Downed astronauts explore a planet, finding unsettling signs of intelligent but non-human life. Before long, they're prisoners of an alien race who appear to have evolved from monkeys.
Self-aggrandising movie historian Peter Biskind, in his raucous guide to why the '70s rocked — Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — hits upon Bonnie And Clyde as the point of transference from willowy studio pap to rule-breaking sweeps of auteurism and popular art. Fair enough, but only months later Franklin J. Schaffner, under the heavy-lidded guise of sci-fi, stabbed one of the most politically radical and deviously threaded message movies straight into the populist heart of the studio system.
Its inverted genealogy of apes and men in a nuclear-blasted future has defined a movie iconography as indelible as ruby slippers, lightsabers and tumbling snowglobes. Here lies the true launch pad. As associate producer Mort Abrahams iterates from the depths of the excellent documentary, it was primarily a film about humanity, secondly about America, and only then any kind of science-fiction adventure.
Writer Michael Wilson — setting forth from giddier attempts by The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling (although the lost Liberty ending was his) — sought out a profound dissection of the world around him. How many scripts in 1968 probed McCarthyism, Alexander Pope, Kafka, the arms race, racial conflict, class structures and the heady tensions betwixt science and religion?
That Charlton Heston — that granite bastion of Western heroism — was already cast only added greater texture to Wilson's complex agenda. We are so far through the looking glass here, people, that square-jawed Chuck is transformed into a cynic, a desiccated soul who must face a world where everything his own iconography stood for has been cast into ruin. "God damn you all to hell," he hopelessly screams at the sky and simultaneously his own nation, whose liberal dreams had become so lost in their own lobotomised nightmare. It was a nation that had gone ape.
A true sci-fi classic which still works a treat and has a powerful political subtext to boot.