Monday, May 31, 2010

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner
Fox Blu-ray

I remember liking the original Planet of the Apes but realized I hadn't seen it in years. I also couldn't remember anything about it's four sequels so when I saw it on sale for $50 dollars I couldn't resist picking up this Fox Blu-ray box set. Now let me talk about the box itself for a moment. It may be the nicest box set I have ever laid eyes on. While the Blade Runner pops to mind because of it's coolness, it's frankly a cheap plastic toy (still awesome though). The Apes set however is a beautiful coffee table book filled with outstanding photos in a slip case that just happens to hold five discs in the interior cover. This is worth owning for even the most passive of Ape fans.

That being said, let's discuss the first film. Four astronauts, led by Charlton Heston, are sent form (then) modern day Earth to what they believe to be another planet. It takes a few thousand years to get there and when they crash land they find that one of their companions was killed in transit. The remaining astronauts wander the lifeless desert in search of water and civilization. They come across a speechless, neanderthal type of humans scrounging for food but are almost immediately attacked by a group of intelligent apes riding horses and shooting guns. Heston is captured but is also rendered speechless because he was shot in the throat. While in captivity he meets a more progressive ape named Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and her husband Cornelius (Roddy MacDowall). They are amazed by an "intelligent" human and try at all costs to protect him from the religious zealot that is not only the "Keeper of the Faith" but the "Minister of Science", Dr. Zaius. This fact is not lost on Heston's character as he points at that the one man (or ape) should not be able to hold both positions. The good guys are captured, an escape happens, and the final showdown occurs. What sets the film apart is solid directing and an excellent script co-written by Rod Serling. In fact, the script still has relevance today with it's stance on zealots that don't want to believe in evolution still having a voice forty years later. I am sure that at the time he would never have guessed that human intelligence hasn't evolved much. Schaffner plays up the frustrating aspects perfectly, he sutures you in and makes you want to punch some of these apes in the mouth. And then there's Heston. He gives one insanely over-the-top, toothy performance. I have to wonder if he read the script before committing to the project or maybe he just didn't care. But when he yells "It's a madhouse, a madhouse!!" I jumped off the couch cheering. The ending is now famous of course, I won't mention it here on the off chance you haven't seen it, but I am also referring to Heston's characters ending. What is often over looked is what happens to the apes that help him. Frankly it's far more depressing and truer to real life unfortunately. It really is a science fiction master piece and strangely was released the same year as one of the other great achievements 2001: A Space Odyssey and the two couldn't be more different in style.

The disc is packed with extras, including two commentary tracks and behind the scenes footage. The transfer looked excellent on my 1080p plasma. Highly recommended!


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