Thursday, June 12, 2014

Naptown Nerd Goes Ape: Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Planet Of The Apes
Director: Franklin J Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison
Rated: G (yes, folks, not a mistake)

Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!
                     ~George Taylor

Naptown Nerd returns to bring you the cinematic adventures of the Planet of the Apes franchise.  This is a personal favorite franchise of mine, and I'm happy to be doing this retrospective and revisiting the films leading up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes coming out July 11.  When I was mapping out prospective franchise retrospectives for 2014 (yes, I really do that) at the beginning of the year, I TOTALLY overlooked the fact that I could do this series.  I thought there was no escaping the dreaded (for me) Transformers retrospective that sat staring me in the face.  I think its a testament to how good Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that when I saw Dawn on the release slate I merely just thought of them as a 1-2 punch for some reason.  But alas, BAM...we got 7 films to look back at plus a new one that looks to be all sorts of crazy awesome.  So we now begin one of cinema's earliest "big franchises".
My personal discovery of the series came one New Year's Eve at the video store.  My parents usually just had my sister and I pick a few movies to just hang in the basement and watch waiting on the ball to drop while they did whatever alcohol included excursions upstairs with their friends they invited over or whatnot. On a particular year (late 80s/early 90s...i cannot for the life of me remember), we were having a difficult time picking a movie.  In one of the few insanely great recommendations my mother offered, she said we should watch Planet of the Apes.  Because I was a Star Wars fanatic, she figured I would like it.  Dear mom, you had seen both Planet of the Apes and Star Wars...they are NOTHING alike haha.  
When I first watched it, it was a very interesting, but as a kid felt slightly dated kind of movie.  But, I could still appreciate it.  I was pretty hooked though.  The movie has a thing were there's a sort of mystery behind everything that propels the film without showboating it and I think that kept me going a lot.  Then, the end of the movie hits and I was like HOLY SHIT!  Did not see it coming.  I particular loved last year on Mad Men when Don Draper/Dick Whitman went to see the film with his kid and they showed his reaction to the end of the film and it was just perfect.  That's the power of this film.  Its got one of the greatest endings and twist/revelations in cinema history.  Its something that's also so powerful it was substantially engrained in pop culture that you could never replicate it no matter how hard you tried (and they will try and fail pretty greatly as we'll see).
I think the film can be best described as some of the 50s B sci-fi movies done by way of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  While Apes precedes A Space Odyssey by a couple months in release, I really feel the two share a sort of patience and scope with one another.  Apes does dig in with the philosophical, but tells its tale in a much more general, loud and matter-of-fact way.  But, damn, this film really does have some scope and many location shots and sets are shot with such beauty and precision, you could just pause and sit and look at it for a while and be entertained.  There's a lot of well planned and artful stuff that just amazes the technical loving side of me throughout the course of the film.  I do really like the mixture of location and sets, which are so good its not incredibly obvious when they are filming on a set and it feels very natural to the environment set up in the film.
The drama in the film holds up well too.  I think its due in part that they don't overplay the apes of have the actors playing them "go big".  It keeps the film from falling in obvious camp and genre traps, allowing the film to still hold up wonderfully to vintage film enthusiasts and those studying with an appreciation for film.  Charlton Heston absolutely commands this thing though.  He's a larger than life presence and its definitely felt here.  Its funny, because before Burton remade the film, the reamke was an Arnold Schwarzenneger passion project that he was never able to fulfill.  And watching Heston in this, you could EASILY see Arnold in that role, and I found many qualities between he and Heston that just had things sort of clicking with the meta knowledge in tow.  
Let's get back to that ending.  Its a great freaking surprise and kick to the junk right before the credits.  However, when it came to the era of VHS and even through DVD...why in the heck were they putting the damn Statue Of Liberty scene as the cover of the box???  That's the END OF THE MOVIE!!!  Drives me nuts.  Luckily when I was a kid the one I rented was just some generic teal colored box with a promo still from the film in some window box thing.  So dumb.  Sorry, I'm done.  Pet peeve.  Just really silly.  Can you think of any other movies that have massive spoilers on the cover art?  I know the American remake of [rec] did, but can you think of any others? Post below.
Besides the ending, there's also some really creepy, disturbing shit in this movie.  And look above, folks, this thing is RATED G.  In this rated G movie we get experimentation on humans, blood transfusions, violence, bloody violence and the word "damn" thrown around like nothing.  At the beginning of the film, the female astronaut is killed because of a crack in her cryosleep chamber.  And we get to see her Lifeforce-esque corpse lying there.  Another of the astronauts has parts of his brain cut out and his head sewn back together which looks gross (we don't see the surgery, just the partially shaved an sewn up head).  And finally, one is killed and used as a mannequin-like figure in what i think is a human museum.  And his eyes are all fogged up too.  Its kinda scary and very disturbing.  The ratings board must've like to creep out children back in the 1960s I suppose.
Planet of the Apes made a big impact in the film world when it was released.  I'm sure they didn't realize it at the time, but this film started a phenomenon that would rock the 70s.  And geezum, 1968 really got BOTH Planet of the Apes AND 2001 in the same year?  Wow.  I can confidently say that Planet of the Apes is easily one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  It still holds up.  No, the effects aren't up to today's standards, but they're damn impressive for 1968 (award winning even) and there's a strong sense of charm to them.  The film introduced us to some really strong characters and even stronger concepts with a sort of "take a look in the mirror" bit on humanity.  I think later on around the 80s this movie kinda got mistakingly lumped in with "kids movies" or just sort of "old corny sci-fi" and much of my generation wound up discovering that way and it stuck with us because its not that.  Its actually an incredibly powerful film with deeply societal undertones.  I absolutely love it, and revisiting every few years for me is a total MUST.

Next Time: What exactly is under the Planet of the Apes anyway?

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