Anthony's Film Review
Planet of the Apes (1968)
An entertaining science-fiction movie with a thought-provoking premise and delightful performances...
At first, the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes follows a fairly simple and commonly used premise in science-fiction: exploration of a foreign planet. But soon the movie steps into new territory with a more unique premise: encountering a race of intelligent civilized apes that treat humans as animals. The ability for any film, sci-fi or otherwise, to tell an original story always gets my attention, so I applaud Planet of the Apes for certainly doing that. In addition, this movie features an engaging cast and even some commentary about the strengths and flaws of the human race, which is good because science-fiction should make us imagine big ideas.
Charlton Heston plays astronaut George Taylor, who leads a crew of three others as their ship travels far from Earth. They are definitely far from home, not just because they are a few hundred light years away but also because, due to relativity, more than 2,000 years have passed on Earth while the crew has barely aged. One day, Taylor puts the ship on autopilot while he joins the crew in hibernation. Later, the ship is about to crash onto a distant planet, and with one crew member already dead, it's up to Taylor and his surviving two colleagues to save themselves.
With the ship out of commission, the three explore their new world, resigned to start a new life in it. At first, they are in a barren desert, but their persistence pays off as they see signs of life: one plant, then more vegetation, plus a nourishing waterfall, and finally, a crowd of humans. Then the humans scramble and flee, because apes on horseback with guns enter the area to round up and capture as many humans as possible. Unfortunately, Taylor and the crew also find themselves in the middle of the chaos and try to escape as well.
Ultimately, Taylor is pretty much by himself as a prisoner. It looks as if he has no ally on this strange planet. But interestingly enough, he has one potential friend, in the form of Zira (Kim Hunter), a sympathetic ape who is an animal psychologist studying human behavior. Zira is astonished and fascinated by the level of intelligence Taylor exhibits. Because Taylor has temporarily lost his voice during his capture, he has limited nonverbal methods of communication, but he ultimately reaches out to Zira. She and her fiancÚ Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) seek to better understand Taylor, eventually leading to an alliance with this human.
This relationship comes out at a critical time, when Taylor is put on trial for trying to escape. He stands in front of three ape judges, including Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) who is, paradoxically, a minister of science as well as defender of the apes' religion. It's already bad enough that any scientific arguments to help Taylor's case would only be shot down by firm religious assertions. Taylor also has to deal with having no legal rights as an "animal," according to ape law. Still, he has Zira and Cornelius defending him, as if they're ape lawyers. Thanks to those two allies, Taylor may have a chance for freedom, but it will require work to convince Dr. Zaius to see things in a whole new light.
Planet of the Apes would be a more average sci-fi film if it were not for the topics and themes covered. Through the civilized apes, we are forced to see certain traits of our own human society, such as religion trumping science, barbaric treatment of animals, and societal classes. Also, the performances by the main cast are quite good. I enjoyed Heston as the imprisoned Taylor, and I definitely admired the performances of the three main ape characters: Dr. Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius. Throughout the first half of the movie, my rating naturally gravitated towards a 7 out of 10, but with the these extra goodies, I'm bumping my rating up a notch. I now understand why Planet of the Apes is a sci-fi movie classic.
For more information about Planet of the Apes, visit the Internet Movie Database.