“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
Who doesn’t remember this movie? Or the TV series for that matter? During a moment of Christmas spirit induced nostalgia, I hired this from our local Video Ezy , popped the pop corn and settled in for the evening.
The first thing that really struck me was how quickly and easily I ‘fell’ into this movie. Yes, the set is stark and has that Star Trek feel to it but somehow that gave it a realism I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps realism is not the right word exactly – and I freely admit nostalgia was a vital ingredient to this entire experience – but I bought into and that surprised me. I was expecting to spend the evening giggling at the sets and the effects that had not stood the test of time. Did everything look a little dated? Well, yes a little. But did it work? Absolutely.
Based on the 1963 French novel, La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle (which I have been lucky enough to read in French and highly recommend), the movie plot revolves around a group of astronauts who have crash landed on a planet where apes rule, and humans are the beasts. Charlton Heston (1923-2008) leads the group as Commander Taylor in a role that begs the question as to whether or not in fact the man suffered from type casting – and if you don’t believe me, try watching Ben Hur and Planet of the Apes in the same weekend and see what you think….but I digress. Not just strong, brave (read – exceptionally macho) and intelligent, the loner, Taylor is also stubborn and single minded.
The film was a massive success on release bringing in a whopping $32,589,624 at the international box office. The prosthetic makeup was groundbreaking and was so complicated that once it had been applied in the morning, the actors were ‘stuck’ in character for the day, eating liquid foods through straws.
According to that repository of all vital trivia, Wikipedia, “in 2001, Planet of the Apes was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.”
While Heston was the big name draw card for the film, the true star was undoubtedly the late and very great Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) who played the archaeologist chimpanzee, Cornelius. McDowall went on to star in four of the five movies (he wasn’t in the second movie) as well as the TV series.
Watching the movies and the series as a kid, I never really pondered the reality – it was just a cool show to me. Watching it now as an adult, I actually really enjoyed the movie and found it not only very well done (especially for the era) but easily believable. It does, in my opinion, tick all the boxes: the casting is perfect, the storyline works, the effects and sets are in the worst examples non-intrusive and in the best brilliant, and the ending is ideal. No candyfloss happy ending, but the realisation that man, like it or not, is capable of great things both good and bad and must take responsibility for them all.
It’s worth a revisit. Trust me.