Planet of the Apes, 1968
A review by Stacy Taylor
Planet of the Apes: the original motion picture starring Charleton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, and Linda Harrison. Based on the novel by Pierre Bouelle and directed by Franklin J. Shaffner, this milestone film was released in 1968 by the 20th Century Fox production company.
Soon after opening, the film conveys the watery crash and subsequent sinking of a space vessel manned by Taylor (Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), and a dead female lieutenant.
The surviving trio deploy an inflatable raft and immediately strike out for land unknown, and apparently unchosen, as well. After seeing the film numerous times, one wonders what Taylor, Landon, and Dodge might have encountered had they decided to row their life raft to the other side of Lake Powell, Utah (location for the crash scene).
Visually, the film was a train wreck in many ways. Indefinable white jumpsuits worn by the crew, random and unexplained technical equipment, and what was up with those awkward metal backpacks they lugged around on their trek through the forbidden zone? Surely, that wasn't the only material available with which to make a science fiction movie. Also in question is the need for a handgun on an exploration mission into deep space. Speaking of the gun, there was no further mention of it once it was noted in their supply list. Think about it in terms of plot: they stripped to their birthday suits for a cool refreshing swim and the natives made off with all their belongings. Wouldn't it have been an exciting plot twist if one of the native humans had shot one of the apes accidentally?
Remember the dead female Lieutenant? Stewart was her name, a pretty blonde scientist who died before the crash when her pod cracked open? What if she'd survived and there was a struggle between Taylor, Landon, and Dodge for the right to mate with her but she chooses one of the mute humans instead?
The possibilities were endless, yet largely unexplored.
Charlton Heston, a well-documented overactor, plays leading man, Taylor. There are a few scenes where Taylor's loud, braying laughter is supposed to be full of irony (one guesses) but it comes off as slightly psychotic and maniacal instead. His beef with fellow crewmember, Landon, was never explained properly so that upon reflection, viewers could find no substance or reason for his often-cruel remarks.
And then there is Nova, portrayed by the beautiful Linda Harrison, who is still lovely today, some thirty-seven years later. At first, it is easy to wonder what she saw in grumpy pessimistic Taylor, but then there were the frequent, gentle caresses that he lavished upon her, in which the native humans showed no interest.
The interactions between man and ape in the film were reflective of many of the social and governmental issues of the sixties: the burgeoning animal rights movement, nuclear war, creationism vs evolution, classism, racism, and equal rights. If one looks closely, there are many others, as well.
In contrast to Tim Burton's 2001 version of Planet of the Apes, which had better sheer entertainment value, the original Apes movie had a more defined contrast between ape and man. Perhaps it was a mistake to have thinking, talking, blatantly problem-solving humans in the Burton remake. It took away some of the stark role reversal that was such a powerful and frightening aspect of the original.
Despite the humorous inconsistencies of the original Planet of the Apes, the movie is still every bit as enjoyable now as it was thirty-seven years ago, and everyone can agree that there has rarely been a more stunning and powerful end to a film as that which is experienced in Planet of the Apes. The appeal of the film itself extends to all the sequels, and of course to the Burton remake as well.
This writer recommends reading the inspiration for the films, the novel, Pt of the Apes by Pierre Bouelle. In it, Taylor and a pregnant Nova escape aboard a secret ship in much the same circumstance as did Mark Wahlberg in the remake. It's an interesting book with an extra well-fleshed character or two that neither movie versions include.