Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Planet of the Apes

What can I possibly say about Planet of the Apes? No, not the disaster of a film directed Tim Burton in 2001 and starring Marky Mark Mark Walberg. I’m talking about the 1968 classic directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston. The film that started a franchise that will not die continues to this day it was based on the 1963 book La Plan├Ęte des singes by French author Pierre Boulle. It may surprise you to learn that while I’ve seen the remake from 2001 and even reviewed the 2011 reboot I’ve actually never seen the original films, not even the first one. Apparently this is to the disgust of The Lady (Who hadn’t seen Star Wars until I forced her so I don’t think she really has any room to judge).

We all know how the film ends, both in story and real life. A runaway success the movie led to all sorts of sequels, spin-offs, parodies and, eventually, remakes. But the sad fact is that 1968 was a long time ago and things change. Is the film actually as good as its legend implies, or is it another example of overrated 1960s fluff?

Full review after the jump.

After years of ripping the balls off of  humans, ape-kind now rules
Taylor (Heston) is the commander of a team of astronauts flying a ship designed to go a bit below the speed of light towards far off star. For them it’s just been a few months since their launch but it’s been centuries in real time. Something goes wrong, however, and the crew is forced out of hibernation when the ship crashes into a lake on an unknown planet. They make it to shore and begin their trek through their new world, even finding primitive human-like creatures. Things soon take a turn for the bizarre when they are caught-up in a human hunt perpetrated by intelligent, talking and rifle wielding apes who appear to be the masters of this planet.

Hilariously the filmmakers seemed to believe that we would achieve near-faster than light space travel by 1972, just three years after we went to the moon at considerably slower than light speeds. There’s a certain sense of optimism present in 1960s science fiction that you just don’t see in modern times (Didn’t Lost in Space take place in the far future of 1999?). Anyway the most notable things about the film are 1) the make-up job which was great at the time, revolutionary even, and while it hasn’t held up to modern standards it’s still looks surprisingly good with only fairly minor issues attached. And 2) the dark tone of the film. Whereas the 2001 remake was basically an action film and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is more of an uplifting story (So long as you’re a fan of apes, anyway) this film is goddamn depressing from nearly start to finish, dealing with themes of isolation, loneliness, prejudice and the separation of church and state. This is a very cerebral film, which is not something I think I can rightly call the two most recent movies. This is really more of a sign of the times as a lot of science fiction in the 60s and 70s were not only depressing affairs but often had something to say beneath the surface of the story. I even found some relevant aspects of the story’s theme for today’s society, such as the constant struggle between Faith and Science (Evolution says “what” now?).

And I think it safe to assume that vast majority of people out there know the ending of this film already due to all the parodies and homages out there, but within the context of the film it’s still a great twist that is actually foreshadowed a bit throughout the film. There’s really great storytelling here. Also for the people like me who hadn’t seen this film yet, even if you think you know how the story goes story (“I love you, Doctor Zaius!”), I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by it. The structure of the film is very different from what I thought I knew.

Pictured: Statutory rape
Not Pictured: Taylor's ability to give a f**k
But sadly one thing I wasn’t expecting was how much I hated Taylor. I have no idea if this was supposed to be the case but the main character here is a huge asshole from the moment he began interacting with his crew. I mean, Christ, this guy takes some sort of perverted pleasure in making him shipmate Landon feel like crap for like five minutes straight. I don’t know why the space program would hire such an anti-social dick to lead a team on a mission of exploration. That seems like it’s just asking for a critical failure. He apparently signed up for the mission because he hates people and is hoping to find something better in the universe, so I guessing that there’s supposed to be irony there as he finds what he seeks in the worst way possible. But still he’s such a jerk and even the way he treats local mute human girl Nova (Like a sex pet, FYI) is extremely off putting. But luckily despite the fact that I pretty much hate Taylor Ape Society is so goddamned screwed up that it’s hard to not root for the lone human trying to invoke change, no matter how much we kind of want him to get hit by a truck. This is really a testament to this well-structured film. Still I think I would have greatly preferred Landon or Dodge over Taylor as the hero of the story if given a choice (And it would have been kind of satisfying if Taylor and Dodge had switched fates).

I’m not certain what I was expecting this film to be like but in the end I feel like it deserves every piece of praise it’s ever received. I can totally see how this film would have been an epic all those decades ago. In fact I’m pretty certain, at least intellectually, that this is a better movie than Rise of the Planet of the Apes and it’s certainly a whole lot better than that crap Burton tossed out in 2001. It made me think as opposed to simply being a fun ride (which admittedly I’m not sure it’s all that fun, at least not as much as it is depressing). It shows its age though so if you’re not really a fan of old movies this one isn’t going to suddenly change yours. Still this film is a classic and science fiction fan should make sure they see it at least once. Now all I need to do is track down the next four films. Since this one was so good it stands to reason that they will all be super good, right? Right? Why isn’t anyone saying anything?

I'm sure these humans and apes are in for a happy ending
 I give Planet of the Apes 4 Adorable Pandas Damn Dirty Apes out of 5


-A cerebral film with something to say

-Cool make-up job (for 1968)

-Is dark tone sets it apart from its modern spin-offs


-Taylor is jerk and somewhat hard to root for

-It’s kind of depressing

1 comment:

  1. Beneath is a disaster, literally and figuratively.

    Escape is a fun reversal of circumstances and themes from the first movie, but is hurt by very small screen production values. There's a lot of TV people in bad '70s clothing talking to a couple of apes in a room. Still, it has points to make and a purpose for being, with an ending that is in some ways more of a gut punch than the first.

    Conquest is hard core. Caesar does not play.

    Battle is terrible. After I bought the box set, I couldn't manage to force myself to see that last bit of nonsense again.

    None of the sequels match the original, but 3 & 4 are cool enough to at least be spoken of in the same breath, as is Rise. 2 & 5 are much more in the Burton vein, having a few moments or elements worth noting, but are otherwise garbage.


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