Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Essentials- "Planet of the Apes" (1968)

The Essentials- #63

Planet of the Apes

I am going to do something special and different over the next few “Essentials” columns. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” will hit theaters on July 11th, so that means we will get a look at it within the next few weeks. This week, I purchased “The Lego Movie” and while I was browsing movies at Wal-Mart, I saw something I felt I needed to have. It was the entire collection of old-school “Planet of the Apes” movies, all in one nice bundle. I ended up leaving Wal-Mart with both blu-ray packages in tow, and I could not wait to lay eyes on them. For the next five weeks, it is going to be a monkey party. I’ll be writing about the five “Planet of the Apes” movies I have, and I will definitely bear witness to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” as soon as I possibly can. The only thing you’ll have to excuse is that I won’t be revisiting Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, which I think I don’t need to disclaim why.

I have never seen all of the “Planet of the Apes” movies, that may shock a lot of you but it is true. I had vague memories of the first film, and I had never seen any of the films sequels. I know I am the movie-crazed guy, but even one man doesn’t see everything. I will be eager to jump into this adventure first-hand. I watched “Planet of the Apes” last night, and I watched most of “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” as well.
I think “Planet of the Apes” is a nice piece of science fiction. It was definitely daring for its time, and had an elegant storyline attached to it. What surprised me was that it wasn’t very action-packed. I saw Tim Burton’s film in theaters, as I did “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and both of those films are very action eccentric. I was surprised to see how little action is in “Planet of the Apes.” Most of the film is completely story-driven, telling a story about civilizations, revelations, fears, and even a tinge of romance. The film follows Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton), three astronauts flying on a high-speed voyage through out space. Due to time dilation, they haven’t aged much since leaving Earth in 1972, but when they crash-land on an unnamed planet, the year reads 3978.

A lot of the first half of the film is complete build-up. I have to say, I found that build-up to be quite effective. We know as much as the astronauts do about this strange planet, and we definitely get locked into the mystery with them. Especially for a planet with giant, falling rocks and strange scarecrows. After the astronauts decide to take a swim, baffled to find fresh water, their clothes are stolen. They follow the thieves and discover that they are primitive group of humans, who cannot speak any English. They can barley try to communicate with them before Taylor is captured by horse-riding, gun-shooting, humanoid apes. Taylor is taken to Ape City, the Mecca of this ape civilization. Two apes Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and Galen (Wright King) believe that Taylor could lead to new revelations about humans in general. While nearly all the other apes in Apes City think he’s just another animal needed for slavery and entertainment.

I was absolutely captivated by everything pertaining to the apes. I liked how realistic the make-up is on the actors who played the apes. I loved that you could distinguish the difference between gorillas, monkeys and orangutans. I loved that, even in the lush scenery of the high definition, you could barely tell those were actors in make-up, they looked like real apes. I liked that that detail carried over into the other film, but we will talk more about that next week. I also liked how detailed and organized their civilization was. There was so much detail in every canvass of each scene and I soaked it all up gleefully.

I think the acting is strong across the board. I especially like the work done by Charlton Heston. I saw a lot of his lead films throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s and I can certainly see how audiences were drawn to him. He had the talent and he had a strong sense of charisma and he carried that into “Planet of the Apes.” I loved the many transitions his character made and I loved his big moment at the end. I also have to give praise to Linda Harrison who played Nova. Nova was a human girl who got captured with Taylor and brought to Ape City with him. She never spoke English so she never has a single line in the whole movie. I was impressed how she was able to create a character just by using her eyes and body-language, it was outstanding work.

Now, I could not remember how I reacted to the big moment at the end of “Planet of the Apes” when I saw first saw it. I don’t think it hit me on the thematic level it did last night, simply because I was too young to get it. Now if you have seen these movies and if you have been paying attention to the prequel series currently, you know…the movie takes place on Earth the whole time. I found the handling of the ending in this movie to be deeply heartbreaking and quite eerie. I thought it was well-acted, well-staged and well-written. Even though I thought Heston’s lines were a little cheesy, he definitely gave the scene the payoff it needed to be effective.

That is one Ape movie down and four more to go, I hope you are excited as I am.

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