Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2/4 DVD release of Planet of the Apes (1968)
Due to four sequels, a spin-off animation show and a poor TV show that was cancelled after fourteen episodes, the original Planet Of The Apes movie is often ridiculed by people who in actual fact have never seen it. You see, if they had, they would agree that the film is one of the greatest Science-Fiction epics ever produced.
Based on talented author Pierre Boulle’s French Novel La Planete Des Singes (translation: Monkey Planet), 20th Century Fox knew that they had a potentially tricky task in adapting Boulle’s novel for the screen. In the novel, French astronaut Ulysses Merou lands on a planet Soror where apes are walking, talking, well-dressed and civilised, and Humans roam around naked in the wilderness and are locked into a Neanderthal state. Without giving any of the novel’s plot details away, the only obvious similarities between the novel and the film adaptation could be summarised into one sentence – “Astronauts land on a planet where apes are civilised and humans are savage brutes.” Pierre Boulle’s novel is a compelling read and recommended to any fans of the film version or of Boulle’s previous effort – The Bridge On The River Kwai.
Anyhow, the screenplay for the film was originally written by Rod Serling – creator of The Twilight Zone. Once blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson was later brought in to give it some polish, and touches from both men are evident. Franklin J. Schaffner, who would later win an Oscar for Patton and direct the brilliant Papillon, was brought in to complete the film on quite a small budget. Surprisingly however, star of biblical epics such as Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston, was signed to lead the film with a portrayal of the cynically hot-tempered astronaut George Taylor. Heston’s performance was so strong that it shifted his career from epic lead to cult science-fiction star. To portray civilised apes, Schaffner picked an excellent cast of Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans (who replaced Edward G. Robinson after his heart couldn’t withstand the intense makeup and costumes).
What about the film itself? The film is essentially a three-act piece. It starts off with Heston and his fellow astronauts crash-landing on the mysterious planet and searching for answers. This opening act is where you’ll most appreciate both Leon Shamroy’s breathtaking cinematography and one of the most innovative musical scores of all time from Jerry Goldsmith (Oscar nominated for his work on Planet Of The Apes). Shamroy captures the natural Utah landscapes (whilst simultaneously rendering them alien-looking) and gives the film a beautiful feel. You could hang each frame of the film on the wall as a picture it’s so marvellous. Goldsmith’s score is both hauntingly eerie and original in its use of ape noises and low piano notes, and it’s hardly background noise, as it can stand alone as a fantastic soundtrack.
Upon Heston’s capturing by the apes the second act actually sags the tension a little. The director is so concerned with not making the film too light hearted that each shot feels too concentrated, almost too rehearsed. The actors playing the apes are tremendous in what were completely different roles for them. Particularly likeable are Roddy McDowall, who surely should have been Oscar nominated for his sterling work, and Kim Hunter, who gave the chimpanzee Zira a touch of humanity. Incidentally, McDowall came to be more of a star of the whole Planet Of The Apes phenomenon – starring in three of the sequels and the television series. Maurice Evans is wonderfully menacing as Dr. Zaius, a character who isn’t brutally evil but more scientifically evil.
Watching the first two acts of Planet Of The Apes is a surprising experience. Here is a film you expect to be camp, dated and full of gimmickry, but whilst watching the film it seems to promise more and more after every scene, and is in fact totally serious. The viewer however, isn’t fully rewarded until the final act and this final scene in particular is one of the classic endings of twentieth century Hollywood and never before has a film been so rewarding at the very last shot. Others tend to agree – Tim Burton has recently remade Planet Of The Apes, and produced a far poorer effort all round. Even the makeup seems less convincing in Burton’s remake, which is a testament to the original considering 1967 didn’t have CGHI effects of Rick Baker. Even so, Planet Of The Apes has been cheapened by sequels judged to be poor (in actual fact, only Battle For The Planet Of The Apes seems to have no merit). Had the original not been followed by a sequel, there is no doubt that it would be regarded in higher esteem. Even so, the terrible critical reception of Burton’s remake suggests that the original Planet Of The Apes could be properly regarded as a cinematic masterpiece.
Academy Awards 1968
Honourary Award For Outstanding Creative Makeup Design – John Chambers
Academy Award Nominations 1968
Best Original Score – Jerry Goldsmith
Best Costume Design – Morton Haack
Region 1 has the film as part of the five film box-set or as stand-alone but is non-anamorphic.. At the beginning of the Region 4 version it has a copyright notice for Australia and the UK, and it is also Region 2 compatible. This version (Region 2/4) is the best version to go for as not only is it PAL but it is also the only anamorphic version of the film. There’s no excuse not to have an anamorphic print for a film with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the Region 4 version comes out hands down compared to the poor Region 1 version. The Widescreen print of Planet Of The Apes has always been kept in particularly good condition (It’s been released on video at least five times in ten years) but the DVD must have used a newer transfer as some obvious scars on the video print seem to have vanished altogether on the DVD, which is a good thing. There are however some scratches and grainy elements that are still retained and the brightness for the final scenes seem duller than usual, but even so, print wise Planet Of The Apes Region 2/4 rivals many new releases for visual quality.
Considering the original release was mono, fans should delight at the news that it has been remixed to Dolby Digital 5.1. However, it feels more like a Dolby Surround 2.0 rather than a 5.1 mix. There seems to be a lack of rear speaker action, although it’s definitely more than a 2.0 mix. As a majority of DVD buyers are film enthusiasts, it’s often disappointing that the original mix is not included on films that have had sound remastered. Unfortunately, Planet Of The Apes only has the reported 5.1 mix, and so if you really are that bothered about the original mix you’d have to not sell off that video on Ebay just yet. That said, the sound for the first time in stereo complements Jerry Goldsmith’s score to a more fuller effect. In some of the earlier scenes, the lip-synch appears to be out in a tiny way, but the after checking with the video version this appears to be the actual film’s fault and not the transfer’s. On some of the final scenes, the sound effects, especially the crashing waves and the beach life noises sound tremendous in stereo and add another dimension to the film with good use of rear channelling.
Menu: The menu screen is nicely animated with the faces of each of the principle apes characters morphing into one another, but this shows how much of a style over substance disc this really is.
Packaging: Although the cover artwork looks splendid, it wrongly assumes everyone has seen the film. Featured in an amaray casing.
Extras wise Planet Of The Apes is a woefully missed opportunity. For a film that is regarded as a Science-Fiction classic and being remade you’d have thought that a few publicity stills and cast and crew biographies would not be all that is included. Unfortunately, the inclusion also of trailers for the Apes sequels are not enough to prevent the buyer from being disappointed. Granted, the director, producer and Roddy McDowall are all dead now, but if Warner Bros can give us a commentary from Charlton Heston for Ben-Hur, surely Planet Of The Apes deserves one from Fox too. Also, why is the brilliant documentary Behind The Planet of The Apes not included? Yes it’s a bonus disc for the box set but as this is only more expensive surely some ‘making of documentary’ wouldn’t go amiss. A documentary about a certain film should never be released separately if the producers can help it, and Planet of The Apes is screaming out for some insight as to how it was produced for the screen.
Planet Of The Apes is one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time, and came out before 2001 – A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. Every department, from acting, directing, cinematography to music, makeup, and art direction are extremely competent. Overall, the DVD transfer and audio cannot be faulted as in these categories Planet Of The Apes as a viewing experience is enhanced tremendously. However, with regards to extra features, the disc is decidedly lacking and is a completely missed opportunity. Even so, this film will benefit any DVD collection, and should be snapped up almost immediately if you do not wish to own the box set.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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