Planet of the Apes

[This review includes spoilers.]

Taylor: "I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe, there has to be something better than man. Has to be."

If it weren't so utterly cool, Planet of the Apes would be a massive downer. The premise is that human beings are such abysmal failures as a species, so unworthy of the ownership of our planet, that it is inevitable that we will destroy ourselves and something else will take our place.

Planet of the Apes offers more to the viewer than pessimism, though, and like most complex science fiction movies, it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I have only recently read that some see this movie as a rather nasty allegory about race. It was a surprise to me. (Although the "damned dirty ape" line does sort of support that viewpoint.) I always thought, though, that Planet of the Apes does what all good science fiction should do: it shows us society from a completely different perspective, and in a way that makes us think. There's something fascinating about seeing a white male -- an astronaut, the pinnacle of our civilization -- treated as the most insignificant and physically revolting of parasites. A lot of this movie is outright uncomfortable, like a funhouse mirror without the fun.

At any rate, the characters who come out as the superior beings are the pacifist chimpanzee scientists, played so skillfully under prosthetics by Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter. Cornelius and Zira are intelligent, open-minded, and compassionate to the point of risking their lives and careers for someone they see as a rather nasty talking house pet. Taylor, our anti-hero, is nowhere near as likable as Cornelius and Zira, even though it's hard not to root for him to prevail (especially during that climactic escape-and-recapture scene). Taylor is sarcastic, individualistic, hates people, and believes life is meaningless, and he has just found proof that he was right all along. (In truth, a man as antisocial as Taylor would never have cut it at NASA.)

If there's a message about inequality in this movie, I'd definitely go for sexism over racism. Taylor winds up with Nova, a gorgeous, obedient, bikini-clad Eve who will never be able to talk back to him. Stuart, the dead female astronaut, is referred to as "cargo". And Taylor's sperm is so incredibly important and powerful that Zaius makes an unsuccessful attempt to have Taylor castrated.

It's also obvious that the theme of the movie could be seen as a commentary on how human beings treat animals, with the medical experimentation on Taylor, the leashes, the above-mentioned gelding, and of course, the numerous scenes with Taylor in a cage. (During the third season of Lost, Sawyer and Kate were kept in similar cages, and I kept thinking of Taylor and Nova.)

I have no idea why mainstream movie star Charlton Heston chose to do this movie. Why did the man who played Moses, Michelangelo, Marc Antony, and Ben Hur decide to do movies like Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green? Heston was also nearly naked for the entire movie (and he looked damned good, for that matter). It's common practice now, but big name male stars didn't do that sort of thing in 1968. Heston's star power and considerable acting talent added gravitas to Planet of the Apes; it was like he helped legitimize the science fiction movie genre. I doubt that it would have hit so hard and made such a lasting impression without him.

And Planet of the Apes is visually such a striking movie -- the stark isolation of the three astronauts on what appears to be a dead world; the organic architecture of the ape city; the amazing iconic shot of the statue of Liberty. I've seen this movie many times and it's still a treat to watch.



Bits and pieces:

-- The action takes place in the year 3978. Taylor and company left Earth in 1972.

-- The human/ape reversal presents an opportunity for some outstanding but uncomfortable humor. Zira calling Taylor "Bright Eyes." "Human see, human do." The theory that apes descended from humans.

-- The prejudice and religious fundamentalism of the orangutans and the brainless warmongering of the gorillas is particularly interesting because of the parallels to certain people we all know.

-- There are several candidates for Most Obvious Symbolism. After many miles of lifeless landscape, the astronauts find a tiny, living plant... and they rip it out of the earth. Taylor is leashed, gagged, and stripped naked at his own trial. And at one point, Taylor and Cornelius have an important conversation while standing on either side of an immense gorge.

-- Clearly, the people should have all been running around completely naked. But hey, it's a movie. What else could they do?

-- The score is jagged and discordant and at times mimics the grunting of an ape.

-- Yes, I saw the remake. It's a prime example of the adage that you should leave the classics alone. Why remake a brilliant movie? Isn't the original good enough? I'm not wild about the sequels, either. A couple of them were worth watching, but just barely and I don't recommend them. There's a new sequel coming soon, too, which is one reason why I'm posting this review.

Quotes:

Taylor: "If this is the best they've got around here, in six months we'll be running this planet."

Julius: "You know the saying. 'Human see, human do'."

Taylor: "You Nova. Yeah. Me Tarzan, you Jane."

Taylor: "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!"

Taylor: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

Taylor: "Doctor, I'd like to kiss you goodbye."
Zira: "All right. (pause) But you're so damned ugly."

Four out of four crushed paper airplanes,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

12 comments:

daniel c w said...

Great review. Any plans of reviewing the 4 sequels. (yes, they get worse and worse, but most of them are still fine, IMHO)


"Why did the man who played Moses, Michelangelo, Marc Antony, and Ben Hur decide to do movies like Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green?"
I am pretty sure, that many people will remember him for the later set of movies, instead of the former.
From what I have heard and read about Mr. Heston, he believed in the messages of sci-fi movies.


And why are people calling the 2001 movie a "remake"?

Billie Doux said...

daniel cw asks if I'm reviewing the sequels. Afraid not. I'm doing my favorite movies, and the sequels don't make the cut.

You're right. The 2001 version is more of a reboot than a remake. My bad.

Anonymous said...

Huh, like you Billie, I never thought that there were racist undertones. I know some racists refer to blacks as "monkeys" but I guess I didn't think too deeply on the matter. It sort of reminds me of the whole Jar-Jar Binks controversy in the Star Wars prequels. I'm pretty sure no racist intentions were meant but people still got up in a twist about it.

Great review and great movie. What's next on the list?

Billie Doux said...

Thanks, Anon. I may not get to them all before True Blood and Torchwood return, but I plan to review Interview with the Vampire, Die Hard, The Matrix, Alien, Aliens, The Princess Bride and Groundhog Day. I've already reviewed several of my favoritesm or the list would be longer.

Paul Kelly said...

"You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" The ending left such an impression on my pre-pubescent brain, I can still see and quote it. After reading this review, I'm thinking a rewatch is in order. Nice review, Billie. Such memories.

CrazyCris said...

lol! I just saw the trailer for the new sequel (it's actually a prequel! is supposed to show how apes came to dominate our planet) last night in the movies! :p

Great review Billie! I haven't seen this movie in such a long time... I'm still trying to forget the remake. :s

Can't wait to read your other reviews, you've got a few of my favourites in there as well! :D

Anonymous said...

Great review!

I have to admit that this movie has now been forever tainted by the musical version in the Simpsons...

Diogo said...

"After all I was wrong/ it was earth all along!/ You finally made a monkey(yes we finally made a monkey)/ yes you finally made a monkey out of meeeeeee! I love you, Doctor Zaius!"

HellBlazerRaiser said...

This is one of the few (maybe the only, as far as I can recall) SF films that my mother, father and I would watched together when I was a kid.

For me, it's just all around brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I assume you know we have "The Twilight Zone" to thank for the Statue of Liberty scene. Rod Serling wrote the original draft. He didn't think the ending in the original book had enough punch. While other writers made changes, they all kept Serling's final scene.

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

Billie, what are your thoughts on Rise of the Planet of the Apes? I thought it was done quite well as a reboot of the Apes mythology.

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Fisher_and_diaz, and I like your handle's reference to Six Feet Under. :) I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes a short while ago and thought it was terrific. If they're going to continue with movies that good, I'm fine with it.