even if you're not into science fiction you will find this movie to be absolutely incredible. Everything from the writing, to the shot locations, to the screenwriting is total and complete perfection.

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