Planet of the Apes

1968 science fiction monkey movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A spaceship from earth crashes on the titular planet where intelligent simians rule and mute people are just around to have their brains experimented upon. The lone survivor among the crew tries to figure out what's going on and escape from the apes' clutches.

There were a few different posters to choose from including one that had a giant Tom Hanks head, but I had to go with this one that spoils one of the most iconic endings in movie history. They might as well have included a tagline, something like "The maniacs blew it up! Moses was on Earth the whole time! #punked." Of course, they wouldn't use a hashtag, and the poster doesn't spoil anything because everybody--even people who haven't seen this movie--know the ending. And that's an iconic ending, ladies and gentlemen--one that you know even if you haven't seen the film. What other endings would be in there? King Kong? Anything else? This is co-written by Rod Serling which makes sense because it's a lot like an extended Twilight Zone episode except with color and less ventriloquist dummies and no guy with slick hair introducing the whole thing. The movie's not close to perfect. The sets are cheap; the apes, at least when you watch them from the 21st Century, look ridiculous; there's an awful lot that happens from Point A to Point B that really doesn't matter at all; and Charlton Heston can't act. That's right--I said it. Charlton Heston is awful in this movie, awful to the point where he's actually pretty hilarious. And here's a big shocker for you--his character wanted a gun in this movie. But boy, you really feel Heston's character's pain on that ship when he says, "I feel lonely." I long, by the way, for a time somewhere in the near future when smoking cigars on a spaceship makes sense. I don't know why NASA's not made that happen yet. Also, on the ship, there's a great scene where Heston gives the snoozing Dianne Stanley, the only female member of the crew, a lascivious look before he climbs into his little glass thing to start working on his beard. What a tough image to wake up to, by the way--a bearded Dianne Stanley. She was a looker when he turned in and he probably, knowing what we know about his character, had X-rated dreams about her, but he wakes up and she's got a beard. I'm not a scientist or anything, but I'm wondering if Stanley's beard makes any sense at all here. Also--shouldn't Heston and his two males buddies have had more beard when they woke up? Later, we get to hear a whole bunch of lines from Heston that only Charlton Heston could have gotten away with. And he shouldn't have gotten away with them.

"We're in the soup."
"That's when the groceries run out." (I have my doubts that the word "groceries" will even exist in 2,000 years. I'm not a linguist or anything though.)
"There is only one reality left--we are here and we are now." (Ok, that one's not so bad. It sounds like something straight out of Yoda's diary or something actually.)
"To hell with the scarecrows!" (A line that leads to late-60's shaky cam and that skinny-dipping scene that you were wanting from the second this movie started. And yes, I played it back 12 times and never did see Heston's little pistol although the little Charlton had to have been close to making an on-screen appearance.)
"Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" (Yeah, I know that's as iconic as the ending of this movie. But think of how the line is delivered and then listen to most of Charlton Heston's other lines. Most of them are delivered with that identical tone. It's like Heston's got one gear in this movie.)
 "It's a madhouse! A maaaaaaaaaaaaadhoooooooooooouuuuuuussssse!" (Beautiful.)
"You cut up his brain, you bloody baboon!"

Here's another question that I'll put here because I just thought of it--why don't the other human characters have beards? I'm not a scientist or a barber, so I really need somebody to explain that to me. Surely, they don't shave.

Back to Heston--the guy looks a little old in a few of the action shots. Of course, he was lying in a glass tube for a long time, so maybe there was some muscle atrophy. Watching him flee from the apes--clumsy themselves--or try to evade their nets is often a little embarrassing, especially with his nipples being as droopy as they are. He does get one great action shot where he kicks an ape off the stairs and then provides us with a taint shot while an awesome ape-kid exclaims, "Look! It's a man!" Heston's best scene, an epic moment that--to me, at least--is just as important as seeing that withered Statue of Liberty involves Heston laughing at a flag. The character's really kind of an asshole, isn't he? He's misanthropic, pervy (check out the scene where he's staring down cave people and looking slightly horny), and pessimistic. He reminds me of myself. And it turns out he's a Hoosier which sure makes me proud. Speaking of pervy, how about that Zira? And kinky! She's all about collars and leashes, and there's one scene where Heston is disrobed where Zira's nose twitches. Twitches with lust! Speaking of those monkeys--I know I sort of made fun of their appearance up there, and their clothing looks like it's made out of plastic like 1980's action figures' clothing. The monkey's sort of look like people wearing masks; however, I'll definitely take that over the CGI monkeys in that prequel, and I really hope that doesn't hurt Gollum's feelings. Or King Kong's. Zaius has a cool strut and an even cooler jacket. That's Maurice Evans, Hutch from Rosemary's Baby, a classically-trainer actor who did a bunch of Shakespeare but died being best known for playing an ape in a poop-colored jacket. Roddy McDowall's Cornelius might, if you'll excuse the hyperbole, be the greatest performance ever by a guy playing some kind of monkey. Really, I like most of what they do with the apes in this, definitely taking advantage of the absurdity of the idea to inject a little humor into the otherwise serious and depressing sci-fi movie. Their use of sugar as a reward for the humans is a perfect sneaky bit of satire. A very quick scene in a museum is kind of a neat touch. My favorite shot in this that doesn't involve the Statue of Liberty might be a shot of an ape sitting back, cross-legged and smoking. The first shot of the apes has them on horseback which reminded me of when I saw a monkey riding on a dog at a rodeo, one of the highlights of my entire life. I'll tell you what though: Those pictures where the apes are posing with people they've hunted down are bound to piss off people on social media. I thought a see-hear-speak-no-evil pose of the tribunal was a little too cheesy. I also sort of hate Dr. Zira's nephew Lucius. He pops in the movie like he doesn't belong, almost like the character was added because Heston or director Franklin Schaffner had a friend who wanted his son to have a part. Lucius can't even walk right and says stupid things like, "What do you expect--an ape's new suit?" What a dumbass character. Of course, the best character of all is Nova played by the lovely Linda Harrison. See, I'm not even sure why Charlton Heston spends this movie growling all those lines at the apes. What does he have to complain about? He gets this great-looking gal to spoon with, and although it's not shown, I assume he hits that at some point. Of course, there are the constant threats of castration and all the hose-spraying, both which could be boner kills.

Some of the sets look silly in this. Do they live in caves? What's with the doors made out of fake wood? However, I do think the "scarecrows" are a cool image, and the spaceship scenes that make it seem like Heston and his buddies are in a discotheque are cool. Oh, and I like how they check the atmosphere on some spaceship device that has a barbershop pole inside it. I like the spaceship crash scene, but let's think about the setting a little bit. Now, I'm not a geologist or anything, but I can't figure out how the landscape would change so much that New York would be a desert in that amount of time. Would the Statue of Liberty really be next to a big rock cliff? Am I missing some science here? I also like the Jerry Goldsmith score, weird sort-of-orchestral music that sometimes incorporates monkey sounds.

This has a lot of B-movie elements and definitely isn't perfect, but it's stood the test of time, survived a bunch of ridiculous sequels, and is filled with classic movie moments. I think I will watch some of the sequels before that new prequel arrives on dvd. I might have to watch that first prequel, too. This is a franchise that has interesting stories to tell even when they're told imperfectly.

Here's a hint for those of you who got this far: This isn't part of the Mystery Fest, but I think I could have legally included it. Actually, I could do anything I wanted because nobody cares. But this fits in a strange way. It begs the question--are there Zubaz two-thousand years in the future? If not, I definitely don't want to be around.

1 comment:

cory said...

There is no way this movie should work, and there is no way Ben Hur/Moses should be a part of it, but it does and he is. Heston took on some REALLY strange roles around this time but the weird thing is they work and the movies are iconic. It's like he took them on a dare or lost a bet with his agent, and then must have been shocked that he ever acted again.

"Planet of the Apes" is ridiculously watchable. Part of it is sheer campiness, but mostly because it is just fun. You never know what's going to happen, and everyone plays it so straight. What a bizarre idea, but at the end you still feel moved and your thoughts are provoked. I would give this a 17 just for the audacity of the concept which unbelievably is kind of believable.