Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Tag line: "Somewhere in the Universe, there must be something better than man!"
Trivia: Allegedly, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to "better get in touch with the movie."
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, actor Charlton Heston appeared in a trio of science fiction films that have since become cult favorites. Yet as popular as The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973) were (and are), neither would achieve the critical or commercial success of his first venture into the genre, 1968’s Planet of the Apes.
A deep-space mission under the command of Capt. George Taylor (Heston), which took off from earth in the 20th century, crash lands on a remote planet some 2,000 years in the future. Figuring they are there to stay, Taylor and his two subordinates, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton), set out to explore this new world, only to find a society ruled by talking apes! During a melee with the apes, Taylor is shot in the throat. He’s then dragged off to a laboratory run by a chimpanzee researcher named Zira (Kim Hunter). Realizing Taylor is unlike most humans, who on this planet are mute and behave like primitive animals, Zira, along with her fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), attempts to use Taylor to prove her theory of evolution, which asserts apes evolved from a lower order of man. The ruling council, headed up by Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), accuses Zira and Cornelius of heresy for suggesting apes share a common ancestry with humans. That all changes, however, when Taylor regains his strength and starts to speak, something no man on this planet has ever done before.
Planet of the Apes is among the most popular science fiction movies of all time, a picture that spawned four direct sequels, a remake (Tim Burton’s Ill-advised 2001 film of the same name) and a 21st century re-imagining (director Rupert Wyatt’s excellent 2011 flick, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) that may itself launch a brand new series of films. Planet of the Apes certainly owes a portion of its success to its shocking conclusion, easily one of the most famous surprise endings in cinematic history. Yet what truly stands out as you watch it are the apes themselves. Thanks to some incredible make-up (producer Richard Zanuck supposedly invested $50,000 prior to production to ensure the apes would look as realistic as possible) and the stellar performances of its cast (especially Hunter and McDowell), the various simian species in Planet of the Apes are convincingly brought to life.
Like The Omega Man and Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes paints a bleak picture of mankind’s future, a reaction of sorts to the turbulent era in which the films were made (rocked by civil strife and the war in Vietnam). Yet despite the obvious influences of the time period, Planet of the Apes remains as entertaining today as it ever was.