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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Ah, the late 60's. Everyone was so sure we'd destroy ourselves. That's why so much of the sci-fi that comes from this era is dismal and downbeat and full of self-loathing.*
Not that that's a bad thing. Although I personally disagree with the idea that humanity is doomed, at the same time I do get tired of the endless optimism and the-good-guys-always-win trend that is popular today. Sometimes things don't work out. Sometimes evil triumphs. Shit happens.
PLANET OF THE APES is based on a novel by Pierre Boulle. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL) and written by Michael Wilson (5 FINGERS) and Rod Serling (THE TWILIGHT ZONE [TV], NIGHT GALLERY [TV]). The story opens with astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston1: THE OMEGA MAN, SOYLENT GREEN) on board the first interstellar space ship. His three fellow astronauts, two men and a woman, are in suspended animation and Taylor is about to join them. Before he does he makes a final log entry which consists of a long diatribe against humanity and all their failings, setting the tone for the entire movie.
Their spacecraft crashes in a lake in the middle of a desert on what they believe to be an unknown planet. The three male astronauts survive the crash and abandon ship. Just before they leave they check the chronometer and see that, thanks to the time dilation effect as described in Einstein's Theory of Relativity (one of the few bits of science the movie gets right), although they are only a year or so older, 2000 years have passed on Earth. They are truly stranded, in both space and time.
Crossing the desert they discover first: a green, fertile region, second: mute, savage humans and third: talking apes. Now on the one hand I really love the scene where you first see the gorilla soldiers riding horses and firing rifles. It is very cool. But at this point I need to take a
Continued at THE SCIENCE MOMENT/Planet of the Apes.
Okay, I feel better. All that aside, the ape make-up (John Chambers: All the rest of the PLANET OF THE APES movies, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) is truly amazing, and stands out even today. You can recognize individuals, read facial expressions, everything. It presents no problem to your suspension of disbelief. It became such a part of the actor's personalities that on the set the various species (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans) tended to hang out together.
The apes consider humans to be evil, annoying pests. The gorilla soldiers hunt them down. Taylor is captured but a wound to his throat makes him mute. He is given to an animal research scientist named Zira (Kim Hunter: THE BLACK CAT, TWO EVIL EYES, THE KINDRED), who is performing experimental brain surgery on her human subjects.
Zira's husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowell: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, LASERBLAST, FRIGHT NIGHT) is an archeologist, trying to piece together the origin of simian kind. In charge of them both is Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans: ROSEMARY'S BABY, TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM), who manages all scientific research and holds the office of Protector of the Faith. Imagine a world where a fundamentalist Christian creationist was in charge of a university biology department (or just imagine Kansas).
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT!!!
The very famous final scene will go unmentioned here, on the admittedly slim chance that someone reading this hasn't seen it yet. But it's very hard to find anyone who hasn't at least heard of it. My daughter had never seen the movie but was unsurprised by the ending. When I asked her why she said she knew about it from The Simpson's episode where actor Troy McClure (HERE COMES THE METRIC SYSTEM, CALLING ALL QUAKERS) stars in PLANET OF THE APES: The Musical. Oh well. (FeoNote: 20th Century Fox also put an image of the "Surprise Ending" right on the cover of the new re-release video box! Look for more of their canny marketing skills as they will no doubt re-release their entire catalogue with a spoiler cover!)
Bad science aside, this is still a fascinating story. I give it four shriek girls.
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