DVD Review: Planet of the Apes

My first review is the seminal 1968 picture: Planet of the Apes of which the box set of all 5 movies was given to me for Christmas. Charlton Heston plays Taylor, the captain of a space ship sent from Earth in 1972. The ship crash lands on a strange planet and by some unexplained phenomena the astronauts on the ship have aged only the six months but the year is now 3978AD. The three remaining astronauts come across a species of seemingly mute human-like creatures who are hunted by the intelligent ape population. During one of these hunts one of the crew is shot and killed and the others taken to the ape’s city where Taylor begins to learn the truth about the planet and its inhabitants.For a blockbuster film of this age, Planet of the Apes really does hold together impressively. Of course there is a certain amount of camp enjoyment to be had from the costume design and one particularly memorable scene featuring Charlton Heston smoking a cigar inside his space ship, but I was surprised how quickly I was caught up and rather entranced by the experience. Planet of the Apes, of course, has nothing of the cinematic splendour or the special effects laden surrealism of 2001: A Space Odyssey, released the same year, but there is something refreshingly accessible about the political content of Planet of the Apes. Whereas Kubrick’s film leaves you dazzled, awe-struck but strangely cold with its final scene; Planet of the Apes finishes with an image of quite incredible raw power and feeling, almost akin to the reveal at the end of Citizen Kane (high praise indeed). There is nothing subtle or ambiguous about the political messages contained in the film but they are communicated with skill and, despite some initial personal cynicism, remarkably timeless resonance for a modern viewer.In fact the balance between mainstream thrills and intellectual themes is where Planet of the Apes greatest achievement lies. It never feels like being lectured to nor does it ever lose sight of its core ideals. This is a film which knows what it wants to do and how it wants to get there. Heston excels as the self interested and cynical astronaut, seemingly tired of humanity’s flaws while the rest of the cast are equally solid. This is perhaps with the exception of Kim Hunter’s mute ‘cavewoman’ who seems present solely to provide cinematic ‘eye candy’ and mainstream convention. The film seems to lose interest in Heston’s motivations for looking after her almost immediately and the audience are left wondering quite why her character is present at all.It is quite refreshing to see, what is fundamentally a sci-fi blockbuster, containing so much depth, demonstrating that films as atrocious as Michael ‘the antichrist’ Bay’s Transformers needn’t have to be put up with. It just goes to show that not every science fiction piece has to be as utterly inaccessible and totally mind bending as 2001 to have ‘substance’. Indeed Planet of the Apes has aged remarkably well and if you can remember a time when sci-fi was not synonymous with CGI, then this is a real gem of a sci-fi flick.

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