Planet of the Apes

English Title: Planet of the Apes

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Director: Franklin J Schaffner

Producer(s): Arthur P Jacobs

Screenplay: Rod Serling, Michael Wilson

Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy

Art Director: William Creber, Jack Martin Smith

Editor: Hugh S Fowler

Runtime: 112 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Starring/Cast: Maurice Evans , Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall

Year: 1968

Volume: American - Hollywood

Astronaut Taylor and his crew crash land on an unknown planet, their instruments indicating that they have travelled some 2,000 years into the future. Exploring the planet, the astronauts encounter a group of primitive mute humans living in the jungle. Upon discovering the group, the astronauts (and other humans) are attacked by uniformed gorillas on horseback. Wounded in the throat and unable to speak, Taylor is caged by the talking apes, and given a human mate, Nova. In the ape city, Taylor is befriended by chimpanzee psychologist Zira and her fiancé Cornelius, who recognize his intelligence and speculate that he may be a missing link in ape evolution. Having regained his speech, Taylor addresses the ape high counsel, but angers orangutan elder Zaius, who sees intelligent humans as a threat. Accused of heresy, Zira and Cornelius help Taylor and Nova escape, and all four flee to the desolate Forbidden Zone. Pursued there by Zaius, Taylor finds archaeological evidence that proves human civilization preceded that of the apes. Leaving the apes, Taylor and Nova make their way further along the coast to discover the real truth and what planet he had landed on.

Planet of the Apes is based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La planète des singes/Monkey Planet, a tale of three twenty-sixth-century French explorers, led by Ulysse Mérou, who land their craft on a planet inhabited by mute humans of low intelligence and ruled by apes – militaristic gorillas, scholarly chimpanzees and conservative orangutans – in a society not unlike the one left behind on Earth. While retaining key plot elements and characters from Boulle’s novel, the film version – developed from a draft screenplay by The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) creator, Rod Serling – introduces a number of significant transformations. Most significant of these is the shock revelation of the film’s unique ending in which Taylor escapes to the desolate forbidden zone only to discover evidence – in the form of a time-ravaged Statue of Liberty – that ape society has evolved from a planet Earth, devastated by a human propensity for war.
The ending of Planet of the Apes is but one – albeit, the most famous – element in the film’s (and of the Planet of the Apes series) larger interest in apocalyptic images of catastrophic race wars and global nuclear devastation. Unlike the convivial Mérou of Monkey Planet, who comes to respect the dominant species, the anti-hero Taylor (especially as filtered through the hubristic screen persona of Heston) has only hatred and contempt for his captors, as evinced in a signature line: ‘Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!’ The misanthropic Taylor has a similar enmity for his twentieth-century counterparts, expressing hope that humans of the future will be a different ‘breed’, and (upon arriving on the planet) says: ‘I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man … has to be’. Set amongst American social and political upheavals of the sixties – civil rights movement, Vietnam-war protests, and (later) Watergate scandal – comments such as these often led to Planet of the Apes being read as a liberal allegory of power struggles, racial conflict, and Western imperialism.
Director Franklin Schaffner has said that Planet of the Apes was first of all ‘a political film, [one] with a certain amount of Swiftian satire, and perhaps science fiction last’, but the movie’s political message was clearly never meant to overwhelm its schlock science fiction and entertainment value. Although the film’s ending seemed to leave little room for a sequel, outstanding box-office returns prompted the producers to commission ideas for follow-up adventures, including (abandoned) treatments from Boulle and Serling. The sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) launched the franchise into the 1970s and was followed by three further sequels (1971–1973), live action and animated television series (1974 and 1975–1976), comic books and serialized adaptations. The endless recycling of Apes iconography perhaps found its most popular expression in The Simpsons (season 7, 1996), where it was reinvented as an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ Broadway musical entitled, ‘Stop the Planet of the Apes, I want to get off!’, and culminated in the big-budget, 2001 Tim Burton remake.

Author of this review: Constantine Verevis