Synopsis: This classic action-adventure film that changed the face of sci-fi forever, as astronaut (Charles Heston) crash-lands on a strange planet ruled by intelligent apes who use primitive race of humans for experimentation and sport!
‘Planet of the Apes’ is undisputedly a landmark film in sci-fi cinema. Watching it well over four decades after its original release, however, it’s hard to remember why it is considered a classic.
I know that the make-up work was considered a breakthrough at the time (John Chambers won an Honorary Academy Award for it). And Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde score is often cited as one of the best (which I understand, due to its originality – even if I can’t imagine listening to it for leisure).
But beyond this, I don’t really know what makes it a classic. Is it because it was a MASSIVE box office winner at the time (it reportedly grossed 5 times its budget!)? Is it because it ignited the imaginations of so many people and then followed through with multiple sequels, TV series, and a marketing bonanza unseen before?
I don’t know. But it still seems to work: I just watched the film with someone who had never seen it before, and, despite knowing the whole story in advance, was absolutely thrilled with it. Not bad for a film that shows its age.
Admittedly, I still find the film relatively entertaining despite having seen it innumerable times, and I quite enjoy the role-reversal between human and apes as well as the social commentary that is injected in it; while dated, I think that it still has quite a bit to say and a lot to offer.
But it has a number of flaws:
-for starters, Charlton Heston is the most nonhuman of all the actors – and he’s one of the few without ape make-up on! He’s basically beyond Schwarzenegger bad. I’ve always disliked his delivery (and his subhuman grin!) but I don’t remember him being any worse than here. Ill-cast or not, I’d rather watch him play Moses again before watching this performance. Sadly, the rest of the film is compelling enough to accept the torture.
-the characters are often very narrow-minded in their views and actions, the purpose for which is strictly to move the story along in the direction that the writers want – not the way it would ‘normally’ have happened (i.e. when the astronauts all decide to go for a swim, immediately after discovering that there are signs of life immediately around them; Dr. Zeus’ obstinate arguments, bereft of any logic, that everyone gobbles up; …etc.)
-the role-reversal between apes and humans is pretty simple-minded. It has very little consideration for how apes would likely evolve given the circumstances; somehow, in POTA, they evolved very much like humans once did – which is very coincidental to start with, but which seems odd considering their knowledge and/or fear of human behaviour.
-the dialogue is oftentimes theatrical, unnatural and contrived solely to deliver speeches. In that respect, it was already a bit archaic in 1968 – and it certainly doesn’t pass muster by today’s standards.
-as a minor point of contention, I have to note that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed macho man gets the girl – and a really cute one at that! I mean, give me a break already!
Having said this, I do enjoy the pace of the film. I like the fact that it’s slow-going, forcing the audience to simmer a while instead of being SUPER visceral like today’s films are (I think this may be best exemplified by the new prequel – which, based on the trailer, appears to be quite the reversal). This type of pacing assists in passing along commentary because it gives time to reflect on what is being addressed, instead of flirting with an idea and then bombing the crap out of it (i.e.: ‘District 9’).
And the ideas in this film, while over-discussed at this point, were right on target in 1968: science vs. religion, questioning authority and making it accountable, cruelty to animals, nuclear war, prejudice and even the environment (to some degree). Sometimes it hammers the audience over the head with its message, but at least it tries to open their ears to some of the dangerous tendencies of the human race (for example, the apes’ Sacred Scrolls contain the following warning: “Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours”)
How is it that we have remained deaf to warnings that had gone so far as to trickle into pop culture? You would think that, over four decades later, we would have progressed dramatically to prevent such things from happening. And yet here we are in 2011 with an avowed Creationist as Minister of Science (Gary Goodyear), there is less and less accountability in recent years, animals are going extinct at an alarming rate, nuclear weapons are loose upon the world (especially after the dismantling of the USSR) with no true disarmament in sight, prejudice appears to be making a gradual comeback in the name of “freedom of speech” and we’re faced with environmental collapse (man-made or not) with governments refusing to take it seriously.
Sigh… I honestly hope that ‘Planet of the Apes’ wasn’t too prophetic for our own good. Mind you… maybe that’s what makes it a classic.