Monday, 16 May 2011

Planet of the Apes (1968)


Planet of the Apes is one of those films that everyone has seen; surely? Well not me! So when it was suddenly on Film4 last Sunday I thought that I’d better watch it.

George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is an astronaut, in a spaceship, whose mission is to find new planets. Having gone into hyper-sleep, he and his crew crash-land somewhere new; finally, after 2000 years. Unfortunately one of the crew (the only woman) has died of old age because there was a crack in the cover of her hyper-sleep chamber. The remaining three members of the crew search the planet for signs of life, until they encounter a village of primitive men. They are all then attacked by a more advanced race of apes, and are taken prisoner. However, Taylor is shot in the neck, so for a good while can’t talk; so he can’t prove that he is as intelligent as the apes. Eventually he speaks: “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty apes!”.

The scientists who are studying Taylor start to believe his story and help him escape. They find a cave of archaeological evidence showing that the apes actually evolved from ancient, more intelligent men. The Orangutans who seem to run this small ape culture follow Taylor and the scientists; they admit that they always knew that they had evolved from men, but have hidden it from the rest of their civilisation. They then decide to dynamite the cave, hiding the evidence for ever, but let Taylor go. He rides off on a horse around the corner and finds the Statue of Liberty half buried. He’s been on Earth all this time!

I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed this film. I know it’s a classic and you’re supposed to like it, but I really did. Charlton Heston is very good, his character is the epitome of human arrogance (presumably intentionally), and though I wouldn’t usually route for a character like this; because he is trying to prove that he isn’t lying, you can’t help but side with him. The other members of the cast are also very good - Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans - but it’s harder to appreciate them, because they are covered in hair the whole time!

The scenery, and the panoramas as the astronauts are exploring the planet are beautifully shot, and the inventive camerawork all adds to the enjoyment of the film. The script is also very sharp, particularly in the trial. There are also quite a few inversions of well-known sayings:

Human see, Human do;
Landon asking Taylor to get off his back (get this monkey off my back?);
The three Orangutans at the trial assuming a See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil pose at one point!


Some of these moments are a bit cheesy perhaps, but all add to the enjoyment of the film.

I think some of the things that I didn’t like about it were purely aesthetic due to it being an older film. Dozy things like the fact that the space-ship can obviously cope with the vacuum of space, but as soon as it lands in some water it starts leaking like a colander! I also thought it was very stupid (typical humans) that when they first find life on the new planet in the form of a small plant, the first thing they do is dig it up, so it’ll die! WTF? I’m not sure if this is to demonstrate how uncivilised the humans are compared to the apes (btw, I had no idea that the apes were as advanced as they were; see I really didn’t know anything about this film!), or whether the director had a sudden brain-fart! Actually, one thing I really didn’t like was Gerry Goldsmith’s score; it was all very random, kind of like orchestral jazz! But it wasn’t obtrusive enough to spoil the film, it was only really obvious at a few points.

At the start of the film I was thinking “Mmmm, amazing how much this new planet looks like Arizona!” Of course in retrospect this is perfectly acceptable, since they are on Earth anyway. I really honestly didn’t know about the twist at the end, despite the Statue of Liberty being on the movie poster! Initially I felt a bit disappointed when it was discovered that actually man had been just as evolved as the apes many years ago, almost as if it were saying that men actually were better after all; which I didn’t think was the point of the story. Then of course we discover that they are on Earth, just 2000 years in the future, so actually it makes chronological sense. Still a bit disappointed though; I thought that they could have made more of the idea of mankind losing its way, and so another species was able to evolve and overtake them.

A lot of the issues raised ring true with our society today: refusal to accept things we don’t understand; the arguments between science and religion; the idea of man taking over his environment and being a harbinger of death. This is probably one reason that the film works so well, and is still very good. Though of course, it is just a cool movie in itself anyway.