Behind the Planet of the Apes Review

The Film

As most of you will know by now this disc is really the extras disc for the Planet of the Apes Evolution box set. But as I have reviewed each film separately this seems to be the only way of doing this disc justice.

Roddy McDowall hosts this retrospective documentary, which was actually made as a 30th anniversary celebration in 1998. This is also a fitting tribute to McDowall as he died a month or so after this was first transmitted in the States. I originally saw this a year or so ago on Sky and was suitably impressed. As an extra for the box set it is certainly a welcome addition.

The documentary is split logically into sections for each of the five films along with a prologue. The prologue section outlines the book by Pierre Boullé, covers the early makeup tests and gives the basic story of how the concept and funding was achieved. Then there is an in-depth section on Planet of the Apes with details of public/critical reaction at the time. This combination of the prologue and the first film takes a good hour of the two-hour running time. As a result the four sequels are not covered in such great depth. Beneath the Planet of the Apes covers some interesting politics between Heston and the Studio producers. The Escape from the Planet of the Apes section highlights the quirkiness of this entry into the franchise. The Conquest of the Planet of the Apes portion covers the films darker edge and the cuts and redubbing that had to be done to make the film “family-friendly”. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is skated over (for obvious reasons) as is the spin-off TV-series.

The documentary is for the most part fascinating. Roddy McDowall is a marvellous host and he is even kind when referring to his replacement as Cornelius in Beneath. The background information on everything from the makeup to the casting to the scenery and the budget constrictions is extensive to say the least. There is behind the scenes footage included from most of the films including some hilarious scenes of actors trying to eat, smoke and stay cool whilst in full ape makeup. This archive footage is intercut with new interview footage with the original stars and directors/producers, most notably Kim Hunter (Zira in three films), Natalie Trundy (in four films, played a mutant, a scientist and the ape Lisa) and the director of Conquest and Battle, J. Lee Thompson. All of this footage and information adds up to this being a comprehensive guide to the apes’ saga.

Overall I would say that this documentary is fascinating for anyone with a passing interest in the apes’ films. It not only covers the franchise wonderfully well, it also gives some background into how the Studios worked at the time. For instance it explains why the Budgets for the Apes films shrank over the years despite the fact the franchise was a money-spinner.

The Disc

Well this bonus disc is the saving grace of the box set, which had been pretty much extra-free up until now. As has been the case with all of the discs in the set, the menus are very nice and match the general theme of the other menus in the set. There are a reasonably generous 22 chapter stops.

The picture is a 4:3 presentation (Although any film clips are in their original aspect ratio 2.35:1 non-anamorphic). This documentary was shot for television, hence the 4:3 aspect ratio. The print is of reasonable quality throughout with detail level remaining high. The transfer is good with little or no print damage; the colour balance and black level are also above average. Grain is minimal, as are digital artefacts. Please note that all of these comments relate to the documentary itself rather than the film footage interspersed throughout. This is of variable quality and this is to be expected. The behind the scenes footage and makeup test footage is the worst of the lot but still perfectly watchable. The film clips themselves are fascinating as their poor quality just shows how much work has gone into the remastered editions in this box set.

The sound again is variable dependant on the source of the footage. The soundtrack is ostensibly a Dolby surround 2.0 track, but obviously some of the footage is mono. The soundtrack is unremarkable but very easy on the ear with nothing being lost.

Apart from the documentary itself extras are a little sparse. The usual trailers are present and correct but that’s about it.

As a standalone disc I would still be tempted to purchase it full price. As an extras disc it is a great addition to the box. The main feature is informative and insightful. The sound and picture are as variable as you would expect from a retrospective documentary. For those who like the apes films I can’t recommend this box set enough, for those wavering maybe you should wait for the R2 box (apparently anamorphic) or plump for the standalone R4 Planet of the Apes if you find the sequels disappointing (shame on you, there are some gems in there).

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out of 10

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