Ape-praising The Apes: Planet Of The Apes (1968) - DVD Review

Ape-praising The Apes: Film Intel looks back at all of the original Apes films in the lead up to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

'a fear of the 'other' and of the 'unknown' is played upon multiple times... an ostensibly human construct reversed to show what happens when we become the 'other''

There are many reasons why 1968's Planet Of The Apes has stood the test of time, why it has almost continually since that year been the source for sequels and reboots and why it remains something of a Science-Fiction genre stalwart. Like many classics though, look firstly to its script and story for the reasons why the tale of simian science gone wrong has endured.

Michael Wilson and Rod Serling's screenplay of Pierre Boulle's novel features three short soliloquies by Taylor (Charlton Heston), the film's protagonist. In each one - delivered magnetically and without fault by Heston - the character sums up the ideas surrounding Franklin J. Schaffner's film. They are the film in microcosm, a cheat sheet for the first-time viewer. In the first, delivered before the crew of the spaceship have even reached the planet, Taylor plants the film's central thesis about the folly and timelessness of war and conflict. In the second, whilst trapped in a cell opposite mute love interest Nova (Linda Harrison), Taylor considers love and its ancestors; human interaction and betterment. In the final punchy denouement, Taylor delivers Boulle's and Schaffner's concluding argument on both subjects; 'You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!'.

More than this subtle exploration of the ideas surrounding humanity's main interactions of love and war though, Schaffner's film has other face value ideas which he explores throughout. The difference (is there any?) between man and beast is hinted at in the consideration of war but explored overtly by both the animal imagery imposed on Taylor and by the humanoid trappings adopted by the apes. Similarly a fear of the 'other' and of the 'unknown' is played upon multiple times during the film's runtime, an ostensibly human construct reversed to show what happens when we become the 'other'. The scarecrows on display during the early moments of the film are intriguing; are they human or ape? Who are they there to scare? Probably primarily the audience, who at this point know little of what awaits them further into the narrative.

These early moments are amongst the film's best, Schaffner creating an atmosphere of discovery and dread from the moment of Stewart's (Dianne Stanley) death to the brilliantly directed chase through the undergrowth (again a reversal of human/animal hunting behaviour). In the baggy middle, the film loses momentum somewhat as the new rules of the world are explained and it's notable that Planet is the longest of the original group of films by quite some way. The final third picks up the pace again and everything from Taylor's escape to the iconic final scene hints at the greatness to which Schaffner aspired. It is a greatness which, some forty years on, Planet Of The Apes has justifiably attained.

Look further...

'quickly paced, completely entertaining, and its philosophical pretensions don't get in the way' - Roger Ebert, 3/4


  1. Still an iconic film isn't it? I didn't realise it was a Pierre Boulle novel though. The guy obviously had a knack of writing novels that made great films with The Bridge on the River Kwai gaining its well deserved greatness.
    I've always like the Ape franchise, and it must be one of the very first movie franchises ever. It had its ups and downs of course, and even spamned a tv series I remember well as a kid.
    I think the final scene where Heston finds the Statue of Liberty is one of those most iconic of film moments. Anyone with a love of cinema knows it and sets the seal on the films enduring qualities.
    I hope the re-boot does justice to the franchise..will find out tomorrow!!

  2. The final scene is fantastic. When I first watched it (a number of years ago now), I couldn't fully understand what had happened and had to rewind (these were the days of 'tapes') to appreciate it properly. It's a great twist.

    The TV series used to be on here every Sunday in the early-nineties and I too remember it pretty fondly, although I somehow suspect it probably hasn't stood the test of time.

  3. I would think the same as I doubt it has dated well.
    I just wonder how well this new movie will turn out because the original had actors as the apes, and without that element I feel in many respects what made the originals what they were will be missing, and with the charm and essence.
    I doubt todays youth would 'get' the originals, and think it looks dated too much. The Mark Wahlberg outing at least had real actors even though it wasn't well recieved at the time.I personally didn't think it as bad as made out to be as it is an iconic film and hard act to follow.

  4. It's a good point about the new film; the fact that it is the first time without actual people playing the monkeys. That's probably a decision that was taken with Burton's remake in mind - a film they probably want to distance themselves from as much as possible. I remember it being OK. If I get chance I'll give it a rewatch.

  5. Thanks so much for inspiring me to rewatch this truly inspirational film - absolutely LOVED it and I totally agree that it has more than stood the test of time - hard to believe it's 43 years old!

    If you get a chance, it'd be great if you could check out my blog review (you get a mention!):



    ~ CR@BHoward

  6. Great stuff! Really glad you went back and gave it a look. Top article as well... see you over there.