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Planet of the Apes


1968’s PLANET OF THE APES defines “classic Science Fiction” and broke new ground at the movies. In the sixties, sci-fi had been relegated to the ranks of b-movies about aliens and giant spiders until 1968, when both “2001” and “Apes” forged new ground.

Charlton Heston stars as astronaut Taylor, bitter in his regard for mankind and looking for something “better” out amongst the stars. He and his fellow astronauts are traveling to the outer reaches and beyond, crossing time boundaries that leave no one alive at home they knew, but a new world to conquer.

When their spacecraft crash lands on a distant planet, far in the future, they find themselves crossing desolate landscapes in a human friendly atmosphere and discover a mass of mute and backward humans.

Of course as we all know, those humans are soon hunted by intelligent, talking apes on horseback. Taylor and his fellow astronauts are captured and taken back to an upside down world where apes are the dominant species and humans are little more than fodder for medical experiments.

With Heston wounded in the hunt and unable to speak, his obvious intelligence intrigues Chimpanzee Scientist Zira (the great Kim Hunter) and her anthropologist husband, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell in a career defining role).

The film’s creators are intelligent, witty and first class, with Rod Serling and Michael Wilson penning the smart screenplay from Pierre Boulle’s classic French novel “The Monkey Planet” and Director Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton, Papillon, The Boys From Brazil) executing everything at a top level.

Make Up designer John Chambers manages to create authentic looking apes, which saves the film from becoming a farce. Without the makeup, the film would never work. The music score by Jerry Goldsmith is groundbreaking and one of his best scores from beginning to end. Chambers won an Oscar and Goldsmith deserved one!

As a kid, this was pure escapist adventure. While it still plays perfectly in that style to this day, as an adult, the film has a great deal to say about racism, war, government and religion, all of it very perceptive.

Heston is terrific and his declaration of “Get your hands off me you damn dirty ape!” still packs a wallop, as does the film’s powerful final scenes in the Forbidden Zone. As Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) says, “Be careful, you might not like what you find.”

So true.

This big box office hit saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy after their steady string of flops in the late sixties, including ‘Star” and “Hello Dolly”. Fox immediately rushed a sequel into production, but inexplicably kept cutting budgets so each sequel that followed became cheaper and cheaper, relying much more on story than effects. Those sequels worked to varying degrees of success, from superb (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) to horrible (Battle for the Planet of the Apes). Followed immediately by “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” in 1971 plus 3 more sequels, 2 TV series and 2 complete reboots, there is nothing quite like the original.

A film classic that gets an A+, a special spot in the movie going memories of my youth & my Top 100 of all time.

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