Planet of the Apes Review
Most of you will already be well acquainted with Planet of the Apes. You will probably know it is adapted from the book by Pierre Boullé (writer of Bridge on The River Kwai). The fact that Planet of the Apes won an honorary Oscar for its makeup will be common knowledge to most of you. But despite all of this a lot people tend to overlook this film. They remember it as being camp (it isn’t) or it having bad makeup (certainly untrue). So the more reviews there are of these re-releases, the more people will give this film another try.
We already have a review of the R4 Planet of the Apes disc here. However this R1 disc is part of the Planet of The Apes Evolution box set. Over the next couple of weeks I will be reviewing the entire box set. All reviews will be written as single disc reviews (including the documentary disc). I will attempt to evaluate the merits of each disc whether standalone or as part of the set.
The films plot is well known and well loved by now. A group of astronauts are to colonise a distant planet, due to light speed travel Earth is now 800 years older and far behind them. The group goes into hibernation and is to awaken and begin again on a new world. Unfortunately disaster befalls the mission and the ship crash-lands in the water on a strange planet. The crew led by Col. Taylor (Heston) go forth and try to find food, water and maybe a place to settle down. What they find is primitive man enslaved and experimented on by apes that walk and talk and are top of the food chain. The role reversal is obvious and effective. The arrival of Taylor throws the whole situation into disarray. It is written in ape law that man has always been an inferior animal incapable of speech or independent thought, Taylor challenges these religious texts by his mere existence. Obviously a conflict builds between the differing factions, some of whom want Taylor neutered or dead and others who want to learn more about him. This conflict builds to a spectacular climax.
When analysed, this plot is fairly simple, the story of an outsider who is the catalyst for change and conflict has been told many times whether in sci-fi novels or in mainstream fiction. Here it is done remarkably well. The parallels between our culture and ape culture are fascinating. The question of enslavement in a civilised society, the question of social pecking order, the question of Science versus Religion and the arrogance of man in everything he does. All of these themes are touched on and tackled, no other sci-fi film aims quite so high in covering so many bases. The problem is that some of these parallels aren’t played subtly enough, so at times I was just thinking “Well that’s an obvious parallel with ….”. This is a shame as with a little more subtlety this film could have gone even further than it already has. The director does an admirable job of pulling all these themes together and the film never seems to lose its focus. One note of criticism for the director is his use of sudden dramatic close-ups on the main actors. He only does it once or twice but it turns possible shocking/tender moments into pure farce.
The characters themselves are a wide and varied bunch. Oddly enough the “hero” is the least likeable character in the film. At the beginning Heston is just plain nasty to everyone and he doesn’t improve much as the film goes on. But this just goes to prove the point that the interloper is the catalyst for the plot rather than someone we can empathise with. The main ape actors Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira) and Maurice Evans (Dr Zaius) produce fantastic performances. With the limitations provided by the makeup it’s surprising that they could act at all. But all three show great skill in using the makeup to their advantage. We feel real empathy for Zira and Cornelius and Dr Zaius is suitably intelligent whilst being stubborn and narrow-minded.
Special effects-wise this film is a little shaky. The budget wasn’t big and it shows, the spaceship scenes are pretty ropey and most of the indoor sets look a little too polystyrene for their own good. But special mention must go to the makeup. Even now, 33 years later, the makeup looks fantastically realistic. I’m sure that the forthcoming remake from Tim Burton will surpass it but it is no mean achievement to produce such quality work in this film.
In conclusion I can only end this section the way I started it. This film is a classic; it is easily one of the top 10 sci-fi films of the last 40 years. It is as fresh today as when I first saw it and I am sure it is as fresh as the day it first appeared at the cinema.
As already mentioned this disc is part of the Planet of the Apes Evolution box set. This a very good box set indeed, but if you buy the discs individually you may be a little disappointed by the extras. Before I go onto the rest of the disc, a warning to those of you that have not seen this film. Do not look at the back cover of the case under any circumstances. There is a huge spoiler in the shape of a picture, just believe me when I say it will ruin one of the major moments of the film if you see it beforehand.
Now for the first disappointment, whilst the film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio it is non-anamorphic. This is surprising given the fact that the R4 edition is anamorphic. But all is not lost; the print is very clean indeed with no noticeable print damage. The encoding job is also top notch, with no discernable artifacting. Colours are vibrant, whites are white and blacks are black. Whilst the lack of an anamorphic picture is disappointing all in all this is probably the best non-anamorphic transfer I’ve seen.
Sound is perfectly adequate. There is an English 5.1 mix, an English 2.0 mix (the original soundtrack) and a French 2.0 mix. The 5.1 track is a good mix and dialogue was clear and audible throughout. Rears were underused but sometimes it’s refreshing for these mixes of older films to be a little understated. It is also a pleasant surprise to find the original 2.0 soundtrack on the disc, something that the R4 disc lacks.
The extras situation is a double-edged sword here. If this is part of the box set then you obviously have the excellent documentary as part of your extras. If you’ve just bought this disc then there is very little to get excited about. The only audio/visual feature is the trailers, one for each of the Apes films and one cross-promotion trailer. Beyond that there are some early production sketches that are very informative and interesting. The last “extra” is a web link.
This is a great film that has been treated well by Fox. The non-anamorphic transfer is better than some anamorphic transfers I’ve seen. But it has to be said if you only want the first film then it’s best to plump for the R4 edition as it has the anamorphic print. Sound is solid and the extras are disappointing if you are only buying this disc on it’s own. It works better as part of the box set rather than a standalone release. Even so it is a classic slice of sci-fi, which no one should be without.