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Charlton Heston
Roddy McDowall
Kim Hunter.
Franklin J Schaffner.
Michael Wilson
Rod Serling.
Running Time
112 minutes

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EMPIRE ESSAY: Planet of the Apes

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In the year 3978 A.D. a spaceship with a crew of four crashes down on a distant planet. They soon learn that the planet is much like their own only is inhabited by intelligent apes. One crewman befriends one of them despite the humans being a slave race, but civil unrest is brewing...

Three astronauts crash-land in the sea on a desolate, unwelcoming planet. They make their way to the rocky shore. One of them plants a sandcastle-sized American flag in the dust. Seeing this rather pathetic sight, the cynic among them laughs — oh, how he laughs! George Taylor (Heston, for it is he), throws back his head and lets out a booming, sarcastic guffaw, which echoes eerily around the canyon in which the men find themselves, light years from home.

Planet Of The Apes is like that. Its visuals have become so imprinted on our minds, through sequels, spin-offs and straightforward repetition on TV, that we sometimes overlook its subtleties. When Taylor laughs at the stars and stripes, it crystallises the heart of the film. Here is a man with little time for mankind, and less time for worthless symbols of his so-called civilisation. A misanthrope in conquistador's clothing, he laughs in the face of his mission, now so obviously gone awry; he fully expects to perish on this godforsaken planet, and if he were the last representative of his species left alive, then good riddance. Extinction was too good for them.

It is Taylor's journey — and by that token, Heston's credible, athletic performance — that makes Planet Of The Apes so much more than a piece of rubber-mask sci-fi hokum: he begins the story hating himself and his fellow man; in the face of ape tyranny he learns to love himself (and his fetching mate, Nova); but he ends up on the beach, damning the human race all to hell, an ambassador now, but a very disappointed one.

We can admire John Chambers' pioneering simian make-up all we like (and there might never have been lunchboxes and Marvel comics and Saturday-morning cartoons without it) but Planet Of The Apes' abiding power as a movie rests squarely with the bloke who played Ben-Hur. Heston first encountered Apes in 1966, then just a pitch and a portfolio of preliminary drawings touted around by producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who'd acquired the rights to a French novel called La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle.

"The novel was singularly uncinematic," recalls Heston in his autobiography. "Still, I smelled a good film in it." In this, Heston was apparently alone. But a year and half of blank faces and sealed cheque books later, Jacobs convinced Dick Zanuck at Fox to fund the picture once a few worries had been ironed out: "What if the audience laughs at the makeup?" he asked, pertinently. In the event, Fox stumped up $50,000 just to develop the monkey faces. Prosthetic supremo Chambers did a miraculous job, and director Schaffner (later to win an Oscar for Patton) shot a test-scene between Heston and Edward G. Robinson playing orang utan chief Dr Zaius. The studio loved it, and off they all went to Arizona to make sci-fi history — and $28m at the box office (except Robinson, who bailed due to a weak heart and aversion to latex).

Planet Of The Apes was a serious technical challenge, what with all those moulded rubber face-parts designed to move with the actors' features. "You just have to over-act with your face, and it shows quite subtly on the make-up," said Roddy McDowall, a man who went to his grave best-known for playing Cornelius in four of the five films, and Galen on TV. It was also a physically gruelling shoot, not least for the stripped, sprayed and hunted Heston ("Even rubber rocks hurt," he complained), but the efforts by all concerned flesh out Boulle's political allegory with a conviction that ensured nobody was "laughing at the make-up".

There is humour in Rod Serling and Michael Wilson's script ("Human see, human do"), but the over-riding effect is a terrifying one, from the visceral thrill of the gorilla troops on horseback, to the moment where "Bright Eyes" (Taylor's cutesy nickname in captivity) speaks for the first time: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

The relentless cycle of sequels — which do, to their credit, form a time-bending circle — has had the effect of tainting the unique magic of the original film (in our collective memory, bits of Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and Escape From blur into the first), which is why sitting down and watching it again, in isolation, is so rewarding. It doesn't need a part two. Think of its powerful Statue Of Liberty denouement. As great movie endings go, it pisses on "Nobody's Perfect!"

a film rich with unforgettable imagery, killer lines and physical thrills.

Reviewed by Andrew Collins

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Average user rating for EMPIRE ESSAY: Planet of the Apes
Empire Star Rating

I really enjoyed this film. Charlton Heston was really great along with Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall. I loved the well-written dialogue and some of the other gags (the best being the reference to the 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' phrase) and the ending was fantastic. I think the premise is ingenious and I'm really looking forward to seeing Dawn soon! Filmaking at it's best. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by livapr99 at 22:35, 24 July 2014 | Report This Post

Planet of the Apes Review

Planet of the Apes raises thought-provoking questions about our culture without letting social commentary get in the way of the drama and action. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 21:35, 02 January 2012 | Report This Post

One of the (many) films in the list "wich classics haven`t you seen yet?". A while ago I bought the blu-ray after reading a raving review in the Film Valley magazine and after today I can finally scratch the movie from the above mentioned list. The idea behind the film is really cool: a space ship crashes on a planet where monkeys rule over humans. Monkeys who evolved from men into monkeys and not, as Charlton Heston`s character Taylor is used, the other way around. They do everythi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:37, 13 September 2009 | Report This Post

Rip-roaring dark cinema!

Premise, execution, make-up, acting, setting, atmosphere, pacing, ending...all are brilliantly executed. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dhollseed at 04:12, 18 August 2007 | Report This Post

RE: EMPIRE ESSAY: Planet of the Apes

L: Zatoichi ]Um, released 1968...ote]   ...and how am i supposed to know that Empire are refering to that one instead of Burton's? ... More

Posted by BobaJango at 23:03, 21 January 2006 | Report This Post

RE: EMPIRE ESSAY: Planet of the Apes

2"]Um, released 1968... ... More

Posted by Zatoichi at 19:29, 20 January 2006 | Report This Post

RE: EMPIRE ESSAY: Planet of the Apes

Which one? ... More

Posted by BobaJango at 18:07, 20 January 2006 | Report This Post

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