It’s amazing how one moment in film history can become so famous, that it tricks you into thinking you know the movie. Planet of the Apes “suffers” from this issue because the ending is so iconic. I knew what was coming and even though it is supposed to be twist, what it actually did was give me a sense of dramatic irony, with each slight hint towards the revelation, it became clearer and more obvious that the finale was always going to come with that ending.
It also made me realise that I didn’t actually know that much more about the movie. Aside from what I’d picked up in a Simpsons episode with a musical version of the movie, Planet of the Apes was a mystery. I had an idea that it was much more about chasing humans, action-packed fight sequences and heavy science-fiction. It was to my surprise that I found a much slower, thoughtful movie, where questions about society, animal cruelty and faith were all addressed in intelligent but subtle ways.
For a movie where apes can talk, act like humans and are the dominant species in society, the movie never feels silly. I’ve had people comment about struggling with the prosthetics and make-up on the actors playing the apes but this was nowhere near as bad I was expecting and actually looked decent for the 1960s. It also highlighted how good the actors behind the prosthetics actually were.
The actor that has to do most of the work underneath the ape mask is the “villain” of the story, Dr. Zaius played by Maurice Evans. He manages to convey a good mix between “mad scientist,” bigoted judge and misguided authority figure. It’s done very well considering that there is very little emotion conveyed in the faces of the apes.
Of course, Charlton Heston has to do much more as the almost only, true human character. Other humans are involved but he is the only one talking and doing most of the action sequences. These impressed me too, especially because my experience with older movies is that they are much slower and less convincing on the action front. It’s not an action heavy movie but has its share of gun fights, hand-to-hand combat and even a full on hunt for humans near the beginning of the movie.
Above anything else, it’s worth seeing the movie that gave us such an iconic “twist” and also launched a new, successful franchise, both back in the 60s and 70s and also in modern times. It has some great potential and is also a case for a movie that doesn’t require a sequel, getting across its many messages and comments in one, two-hour movie rather than expanding and in some cases damaging the original.
Overall, Planet of the Apes deserves its status as a classic movie and it is apparent why it is still capturing the imagination of filmmakers today. It is well acted, delivers a great story and has messages that go far deeper than just apes running the world. Considering its age, it still holds up very well today, even underneath some dodgy, ape prosthetics.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)