Planet of the Apes Boxset Review
The Planet Of The Apes saga of films has seen its thirty four year history plunder through excessive merchandising, undeserved ridicule and revisionist appreciation now that the awful Tim Burton remake has just been released and the original films are seen as being back in vogue. Loosely based on Pierre Boulle's fine French novel 'La Planète des Singes', the original Planet Of The Apes, released in 1968, became an instant cult classic and is long since revered as one of the greatest science-fiction epics of the twentieth century and indeed of the whole of cinema. Sensing that there was more life in the franchise than just one film, producer Arthur P. Jacobs commissioned four more sequels over the next six years that deviated wildly from the original's premise.
Released as a box-set on R1 last summer, the five films of the series have now landed on R2's shores in a cardboard fold-out box, and unlike the R1 counterpart, all five films are presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
The first disc is exactly the same as the Region 2/4 release which is reviewed here.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)
After the phenomenal success of the first Apes film, the inevitable sequel was produced, and this carries on from exactly the same point the previous film finished. Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston), stuck two thousand years in the future on the Ape planet, has caused panic back in 1970's Earth by his disappearance and so further astronauts have followed his space trajectory in search for him. The search party's captain dies upon entry of the Ape planet, leaving Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) as the sole survivor of the rescue party. Brent discovers that the planet is headed for war, as the Ape population, lead by merciless gorilla General Ursus (James Gregory) look for answers in the daunting 'forbidden zone' due to increasing famine. Upon Brent's escape from the ape colony, he stumbles upon a devastatingly shocking humanoid race living underground, capable of telepathic thought, and whose religion is devoted to an atomic bomb. Soon, the apes discover the existence of the telepathic humans, and the planet looks set for destruction, but not if Brent can help it.
Inevitably, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes is quite inferior to its predecessor. The budget feels like it was smaller, the effects are less assured, and the plotting is more sensationalist. It's still a good sequel, but it doesn't maintain any of the grace of the original. James Franciscus is a likeable enough lead as Brent, but he feels like an inferior Robert Redford (both he and Burt Reynolds turned the part down). The directing by Ted Post feels very mechanical, like it was produced on a batch processing TV series job. Indeed, some of the action sequences and situations, coupled with Leonard Rosenman's musical score, give Beneath a Hammer horror feel, which detracts from the epic status a little. Charlton Heston only agreed to be in the sequel as a promise to Fox president Dick Zanuck, as long as he wouldn't have to appear in any more Apes films, and also on the proviso that his character went missing in the first act and was found in the final act, thus rendering Heston's appearance only a minor one. Heston appears very subdued, almost as if it was a chore to be involved. Roddy McDowall, due to the fact that the Ape makeup was very overwhelming and that the production's summer schedule would have been quite gruelling, turned down the chance to reprise his role as the benevolent Cornelius the chimpanzee, and instead was replaced quite convincingly by fellow Brit David Watson. Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison and Maurice Evans all reprise their characters once again, and James Gregory clearly relishes his role as the evil General Ursus. The cinematography by Milton Krasner is murkier than the beautiful looking original and again this cheapens the whole Apes look.
On the whole, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes is an enjoyable sequel that falls far short of the original's excellence but still manages to have some monumental science-fiction moments.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks splendid and the R2 is currently the greatest version with regards to transfer of Beneath The Planet of The Apes. A few dirt marks and white speckles occur throughout, but the print has clearly been remastered and looks all the better for it.
Presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround, the mix is essentially slightly more than mono, but sound is still crystal clear and the bass tones have been improved dramatically, yet compared to the first film's remix, the audio track is underwhelming.
Theatrical Trailers for all five Apes films, which is pathetic in the sense that each film contains all five trailers! A small photo gallery is also included with a couple of behind the scenes stills and a weak cast page.
Director: Ted Post
Starring: James Franciscus, Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Paul Richards, Victor Buono, James Gregory, Jeff Corey, Natalie Trundy, Thomas Gomez, David Watson, Don Pedro Colley, Tod Andrews, Gregory Sierra, Eldon Burke, Lou Wagner
Running Time: 90 Minutes
ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)
Friendly chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira (Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter) and their scientist friend Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) escape the warring Ape planet (as seen in Beneath) using Brent's spacecraft and travel back in time to 1970's Earth. Upon arrival, Milo is unfortunately killed by a zoo gorilla, and the talking and civilised Cornelius and Zira are treated as a novelty by humans, but after initial probing from the evil Dr. Hasslein (Eric Braedon), the Apes are hounded by angry humans upset at the learning of their planet's future in the hands of advanced apes. To make matters worse, Zira is expecting a child, and the military aim to stop her giving birth to a talking ape, fearing that a chain reaction might occur amongst other apes.
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes is a humourous play on conventions of the first film, and is a marvellous companion piece that serves to corroborate the moral principles raised in Planet Of The Apes. Escape is more reflective of its early seventies era and more dated than the other Apes films, and this is mainly due to the funky retro Jerry Goldsmith score and the fact that this was the only film set in contemporary times. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter show just how expertly they have taken to playing apes, and they put their 2001 remake colleagues to shame. The unsung hero of the series Roddy McDowall reprises his role as Cornelius and the film is better for it. The directing by Don Taylor manages to be both light-hearted and extremely downbeat, which helps to give Escape its serious undertones.
To conclude, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes is a worthy sequel to Planet Of The Apes and is certainly the fans' favourite, although the dated appearance to the film is unfortunate.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film is better looking than Beneath The Planet of The Apes due to the brighter colour tones and less number of speckles present. Aside from the original Apes film, this is the best transfer of the series.
Presented in the original mono soundtrack, unlike the surround mix of Beneath, the audio track is merely adequate and contains a small amount of hiss, although bass tones have been dramatically improved.
Trailer for all films of the series, which are completely redundant since they feature on every film, and a pathetic cast page telling you who played the major roles.
Director: Don Taylor
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, John Randolph, William Windom, Ricardo Montalban, Sal Mineo
Running Time: 93 Minutes
CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972)
Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is by far the most adventurous sequel out of the four and is certainly the most inventive. Featuring in a nice twist of casting, Roddy McDowall, as his own ape son Caesar (Milo's adopted name), Conquest is set in North America in 1991 (Which actually was nineteen years in the future from when the film was made and the previous film set) and the country is in dire turmoil. A mysterious space disease transported onto the Earth from astronauts has horrifically killed off every cat and dog that roamed the world. Man has chosen to fill the gap in their pet needs with apes, and the domestication of the species has resulted in apes slowly growing larger and more intelligent. Unfortunately for the apes, they have ceased to be regarded as pets due to their added intelligence and now are regarded as slaves, to be sold in open auctions. Cities are now brutal police states run by evil Governors, and as Caesar is an intelligent talking ape, his circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban), has decided to shun him from public life since his birth. Now Caesar is more than twenty years old, Armando has decided to show him the true horrors of the world and reveal to the ape his own futuristic ancestry. However, after some coincidental incidents, Armando and Caesar are separated, and Caesar becomes so incensed with the horrors and brutality inflicted upon his fellow apes that he leads a revolt, and sparks an ape hunt initiated by the evil Governor Breck (Don Murray).
If the first Apes film was a classic in social commentary; the second was kooky science-fiction and the third was a humourous satire, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is a violent, futuristic movie filled with rage and anguish, and is all the better for it. Veteran director J. Lee Thompson lets the story unfold simply and the action unfold beautifully. The stunning use of primary-colour driven photography by Bruce Surtees, coupled with the amazing urban production design by Philip Jefferies gives Conquest a bright and hellish look that corroborates the narrative splendidly. McDowall takes his Apes acting to the next level with Caesar, ditching Cornelius' dashing charm and acquiring a venomous streak instead, whilst still maintaining an element of wisdom. Don Murray is both charismatic and evil as Governor Breck, Severn Darden is menacing as the evil governmental advisor Kolp, and Hari Rhodes provides a nice helpful turn as Mr. MacDonald, the Governor's right hand man and potential ape sympathiser. Ricardo Montalban is perfect casting as Armando, a man who symbolizes a relic of the pre-ape society. Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is the best sequel and the most visually striking, and if producer Arthur P. Jacobs had ended the franchise here the occasional ridicule that the Apes series has suffered over the years may never have surfaced.
Instead of Panavision, the film is shot in Todd-AO 35 and although the film has a starker, more grainier look, it still looks splendid as a result, and the transfer, although containing a slight amount of speckles and dirt, provides Conquest with the best picture quality it has ever seen. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Presented in 2.0 surround, the mix is the age-old mono dialogue with slight surround musical score and occasional effects. The sound contains some hiss but still improves greatly upon the VHS version.
A poor Cast page, and yet again the theatrical trailers for all five of the apes films, and nothing more.
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Natalie Trundy, Hari Rhodes, Severn Darden, Lou Wagner, John Randolph, Ricardo Montalban
Running Time: 83 Minutes
BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973)
Battle For The Planet Of The Apes was about as necessary a film as Police Academy: Mission To Moscow. Filmed on the cheapest budget allocation of the series and with the weakest script (by the Corringtons who also wrote the excellent Omega Man), Battle was a misfired attempt to tie the series up full circle, and if anything merely feels like an extended episode of the Television series produced a year later. Roddy McDowall reprises his role as Caesar, victorious leader of the Apes' revolt as depicted in Conquest, who has to deal with choosing an acceptable punishment to the humans and fighting off warring and mutinous factions amongst his aggressive gorilla guards. To make matters far worse, the evil human advisor Kolp (Severn Darden) has survived the war, and is leading a band of radioactive humans in a bid to retake the world.
Other than a splendid middle section that shows a brilliantly illustrated city destroyed almost apocalyptically by war, Battle has little to offer. Even McDowall feels tired by now, and a surreal cameo from John Huston as the orang-utan Ape Lawgiver still isn't enough to redeem the film on a mere cult level. It's almost as if the Apes series has died, and Battle represents a cardboard tombstone, as it doesn't deserve to sit alongside the other films of the series. Even the final, ambiguous moments feel too hokey, and one really has to stop and reflect just how far from the original the sequels have deviated.
Presented in the usual-for-the-series 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print transfer is very good but the picture is still quite dark and suffers from excessive gloom at times. The usual seldom case of speckles occur but this is a film that is twenty-eight years old after all.
In remixed 2.0 surround, the audio mix isn't too bad although most noises are confined to the central well. Even so, the original soundtrack was mono, and the remix gives greater breadth to the musical score by Leonard Rosenman.
Cast page, and theatrical trailers for all five of the Apes films.
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston
Running Time: 83 Minutes
BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES
The Planet Of The Apes boxset comes a bonus sixth disc which contains a very well made documentary entitled Behind The Planet Of The Apes. Hosted by the late, legendary Roddy McDowall, the two hour documentary is fascinating viewing for anyone interesting in how the saga of the five films came about. Various screen-tests, including a rare test with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson (who eventually turned down the Dr. Zaius role) interviews with all cast and crew members and other insightful items are included, and considering this documentary has its own DVD release, it really is a bonus. It is a shame however, that all of the extras from the stand-alone Behind The Planet Of The Apes DVD, which filled out over 2 discs, are not included. This appears almost as a cynical ploy by Fox to force die-hard Apes fans to part with more of their hard-earned money. The documentary is presented in 4:3 fullscreen and in 2.0 Stereo. Still, Behind is a fantastic documentary and a worthy extra.
Although the films are of variable quality, ranging from classic to mediocre-at-best, the audio and picture quality of the films are about as good as could be hoped for. The extras are very disappointing, with no commentaries (Surely Charlton Heston is a missed opportunity, or at least one of the Planet Of The Apes experts featured in the documentary), no deleted scenes, and only trailers for all of the films and pointless cast pages. The Behind The Planet Of The Apes documentary carries most of the burden of extras, and although it is one of the better factual films of late, it isn't enough for a box set. However, fans of the series will love this box set, as it betters the R1 with regards to being anamorphic and is available at a far more affordable price.