Six months have passed since their descent into deep space, the equivalent of 700 years on Earth. Three hundred twenty light-years away from their home, three astronauts find a new foreign terrain worth their exploration. They tumble into the water of the canyon-like world, escaping their ship in the nick of time before the floods take it under. Enough supplies survived for three days of wandering in the quiet wasteland, in the meantime the threesome search for a hint of drinking water and vegetation.
Their leader Taylor, a calmly heroic role model who never found true meaning on Earth, directs them in a drawn-out sun-beamed sequence of wandering the terrain of tumbling rocks against a disorienting Jerry Goldsmith musical score, like bones in a space jungle. Mystery continues to build when peculiar scarecrows brood down from atop a peak, as well as other distant figures who appear to follow them.
Eventually the explorers do find vegetation and drinking water, along with a tribe of mute people who eat fresh grass and fruit, much like apes. Then an army of apes on horses herd their “livestock,” much like cowboys with their cattle. Amongst the chaos, Taylor gets taken prisoner with a damaged vocal cord. These apes, he learns, can do everything humans used to do under a complex political structure worked around the worship of a great gorilla warrior who denies any belief of evolution.
After nearly fifty years, Planet of the Apes remains a hauntingly relevant sci-fi thriller in its allegorical portrayal of the human condition over a period of centuries. But how has this masterpiece aged over time?
The director, Franklin J. Schaffner (who later won an Oscar for directing Patton) had television roots, and his prior experience shows in his staging of the ape world. The apes inhabiting his set made for a television serial just look downright silly—their lips always move out of sync to the dialog. It is the only thing Tim Burton’s dreadful remake did better than the original. On the other hand, you can’t blame them for the aged look due to what technology allowed at the time. Maybe this film could have aged better if it were animated?
Plus, Planet of the Apes has a problematic social message. While thematically stressful, the themes also downright discourage our potential. It essentially wants us to believe men are untamable, leaving science to triumph over our faith in redeeming the American Dream. While plenty of truth exists to these arguments, especially today, we do no need to be so self-degrading without even saying what specifically would set us up for enslavement by science.
Planet of the Apes may not hold the torch as a philosophical masterpiece—many things ring true, but its redemption message still misses the bull’s eye. Yet as simple entertainment for anyone who just wants to shut their brain off for two hours, it triumphs. The thrills never stop in the lonely environment which sets the feeling of danger right from the opening monologue; it astonishes, discomforts, and compels to see humans and animals in a complete role reversal. Then by the final shot, all raised questions will be answered.
Just try to lower your analytical eye and this old product of its times should for sure resonate.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!