Saturday, June 07, 2008

Movie of the Week: Planet of the Apes!

Yes, the Movie of the Week this month (and the first Saturday in July) will be part of Planet of the Apes Month!

8mm box art

Plot summary liberally lifted from the excellent Wikipedia entry.


French poster

Astronauts Taylor, Landon, and Dodge are in deep hibernation when their spaceship (non-canonically known as Icarus) crash-lands in a lake on an unknown planet in the year 3978 A.D. following a 2006-year voyage at almost the speed of light (however due to time dilation the crew has aged only 18 months).


The astronauts awaken to find that their fourth companion and only female, Stewart, has died in space due to an air leak and their ship is sinking. They use an inflatable raft to reach shore. Once there, Dodge performs a soil test and pronounces the soil incapable of sustaining life. Taylor suggests they are on a planet in the constellation of Orion some 320 light years from Earth but admits he is not sure.


The three astronauts set off through the desert, finding first a single plant and then others.


They find an oasis at the edge of the desert where they decide to take a swim, ignoring strange 'scarecrows'. While they are swimming, someone steals their clothes. Pursuing the thieves, the astronauts find their clothes in shreds and the perpetrators — a group of mute, primitive humans — contentedly raiding a cornfield. But shortly, the astronauts and other humans are being pursued by gorillas on horseback.


Dodge is shot and killed during the pursuit, while Taylor and Landon are captured and taken back to Ape City; Taylor is shot in the throat, but survives due to the surgical efforts of two chimpanzee scientists, Zira and Galen.


Upon his recovery, Taylor is put in a cage with a woman, Nova, who was captured on the same hunt. Due to the throat injury, he has temporarily lost his ability to speak.


Taylor discovers that the apes, who can talk, are in control and are divided into a strict class system: the gorillas as police, military, and hunters; the orangutans as administrators, politicians and lawyers; and the chimpanzees as intellectuals and scientists. Humans, who cannot talk, are considered feral vermin and are hunted and used for scientific experimentation.


Zira and her fiancé, Cornelius, an archaeologist, take an interest in Taylor because of his lip movements. While Cornelius and Zira are talking to their boss, Dr. Zaius, Taylor writes in the dirt and attempts to call Cornelius and Zira's attention to it, but he becomes frustrated when they do not notice the writing. Zaius sees some letters on the dirt and realizes that Taylor possesses intelligence and hastily erases the letters with his cane. Taylor manages to steal paper and a pencil from Zira and convinces her and Cornelius that he is intelligent.


Zaius orders Taylor to be gelded (emasculated), but he makes an escape. Running through the ape city Taylor discovers the stuffed remains of astronaut Dodge on exhibit in a museum. He is recaptured and while hanging in a net stuns the crowd by speaking, shouting the famous line, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"


He is put on trial to determine his origins (in a parody of the Scopes Monkey trial). During the trial, he is treated like a beast with little or no rights. During the trial Taylor talks about his comrades and explains that one was killed and the other lost.


At this point the court is directed to a group of humans that were captured at the same time as Taylor where he sees Landon, who has been lobotomized. Landon isn't seen again but the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes revealed that he was killed.


Later, Taylor is taken to see Dr. Zaius, who threatens to lobotomize him as well if he doesn't tell the "truth" about where he came from. But Cornelius and Zira execute a plan to free Taylor, who insists that Nova also be brought along. They flee to the Forbidden Zone, where, a year earlier, Cornelius had discovered a cave with artifacts of an advanced society. Dr. Zaius, along with a band of gorilla soldiers, manages to find them.



After a struggle, Taylor finds a talking human doll in the cave that proves that intelligent humans were on the planet long before the apes gained control.


Taylor and Nova are allowed to escape on horseback. Zaius lets them go without further confrontation, knowing that Taylor will find "his destiny." After they leave, Zaius has the soldiers blow up the cave to prevent future research.


Soon after his escape, in the final, iconic scene, Taylor discovers a damaged Statue of Liberty half-buried in the beach. He realizes that he has been on Earth all along, and that humanity must have destroyed its own civilization with war, thereby paving the way for the Planet of the Apes.

So, what can I say? This was the movie that started it all -- four sequels, two TV series, and hundreds of comics, books, toys, costumes and more!

Italian movie poster

I'm sure that you know the movie was based on Pierre Boulle's "Monkey Planet" (as it was called in the original French), although the novel is radically different from the movie -- you'd have to read it to see just how different it is! I'm not sure the novel would've worked all that well as a movie, myself.

Promo Newspaper

I'm sure you're also aware that it was Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, whose work on the script mad it what it was -- and I believe that Serling also came up with the idea of the Planet of the Apes being Earth in the future! OK, so Serling's script would've been impossible to film as it is, but it was his ending!


For many, the most impressive thing about the movie was the makeup. John Chambers created it, and for a long time, it really set the standard for movie makeup! You'll see more about this in a future posting, I'm sure.


But let's not overlook all the satiric elements of this movie... the plot summary mentions it's a parody of the Scopes monkey trial, but I don't think that it mentioned the three orangutans mimicking the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" monkeys. There's a lot of societal commentary throughout all the movies, although some got a bit more heavy-handed than others.


But for all that, there is a definite charm to this movie, as well... when watching it, you just get caught up in what is happening. You first see the apes from Taylor's point of view, and it really helps you buy into the whole concept... you're not thinking, "There's Charlton Heston being chased by a bunch of people disguised as apes," you're thinking, "Taylor's being hunted by apes!"

Very cool Romanian poster!

And we can never neglect the masterful acting... Charlton Heston does - in my opinion - his best acting ever here as Taylor. Compare it to his portrayal of Moses in The Ten Commandments, and I think you'll agree. Taylor starts the movie out as being pessimistic, cynical, and doesn't seem to care about his fellow man... yet, by the end of the movie, he's absolutely fighting for man -- and it's an uncivilized man who's more animal than human! It could be reasonably argued that Taylor had to go through this odyssey to become human.

Spanish poster

Also noteworthy is Roddy McDowall as Cornelius (Roddy would also appear in three of the four sequels, as well as the TV series, making him the most-identified actor with the entire concept). Cornelius is distrustful of Taylor, questions Zira's decisions, but he's a good ape. Cornelius, too, grows as a person through the movie, although it's not as noticeable as Taylor.

Obviously posed publicity photo, this scene doesn't take place in the movie!

And then there's Natalie Trundy as Zira, Ape City's resident women's libber, if you will! She knows her mind, and isn't afraid to speak it!

Another posed photo

Compare that to Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius, who prefers the status quo, and is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain it. Yes, Zaius knows what the score really is, he knows humans were the dominant species in the past, but he's absolutely convinced it would be the end of Ape civilization if the truth were to come out.

As this photo definitely shows, the excellent makeup allowed the actors to express emotions very well!

UK poster

Myself, I consider Planet of the Apes to be a true classic movie, without having to call it a classic sci-fi movie... it's a wonderful piece of cinema, and deserves to be celebrated!

Next week, naturally, the Movie of the Week will be Beneath the Planet of the Apes... and of course, there'll be plenty of Apes stuff between now and then, between all the other geekery!



  1. Wow! Can't wait for ESCAPE, ny personal favorite!

  2. Every Saturday, a new installment! :)



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