Planet of the Apes

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Astronauts Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton) and Stewart (an uncredited Dianne Stanley) are in deep hibernation when their spaceship crash-lands in a lake on an unknown planet, after a 2006-year voyage at near-light speed (during which the crew ages only 18 months due to time dilation). The astronauts awaken to find their ship sinking and Stewart dead and her body desiccated due to an air leak in her suspended animation chamber. They use an inflatable raft to reach shore, but before departing the ship, Taylor (the Commander, or “Skipper”) denotes that the current year is AD 3978. Once ashore, Dodge performs a soil test and pronounces the soil incapable of sustaining life.

Despite this, as the three astronauts set off through a desert, they gradually encounter plant life. They find an oasis at the edge of the desert and decide to go swimming, ignoring strange and eerie scarecrow-like figures. While they are swimming, their clothes are stolen. Pursuing the thieves, the astronauts find their clothes torn to shreds, their supplies pillaged and the perpetrators — a group of mute, primitive humans dressed in torn clothes — contentedly raiding a cornfield.

Suddenly, clothed gorillas on horseback charge through the cornfield, brandishing firearms, snares, and nets. They capture some humans and kill the rest. While trying to flee, Dodge is killed, Landon is knocked unconscious, and Taylor is shot in the throat. The gorillas take Taylor to Ape City, where his life is saved after a blood transfusion by two chimpanzees and Animal Psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) and surgeon Galen (Wright King). Taylor is housed in a cage with a girl whom he later calls Nova (Linda Harrison). Because of his throat wound he is unable to speak.

Taylor discovers that the various apes, who can talk and are in control, are in a strict caste system: gorillas are the police, military, hunters and workers; orangutans, administrators, politicians, lawyers and priests; and chimpanzees, intellectuals and scientists. Humans, who are believed by the apes to be unable to talk, are considered vermin and are hunted for sport, killed outright, enslaved, or experimented upon.

Animal psychologist Zira and her fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), an archaeologist, take an interest in Taylor, whom Zira has named “Bright Eyes”. Taylor attempts to communicate by writing in the dirt, but what he has written is hidden by the girl Nova and Cornelius’s boss, an orangutan named Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). Eventually, Taylor steals paper from Zira and uses it to write a message — his name — to her. Zira and Cornelius become convinced that Taylor is intelligent, but upon learning of this, Dr. Zaius orders that Taylor be castrated.

Taylor manages to escape and during his flight through Ape City finds himself in a museum, where Dodge’s stuffed corpse has been put on display (no other humans have his unique dark skin color). When Taylor is recaptured by gorillas, he overcomes his injured throat and angrily shouts, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

A tribunal to determine Taylor’s origins is convened by the President of the Assembly (James Whitmore), Dr. Zaius, and Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey). Dr. Honorious (James Daly) is the prosecutor. Taylor mentions his two comrades. The court produces Landon, who has been subjected to a lobotomy that has rendered him catatonic, and unable to speak.

After the tribunal, Dr. Zaius privately threatens to lobotomize Taylor if he doesn’t tell the truth about where he came from. With help from Zira’s socially-rebellious nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner), Zira and Cornelius free Taylor and Nova and take them to the Forbidden Zone, a taboo region outside Ape City that has been out of bounds for centuries by Ape law. A year earlier, Cornelius led an expedition into the Forbidden Zone that found a cave containing artifacts of an earlier non-simian (believed-to-be human) civilization. The group sets out for the cave to answer questions Taylor has about the evolution of the ape world and to prove he is not of that world.

Arriving at the cave, Cornelius is intercepted by Dr. Zaius and his soldiers. Taylor, now armed, holds them at bay, warning he’ll shoot them if necessary. Zaius agrees to enter the cave to disprove their theories and to avoid physical harm to Cornelius and Zira. Cornelius displays the remnants of a technologically advanced human society pre-dating simian history. Taylor identifies artifacts such as dentures, eyeglasses, a heart valve and, to the apes’ astonishment, a talking children’s doll. More soldiers appear and Lucius is overpowered, but Taylor again fends them off.

Dr. Zaius is held hostage so Taylor can escape, but admits to Taylor that he has always known that a human civilization existed long before apes ruled the planet, and that “the Forbidden Zone was once a paradise, [man] made a desert of it…ages ago!”. Taylor is skeptical, and prepares to search for answers. Dr. Zaius warns him that he may not like what he finds. Once Taylor and Nova have ridden off on horseback, Dr. Zaius has the gorillas lay explosives to seal off the cave and destroy the remaining evidence of the human society. He has Zira, Cornelius and Lucius charged with heresy.

Taylor and Nova, at last free, follow the shoreline and eventually discover the beach-covered remains of the Statue of Liberty, revealing that this “alien” planet is actually post-apocalyptic Earth.

Taylor dismounts the horse, and falls to his knees condemning human-kind for destroying the world.

REVIEW:

I cannot believe the amount of people who have been asking for the original Planet of the Apes! I guess as far as classic sci-fi goes, this is one of those films that should be watched. However, the question remains as to whether this is a good film, regardless of its legacy and reputation.

What is this about? Bewildered astronaut George Taylor crash-lands on a strange planet ruled by intelligent apes who use primitive humans for experimentation and sport. Taylor finds himself among the hunted as he tries to escape the apes and uncover their dark secret.

What did I like?

Idea. Imagine a world where apes are the dominant species and humans are the pets, for lack of a better term. Quite the interesting concept, huh? Well, that is what we have with this film. The astronauts we meet in the opening, crash-land on this planet and learn that they are not the top of the food chain, if you will. Instead, apes (and other primates) run things.

Twist. At the end of the film, there is a rather big revelation that takes the audience by surprise and changes your thoughts on what a couple of characters throughout the film have been saying about their history. Even though I knew what the twist was, thanks to parody scenes in a couple of other films.

Legend. Charlton Heston is regarded among the greatest actors of all time. I’m not so sure this is best work, in comparison, but it is still a strong performance. For a good part of the film he is forced to emote because of a throat injury which does not allow him to speak. When he does heal, his utters the immortal line, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” That line defines that character for the rest of the film as a man who wasn’t going to stand by and take it anymore.

What didn’t I like?

Intro. For the first 45 minutes or so, we watch the astronauts talk about something or other that really does nothing more than establish that they are going on a trip that will take them light years away. Films of this era can be a bit slow but it is usually to develop characters. This was nearly unwatchable because it was about as interesting as watching paint dry!

Familiar. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling had a hand in creating this film, even though it strays quite a bit from the book n which it is based. However, the ending seemed, though I did like it, made the whole film seem like an expanded episode from the show, with a slightly larger budget. Seeing as how this has no correlation to the show, that isn’t such a good thing. Life. Maybe it is just me, but I found it hard to believe that the only other life on this film. Other than the mutant humans and the primates, the only other signs of life are the horses they ride. Where are the birds and other forms of wildlife?

It has its flaws, but Planet of the Apes is a pretty good classic sci-fi film and worthy of its place in cinematic history, not to mention the start of a franchise that is arguably still relevant to this day. Sure, it has been rebooted, remade, and everything else imaginable under the sun, but there is nothing like the original. I won’t highly recommend this, but it is worth a viewing, so give it a shot!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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