Planet of the Apes
Written by Rod Serling & Michael Wilson
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Based on the novel Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle
Dr. Zaius...Maurice Evans
Three American astronauts wake up some 300 light years and 2000 Earth years from home when their shuttle crash-lands on a distant planet. Finding a civilization of primitive humanoids, they initially think that they themselves are now the most advanced creatures on the planet.
They think wrong.
They quickly discover the truth when an army of apes (it's their planet, after all) swoops in on horseback, capturing and killing all of the humans they can. Astronaut George Taylor is one of the humans captured and is taken back to the City of the Apes, where he's held in a cage and studied like an animal by psychologists Dr. Zira and her fiancé Dr. Cornelius.
Three different breeds of ape are on display here, and there's a lot of class separatism between them. For the most part, the orangutans are the leaders; the chimpanzees are the thinkers; and the gorillas are the muscle. Surely intended as commentary on the world of the late 1960s, it's still somewhat viable even today--whether you view it as commentary on race relations, or just stations in life.
In this flipsy-flipsy world, humans are mute and possess only moderate intelligence, viewed as pests and nuisances. Taylor's advanced state seems to prove Cornelius's wacky theory that apes are in fact evolved from humans, something that many of the leaders are loathe to admit even possible. Sound familiar?
This goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: Taylor is one badass mother. How badass is he? He smokes a cigar in outer space, that's how badass. Cynical, bitter and tough, he's a hairy-chested man's man that is definitely the product of the era. He even scores a ridiculously gorgeous primitive chick by name of Nova. She doesn't speak, and she doesn't wear a lot of clothes.
That's just what Dr. Zaius ordered.
The evolution of the apes must have zapped some of their strength (as it probably zapped some of ours), because otherwise no man--no, not even Charlton Heston--could render a gorilla unconscious with a single, well-timed elbow to the back of the skull.
The special effects are still pretty good, even today, although the facial masks are rather stiff, making it difficult for the performers to express any emotion without use of their voice. The fact that all members of each breed dresses alike, and the masks are remarkably similar, occasionally makes it difficult to tell one another apart. But apes probably think the same thing about us.
Whether you give a damn about the subtext or not, this is a downright amazing movie that spawned a massive multi-media franchise and must have blown many minds upon its initial release. And somehow it still manages to capture the imagination all these years later. Sadly, many younger viewers have probably watched the recent prequel, without ever having seeing where the franchise began. If that's the case, do yourself a favor and book a vacation on the Planet of the Apes.
"Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn."