Planet of the Apes (1968)

planet of the apes

“Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

The Scoop: 1968 G, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter

Tagline: Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man. In a matter of time, an astronaut will wing through the centuries and find the answer. He may find the most terrifying one of all on the planet where apes are the rulers and man the beast.

Summary Capsule: Planet. Apes. You fill in the blanks.

Justin’s rating: Well, at least I didn’t throw my feces at it

Justin’s review: Watching a classic for the first time many decades after its original release is a vastly interesting process.  You’re not only taking on the movie for what it is, but for its legacy and pop culture references and sequels and action figure toy line and everything else.  In many cases, these movies have become so pervasive that everyone’s already formed an opinion, even if they haven’t seen the movie in question.

So it was with me and Planet of the Apes.  Apart from the forgettable Tim Burton “reimagining,” I hadn’t seen any of the original five-film series, and wasn’t going to except for the fact that it was sad Mutant Reviewers has been up this long without any of these movies on its roster.  It felt weird watching it, because I not only knew the shocking twist ending, but that Simpsons musical adaptation of this kept running through my head: “I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z, oh you’ll never make a monkey out of meeee…” 

How was I to treat this film with an impartial attitude?  I guess I wasn’t.

Planet of the Apes begins as a group of astronauts are on a vaguely defined mission to… travel through the stars, or something… while relativity means that for every year they spend in space, hundreds go by at home.  At this point I’m wondering why NASA even bothered, since they weren’t going to get any data from it until well after their great-grandchildren were dead.

So after astronaut Charlton Heston smokes a cigar in the cockpit and nobody thinks to tell him to put it out, he crashlands on a planet and makes with the Survivor Man for a while.  As with many older films, the pacing here is much slower than we’re accustomed to, so it was hard not to hit the fast-forward button to get to the good stuff.

Eventually, he encounters a tribe of mute people who are being rounded up by intelligent apes.  It turns out that the apes are the dominant species, with a caste system that cleverly uses the varying types of simians as character traits.  Heston is treated like an animal — role reversal! — which he objects to except for the part where they give him a female to sex up.  I noted that he wasn’t complaining so much about that part.  Ah, to be a space man in the ’60s.

From there, Heston astonishes the monkeys by talking, which throws their society on its head as the thought of a smart human is as weird to them as a gorilla strolling into a Starbucks and asking for a double-chocolate chip frappe with extra whipped cream would be to us.  Cue debate, Heston running around for a while before being captured for the umpteenth time, a trip out into the wasteland, and a couple mildly interesting reveals.

For the 1960s, this was some amazing stuff, particularly the ape costumes.  Without CGI or elaborate animatronics, these actors had to don dozens of pounds of prosthetics while emoting through it all, and it sort of works if you don’t pay attention to the lips that simply move like a Muppet’s mouth.  The ape civilization is less impressive, as it looks like the backlot of a Star Trek original series set.

Ultimately, it’s one of those films that’s probably good to see just to say you did, but it failed to hold my interest as both a story and a visual experience.  That’s a shame, because I do love my monkeys.

Monkeys do have better fashion sense, I’ll give them that

Intermission!

  • Back in 1972 it was totally okay to smoke cigars on space shuttles!
  • 3978 AD — do you think Earth really would care about this ship then?
  • Stewart didn’t age well.  Poor girl.
  • NASA equips astronauts with pistols?  Forward thinking, there.
  • The astronauts with beards kind of look like apes
  • The really bad lightning effects
  • That’s a lot of naked man-butt for a G-rated film
  • “In six months we’ll be running this planet” — NASA trained their boys right in the old days!
  • Heston really loves to bear his teeth
  • He doesn’t have much of a problem accepting the ape’s offer of a mate, does he?
  • Of COURSE Charlton Heston needs a gun

Groovy Quotes

George Taylor: It’s a mad house! A mad house!

George Taylor: Doctor, I’d like to kiss you goodbye.
Dr. Zira: All right, but you’re so damned ugly.

George Taylor: Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

George Taylor: Doctor, would an ape make a human doll that TALKS?

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Logan’s run

13 comments

  1. One of the things that has always bugged me about this movie is, well, not the movie itself, but the way it’s packaged. I mean, I know everyone knows the twist ending by now. It’s as omnipresent as ‘Soylent Green is made of people’ – the spoiler ain’t a spoiler anymore. But fer cryin’ out loud, do they have to advertise it ON THE COVER? I mean, every single edition of ‘PoTA’ I’ve seen has had the Statue of Liberty on the front. EVERY. ONE. On the off-chance that there ARE a few people out there who DON’T know the ending, do the marketing geniuses behind these things really have to ruin it for them before they’ve even seen the thing? That’s just REALLY inconsiderate, if you ask me.
    That being said, I’ve always kind of had a soft spot for this flick. I’ve always kinda liked Charlton Heston as an actor – I know he’s not technically very good, but he’s what I call a ‘meat and potatoes’ sort of actor – he doesn’t hold with no sissy ‘technique’, he just wades in, pours gravy on the scenery, and gobbles it up.

  2. As someone who saw this movie as a wee lass and didn’t know the ending, it was very *dun dun DUUUN* my first time around. Doesn’t hold up as well now that I’m older, but PotA and me, we had good times.

    • Precisely – it’s in the interest of preserving that *dun dun DUUUN* for future generations that they SHOULDN’T PUT IT ON THE BOX COVER. I mean, it’s a great ending – shouldn’t they be doing their best to conceal it, rather than give it away?

  3. I’ve never actually seen this one the whole way through, having only occasionally popped in when my dad was watching it. Many of the parts I saw struck me as being terribly heavy-handed, particularly in the characterization of Dr. Zaius. Then again, it was co-written by Rod Serling, who was often equally unsubtle on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

    • That was kinda the style back then, really – ‘subtlety’ didn’t really enter into old sci-fi movies. They made broad strokes with the brush and created a bold image, and you would LIKE IT, dammit! (And really, things haven’t changed too much – I can think of any number of recent movies where the concept pretty much IS the story.)

  4. No! They did it! They blew it up! And then the apes blew up their society too. How could this happen? And then the birds took over and ruined their society. And then the cows. And then…I don’t know, is that a slug, maybe? Noooo!

  5. “How was I to treat this film with an impartial attitude? I guess I wasn’t.”

    Nope. Not any more. That is impossible.

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