Next week, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be released. Much like what I did with X-Men: Days of Future Past, I decided I would prepare for Dawn by reviewing every movie in the Apes franchise thus far. Unlike X-Men, however, Planet of the Apes is a franchise I’ve never seen before. At all. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how my feelings toward these movies and this franchise evolves throughout my viewing.
Planet of the Apes is the classic sci-fi tale about Taylor (Charlton Heston), an astronaut who crash lands on a mysterious planet ruled by apes. The apes are highly evolved while the humans of the planet have devolved to the point where they can’t speak. The apes view mankind as animals, hunting them and experimenting on them. Taylor’s presence threatens the civilization that the apes have cultivated and the future of apekind as they know it.
The first thing I noticed about this movie was the cinematography. When Taylor and the two other surviving astronauts escape their crashed spaceship, the movie becomes filled with sweeping overhead shots of the men and the desolate terrain they’re about to traverse. The aerial photography is captivating and really sells the viewer on the foreign feel of the location.
The first act of the movie is all about Taylor and the two men searching for life and sustenance on the planet. Having seen the date read out in the ship, they deduce that they’ve traveled 2000 years into the future and thousands of light years away from Earth thanks to cryosleep and light speed travel. This knowledge gives an intense feeling of desolation and solitude to the movie as you know that there’s no way anyone is searching for them.
There’s some important character development and establishment in the first portion of the movie. Namely, we find out that Taylor is somewhat of a misanthropic realist. He’s confident there’s “something out there, better than man.” It sets up his arc for the latter parts of the movie very well and is splendidly acted by Heston.
The pacing of Planet of the Apes is something worth mentioning. I loved it. It’s a solid half an hour before we see the apes and it’s a half hour spent extremely well. When the apes come in a scene where they’re hunting humans, they bring with them a presence of force and intimidation that, frankly, I wasn’t expecting. It’s at that moment where you realize the movie is a vastly unique science fiction film that is succeeding very well at what it’s intending to convey to us.
The makeup effects are far ahead of their time. Seeing apes with human characteristics and emotions feels so bizarre and that’s due entirely to the impressive aesthetic of the movie. The performances by the actors in the ape makeup are great across the board. Kim Hunter plays Zira, an ape scientist and human sympathizer. Through her performance, her character creates a bridge between humans and apes that prevents the latter from becoming archetypical villains.
What makes science fiction great is the way it can offer an allegorical or satirical look at a societal issue. Planet of the Apes fits very well into that sci-fi trope as it tackles the weighty debate between religion and science that’s still raging today. There is a subtle humor in seeing apes argue over evolution and whether they evolved from humans. It achieves this humor while deftly holding a mirror to the real world religious stalwarts who refuse to see science as fact based and instead assume it’s open to interpretation.
Planet of the Apes has a lot more to offer than I assumed it would going into it. The social commentary, strong performances and impressive aesthetics all come together to create a disturbing and fascinating view of a very peculiar and fascinating world. Great pacing and a legendary twist ending more than qualify Planet of the Apes for the classic status that it has held for nearly 50 years. I’m eager to see the rest of the franchise.
Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.