Planet of the Apes (1968) – Movie Review

After seeing the amazing War for the Planet of the Apes last week, I decided it was high time that I finally make time to check out the original Planet of the Apes (it also helped that Wal-Mart had the Blu-Ray on sale for $6). I was very curious about how I would take this movie given that its 50 years old (or more accurately the special effects and creature makeup is 50 years old) and that I already knew most of the big plot points of the movie just from being in and around the world of science fiction for my entire life.

Planet of the Apes follows the misadventure of Taylor, an astronaut on a long term, deep space mission played by Charlton Heston, after he and his ill-fated crew crash land on a strange planet and eventually discover that on this planet, highly intelligent apes are the dominant species while humans are mute savages no more intelligent than a caveman.  Over the course of the movie, a couple of the apes find out that Taylor is not like his fellow humans and attempt to help him defend himself against the derision and racism (species-ism?) of the other apes to little or no avail.  Eventually Taylor mounts an escape with the help of those select apes that see him for what he truly is.

I have to say that even though I knew the higher level plot points of this movie, I still found myself engrossed in this brilliant world brought to life on screen. The core idea of this film is fantastic and the central struggle of Taylor beautifully portrays the struggle for civil rights and equality in a way that only science fiction can.  In my mind, science fiction is at it’s best when it’s a subtle allegory for the that troubles ail the world and Planet of the Apes does this brilliantly.  I think, in a lot of ways, older science fiction did a better job than modern science fiction does of being a mirror that we hold up to ourselves to see all of our ugliness reflected back at us.  I honestly wasn’t expecting to see racism and class struggle played out so heavily in this movie nor was I expecting to get rather emotional over it.  During the scene in the court room, I found myself wanting to yell at my television, decrying the holes in the logic of the apes and wanting to come to the defense of Taylor at every turn.

One of the issues with watching older movies, and especially older science fiction, can be maintaining your suspension of disbelief and not seeing through the movie magic of yesteryear (this bring one of the reasons I have a hard time watching Classic Doctor Who but that’s a whole other article) although I will say that I didn’t really have an issue with that watching this movie.  There are plenty of scenes where the apes are being filmed close up while speaking and the mouths of the rubber masks rarely line up cleanly with the dialogue but that’s something that I can look past because I know that at the time this movie was release, those creature effects were astounding.  It’s impossible to judge a 50 year old film by modern standards, it’s just not fair, especially when we have modern visual effects eye candy like that of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

As I’ve said, I knew most of the major plot points in Planet of the Apes but that didn’t hamper my over all enjoyment of the film, for the most part.  I think if there was one reveal or spoiler (is it still a spoiler 50 years after the fact?) that I wish I hadn’t known, it would be that after thinking that he and his crew landed on an alien planet the whole movie, at the very end of the film, Taylor comes around a cliff-side along a beach and discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Taylor and his crew didn’t land on an alien world, they came back home two thousand years after they left. What an absolute mind fuck of a plot twist.  Yes there were hints that Taylor was on Earth the whole time sprinkled throughout the movie but to run smack dab into a glaring confirmation of that fact had to have blown minds back in 1968.  Even knowing that was coming, I still smiled like a kid in a candy store when the movie came to a close at that scene.  It’s just such a brilliant piece of writing and the implications of the reveal and what they mean to Taylor’s character are mind boggling.  The despair and rage the Heston brings to his performance in that scene is real and visceral and then to just cut to credits right after that, leaving the audience to walk out of the theater slack-jawed, in awe of what they just witnessed is a fantastic piece of movie making. Thank you Rod Serling for that ending. It might be one of my favorite movie twists ever.

There has been rumor that Matt Reeves, director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and writer/director of War for the Planet of the Apes, has ideas for how to join the Apes prequel trilogy with the original films and I am very curious as to what that idea is.  I would love to see the origin of the Lawgiver and the genesis of a more centralized ape civilization.  I know from some cursory internet research that the Lawgiver appears in some of the later films from the original series but the jury is out on whether or not I will watch through those films.

How about you?  Have you ever seen the original Planet of the Apes film? If so, what do you think of it?  Where do you want the Planet of the Apes to go from here (if anywhere)? Let me know in the comments below!

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