Revisiting The Planet of the Apes (1968)
Like the film I had an opportunity to do some time traveling myself and revisit this sci-fi classic on the big screen. Yes in the tiny corner of “the forbidden zone” that I occupy on this planet Earth the local Apollo Cinema was good enough to recently screen Charlton Heston’s journey to the year 3978. The exact date of his arrival November 25th.
Every child has his favorite film or films that he goes back to over and over all the way into adulthood. For me it was always the apes saga that ran for five films and the subsequent series, both live action and cartoon. The comics, dolls, Halloween masks etc.
Given the opportunity to see Charlton Heston utter the immortal line, “Take you’re stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape.” on the big screen with a roomful of other fans was just too good to pass up. I was even tempted to do my “ape walk” like good friend Roddy McDowall as I entered the foyer.
The plot is of course well known to most and the franchise is back in our midst with the new films that so far I have found to be enjoyable with intelligent scripts overall. Still there is that lack of reality based on the CGI involved. Rather than harp on the new technology let’s spotlight the 1968 classic from director Franklin J. Schaffner.
Allowing the film some breathtaking location work, Heston’s space ship crashes into Lake Powell, Utah. From here the actor along with his two fellow explorers will journey across the rocky terrain of Glen Canyon, Utah. The overhead and long shots of our three stranded astronauts only add to the isolation of their dilemma. It’s a big country.
This is one of those films that I wish I could have seen on opening night to get that sense of what Heston’s character Taylor must have felt when confronted with a leather clad gun toting gorilla on horseback. And the fact that they have the capability of speech only adds to the power of the opening scenes.
“It’s a Madhouse! A Madhouse!”
In a perfectly orchestrated “hunt” the apes practically wipe out a tribe of mute humans. One should be reminded of the buffalo hunts where the animals were stampeded over a cliff. Once again the overhead shot offers us the perfect view at seeing the strategy employed. Keeping the plot moving Heston takes a gunshot to the throat, thus sealing his inability to speak. This in turn will cause his mimicking to catch the eye of Kim Hunter’s Zira who so badly wants to believe that there is good and intelligence in the species of man.
It’s not only the makeup employed on Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Roddy but the overall impact of the sets that stay with you long after seeing the film. Ape City has such a distinct look and architecture that one wishes it really did exist. The leather outfits the gorillas wear to the greens for the chimps and the oranges for the orangutangs. The whole film mirrors our own society and Rod Serling’s script is still relevant today. It’s just that he’s twisted evolution upside down.
We all know that Heston will soon heal and his “Bright Eyes” as Zira has dubbed him will become public enemy number one to Evan’s Dr. Zaius. The defender of the faith. It’s only a matter of time before Heston and beautiful Linda Harrison as Nova will ride off to find his destiny. Destiny in the form of…..I won’t tell but surely you know the answer to that.
Why has this film resonated with me through the years? Perhaps it’s just trying to recapture one’s childhood. Apes had such a great impact on me. No different I suppose than Harry Potter is sure to have on kids over the last 10 or so years. I can’t help but wonder if Linda Harrison is the reason I prefer brunettes over blondes looking back!
Growing up Heston was KING. Apes films, The Omega Man, Leiningen, Earthquake and Moses. The famed chariot race. It all added up to amazing on screen adventures to get lost in for a young boy watching afternoon television.
I have no idea just how many times I have watched this film and it’s sequels but one thing I do know is that I will be sure to watch them all over again in the not too distant future.
Thanks to Heston, McDowall and all the others involved for turning this film into the iconic movie going experience it has remained after all these years.