Why, for goodness sake, am I watching this series of films, considering they are frequently dismissed as ‘more than somewhat dodgy’? Simply because they are frequently dismissed as ‘more than somewhat dodgy’, in order to specifically determine why that is (plus if it actually is the case). I’ve heard everything from “run and hide from every film except the first” all the way to “they’re all brilliant; I could watch them forever”. This is hardly a definitive situation where it’s clear that one either loves or loathes the films. Thus, the series you see beginning before you, which will include all five of the films, plus the “re-imagining” by Tim Burton in 2001.
A very good place to start – other than the very beginning, which this happens to also be – is that I’m not a fan of Charlton Heston’s ‘style’ of acting. It’s so very specific in its style that it makes me think of nothing save for the fact that I’m watching Charlton Heston act. This sort of lookit me lookit me! thing doesn’t do anything for the appreciation of anything other than the fact that you’re watching a film with Charlton Heston in it. One would prefer ‘a good film’ or even ‘an entertaining film’ to ‘a Heston film’ really, but apparently there is no validity of a Venn diagram showing films which are both good or entertaining plus are ones with Mr. Heston, such as the one below right.
So, one does have to ignore a fairly large portion of the film’s reality in order to dig through to the story which is supposedly why we’re watching in the first place.
This is an adaptation of the original novel La Planète des singes written by Pierre Boulle and published in England as Monkey Planet which would probably make Dr. Galen go ape-shit on the publisher.
No, I couldn’t resist.
The notion of either time– or space-travel revealing a planet which has a society far different than our own goes as far back as the notion of space travel itself. Jules Verne explored the idea with both outer and inner space with his novels for one thing, and HG Welles did the same.
With an intelligent source novel, adapted by Rod Serling and Michael Wilson, but especially Mr. Serling, the resultant film being one which examines society’s mores and notions of “normality” are far from surprising. This is exactly what we get here: what is right, what is wrong, what is the way things should be, why are any of those things in the way just proposed and not other ways instead? Given the reputation of Rod Serling, it’s a wonder one of the questions isn’t “why is there a Macaque on the wing of this plane?”
Anyway, the set-up here is that four astronauts are flung into space in the late 20th Century, with the idea they’ll arrive somewhere in the late of the 40th Century. After landing in the conveniently placed lake, three of them get out and eventually make their way to the settlement of the humans, where they are scooped-up in a capture of them all by the Apes whose planet we’re titularly on.
Let’s take a quick look back at that assignment of personnel in rocket, however. Four people, all potentially supposed to provide the start of a new civilization. We have a ‘leader type’ (Heston, owing to his ability to ‘out noble’ anyone in the room), a ‘science/research/learning type’, an ‘engineering/mechanic type’, and a type we never get to know anything about because they die during transport because the ‘engineering type’ responsible for building the ship screwed up and something went wrong with the life-support system. All of them, save for the dearly departed, are male. I suspect the ‘science type’ of being black for reasons of tokenism in the casting due to the time of release, and not for some fidelity to creating a racially-divergent population in the new time period. Now, if everything had operated according to plan and all of the crew had arrived in tact, how long would it take to populate an otherwise barren, but inhabitable planet, with only one female and three males? This hardly seem efficient. What ought to have been done, in theory, would have been to send into space three highly trained and qualified females of the three varied study areas, and one particularly enthusiastic male. Three wombs are better than one, and all that. In either scenario, we still have half-siblings subsequently breeding with one another, but it’s probable that the birth mothers would be sufficiently distant genetically that the risk of problems would be minimized.
But… back to the plot.
What we end up dealing with here speaks to the era’s question of racial superiority; or, more to the point, racial inferiority. The characters ask questions such as “do the humans have a culture” and “are they capable of rational thought” as well as “do they learn or do they mimic”. All of these were posed about African Americans in the 1960s, and fifty years earlier about women (only the white ones, obviously). Today, when watching this same film, the notion of animals occurs – dogs, cats, horses, and so on – and should they be considered as living beings as well, given we talk to our pets with the knowledge of their comprehension.
Even though the ending is one of the singular most referenced going – in a list with a burning sled or endless boxes of inventory, a trio of heroes being presented medals in front of a rag-tag bunch of rebel soldiers, or a wagon with the bodies of wanted bandits on it being driven into the distance – it’s surprising that the image would be used as a background for one of the DVD menus. If you’ve not seen this film, I shan’t spoil it for you, but I’m saddened that the DVD makers tried to.
All in all, the consideration of the issues is handled with subtlety, and is distinctly un-ham-handed. Given the time, the lack of priority given the quality of other SF movies of the period, and a host of other reasons, this is commendable. Quite worth the time to watch, even if you’ve seen it before; and especially if you’ve not seen it for quite some time, as you may be surprised at how fresh it seems.
Pity about Heston, though…
Planet of the Apes (1968)
produced by APJAC PRODUCTIONS, INC.
with an un-credited Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Franklin J. Schaffner
screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
from the novel by Pierre Boulle
This year, I’ve been watching DVDs from the library for a number of reasons, mostly to do with a combination of “filling in the gaps in my ‘pop culture’ knowledge”, as well as a concerted effort to better understand story editing by both watching a film and then re-watching listening to people who have studied that particular movie for years in order to better appreciate the themes, plot construction, symbolism, and so on.
The process would be nothing without the secondary audio tracks. Sometimes it’s like having actually been through the film-making process with the people involved.
Table of contents for the series “The Apes Films: Which is the Least Goodest?”
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape I: Planet of the Apes (1968)
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape II: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape III: Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape IIII: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape V: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
- RE:VIEW ~ Ape VI: Planet of the Apes (2001)