Friday, April 10, 2009

Film Review: 'Planet of the Apes' – 7.5/10

Film Review: Sci-Fi (1968)
'The Planet of the Apes'
Written by Joé McKen on Thursday, April 10, 2009

Different eras equate to different coupling possibilities in Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 classic Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes is about as big a classic cultural icon as a movie can be, so I approach reviewing and critiquing it as one would enter a misty cemetery at night renowned for its zombies (perhaps with ape masks). I did happen to see the 2001 remake with Mark Wahlberg though, which I did like albeit finding parts of it a little confusing, and I was disappointed to find what little similarity the two films share. It's odd – add the original's mystique and imagination to the remake's superior technical skill and the female chimp whose name evades me (Amy?) – and Mark Wahlberg (I do have a soft spot for the guy) – and you'd get my ideal Planet of the Apes. But enough about my random ramblings – on with the review.

Hailing from way back in 1968, the film does understandably show its age in many ways, from the remarkably oldschool portrayal of "futuristic technology" (such as the spaceship in the beginning) to the outdated special effects – and also the unimpressive score from Jerry Goldsmith (whose scores I really can't seem to take a liking to) – but considering the film won awards for its technical mastery at the time, I'll just overlook those aspects and concentrate on the story and its meanings – it certainly is rich in those. Heh.

In case the title isn't self-evident enough about it, the story is about a strange and mysterious planet on which the dominant species is apes – bipedal, clothed, English-speaking apes, who force the still-existing humans, who have regressed into primitive scavengers, into slavery, where they are kept in cells and cages to be experimented on, such as with brain surgery. (What's more comforting than humanoid apes strapping you down and cutting into your head, eh?) This is witnessed by George Taylor (Charlton Heston), the ranking officer on a spaceship speeding towards the constellation of Orion, which crashes into a lake on a distant planet (guess which).

He and his crew are soon captured by the dominant apes, and soon only Taylor is left, desperately trying to communicate to his "scientist" captors, headed by Drs. Zira and Copernicus (Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall, respectively), who all work under the wing of the respectable and powerful Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who is simultaneously the head of scientific studies, and is Defender of the Faith (irony overload approaching …). For yes, these apes have their own religion, with the kinds of parallels to a certain human religion that one cannot help but chuckle at (though whether that's a sympathetic or a derisive chuckle is up to you). Bound and chained, Taylor must try to escape while trying to understand just what sort of monkey business is going on here. (Hey, I HAD to include at least one sad ape pun.)

By far, what amused me most about this movie was all the messages, subtexts and underlying commentary that seemed to bleed out of its pores. I understandably can't go into much detail here, but suffice it to say that a staunch liberal atheist and borderline anti-religionist misanthrope like I was greatly amused and interested by some of the movie's obvious social, political and (most of all) religious commentary. Just watch it for yourself to know what I mean by that. Trust me, it's hard to miss.

I find myself at a curious lack of things to say about this film; yes, I liked it (though the beginning did seem to stretch on unnecessarily at times), but really, I've pretty much exhausted my well of critiques concerning this film.

From my totally uninitiated first-timer's experience with this pop-icon film recognizing the dated technological and storytelling techniques in contrast to the cynical and misanthropic commentary, along with imaginative story and concepts, I give the classic Planet of the Apes 7.5 sacred ape scrolls out of 10.

George Taylor: Charlton Heston • Dr. Zaius: Maurice Evans • Dr. Zira: Kim Hunter • Dr. Cornelius: Roddy McDowall
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Franklin J. Schaffner • Writer(s): Michael Wilson, Rod Serling. Based on novel by Pierre Boulle. • Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith
General Information
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox • Released: February 08, 1968 • Running Time: 112 mins • Budget: US$5.8 million


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