Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Linda Harrison, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans
“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” (Taylor, Planet Of The Apes)
The last time I saw a film with an ape riding a horse the police came to my house, confiscated it and fined me £1000. I wasn’t willing to take the same chance again so I did plenty of research beforehand to ensure Planet Of The Apes was above board.
Planet of the Apes is one of those movies that most people know a lot about but many haven’t seen. Many know the twist ending, partly due to the numerous spoofs of it that have emerged over the past years with the likes of The Simpsons and Kevin Smith taking their own crack at it. Yet not many people who haven’t watched it are aware that there’s actually a lot more to this film than Charlton Heston being kidnapped by apes, escaping and then realising where he is. It’s rife with social commentary and other such shenanigans.
An astronaut crew crash-lands on a mysterious planet 2000 years in the future. Commander George Taylor (Heston) is captured by a group of intelligent apes, who believe that they are the dominant species and man is the beast. Two chimp scientists are startled however to realise that Taylor can speak (unlike the other humans on the planet) and so they attempt to help him gain his freedom.
The first fifteen minutes are fairly boring, reminiscent of the sci-fi b-movies of the 50’s where a crew of two or three men crash-land on a planet then look at all the strange things on said planet. Thankfully Taylor’s crewmembers are disposed of quickly (leaving us in no doubt as to who the star is here) and the film begins to swing in a wildly different direction when he’s kidnapped by apes on horses.
Taylor is thrown into a cage alongside some fellow humans, and soon realises that such is the bitter irony of this new world, the humans can’t speak and the apes can, meaning their roles are reversed somewhat. The apes see the humans are mere pets, mindless animals incapable of communication. Conveniently, Taylor’s voicebox was damaged while he was being kidnapped so he can’t speak when he’s initially captured.
I would say that to give more away would be spoiling it but let’s face it, we all have a rough idea where this is going. We know he’s eventually going to speak and that all hell’s going to break loose. We know he’s going to be seen as some freak of nature and he’s going to end up splitting the apes into those that believe he’s from another planet and those that don’t. And if you don’t, well, you do now.
One frustrating annoyance is the character of Nova, played by Linda Harrison. As a love interest she’s pretty weak, mainly due to the fact that she’s mute and doesn’t really seem to understand what Taylor is saying. Indeed, it almost feels wrong to me whenever he tries to instil some sort of romance in her, because she doesn’t really know what he’s doing. It’s pretty close to animal porn in my opinion (and, as noted above, I would know).
One cliché we do expect with mute characters in films, however, is that in a dramatic scene near the end (usually when the hero’s getting the shit kicked out of him) they’ll suddenly talk, or at least make some kind of “ugh” sound. This isn’t the case here. You keep waiting for it, but once the credits hit you think “well what was the point of her?”. Unsurprisingly, this was corrected in the sequel.
Heston gives a performance that’s as needlessly dramatic as you’d expect from a ’60s sci-fi film, regardless of its otherwise high budget. In the scenes where he can speak, every line’s chewed and spat out through gritted teeth in order to make him seem like a gritty hero who takes no shit. Her annoying lack of chat aside, Linda Harrison does do a good job and at times you believe she actually is mute. And despite the makeup, the ape actors are still extremely convincing, in particular Maurice Evans as Dr Zaius and Roddy McDowall as Cornelius.
If you still haven’t seen it Planet Of The Apes is highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind overdramatic sci-fi. The make-up effects on the apes have stood the test of time, and they look as impressive more than 40 years on as they did back when they were created. It’s therefore still somewhat believable (within reason), as opposed to merely a historic landmark in film history that our generation can look back at and giggle at how cheap it all looked. If you’re after a good science fiction film with moral undertones and spectacular cinematography for its time, then Planet Of The Apes is the one for you. Besides, it’s got monkeys on fucking horses.