Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Planets of Apes

All sorts of planets and all sorts of apes (actually only one planet really). Having borrowed the box set of the original series ages ago, we finally got round to watching them, so here are my thoughts. Needless to say there are some spoilers, but I shouldn't assume that everyone knows about them, because until I saw the original last year I didn't know about the twist at the end! So, grab a banana, here we go.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans

Reasons to watch: Very interesting story, very much a study of human behaviour by placing humans as the dumb animals while the apes are more intelligent. Excellent performance by Charlton Heston as Talyor; despite playing an arrogant character, you can't help but side with him hoping he triumphs against injustice. Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and Maurice Evans all manage to convey plenty of emotion from under their costumes.

Technically, there is thoughtful use of the camera when telling the story and some beautiful cinematography, particularly near the beginning. The music sometimes has a lot to be desired, Jerry Goldsmith's score is sometimes very random and full of clashing when nothing much is happening. Overall a great film well deserving of its classic status.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Director: Ted Post
Starring: Charlton Heston, James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Reasons to watch: Beats me! Obviously cashing in on the success of the first film, this continues immediately from POTA but then Charlton Heston's character disappears into a rock when he tries to hit it! It is then up to James Franciscus' character who was on a rescue mission from Earth to be chased around by gorillas. After the great story of the first film, this is essentially a chase movie, and as such is not interesting at all. The acting is wooden, the direction is hardly there, and there are some excellent polystyrene New York landmarks underground.

Worst of all is the climax of the film involving some humanoids without faces, who wear rubber masks, can control people with their mind and worship a nuclear bomb! No explanation. Rubbish; utter rubbish. If you ever wanted to see all of the POTA series, I would recommend reading the synopsis for this one on IMDB and skipping the film. The very end is kind of important for the following film, but otherwise forget about it!

Rating: 1 out of 5

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Director: Don Taylor
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Ricardo Montalban

Reasons to watch: Interesting story, great reactions from the humans upon discovering the intelligence of Zira and Cornelius (Kim Hunter's and Roddy McDowall's chimp characters), and again an investigation of human nature but the spotlight directly on modern humanity now. Whereas in POTA the audience is completely behind Taylor, this time it is Zira and Cornelius who have our total support as they try to be accepted by our society (actually specifically by the military and the government - everyone else seems to accept them).

My main criticism would be that the ending is quite rushed, with a run-time of only 98 minutes, another 10 minutes to expand some of the issues towards the end would, I think, have been welcome. However surprised I was that Beneath the Planet of the Apes warranted a follow-up, I was far more surprised by how much I enjoyed "Escape", easily the second best film in the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray

Reasons to watch: Before there was Rise of the Planet of the Apes there was Conquest, and it is interesting to watch human society fall apart. Good performances by Roddy McDowall as Caesar, Ricardo Montalban reprising and embellishing his role from "Escape", and Don Murray as Govenor Breck. However, no matter how good the idea for the film is, the execution is very sloppy.

It really didn't make sense that humans, having learned from from Zira and Cornelius in "Escape" that the apes would become the dominant force on the planet, now employ apes to do almost all menial tasks; from cleaning streets to waiting tables, to running errands. Also the behaviour control of the apes was silly. For example, rather than teach a few apes how to mop a floor, one guy would quickly show about 50 and then get annoyed when they didn't do it properly! Great concept, but poorly realised.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Battle for Planet of the Apes (1973)

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins,

Reasons to watch: Another good performance from Roddy McDowall as Caesar, as he tries to keep the peace between the humans who work for them and the gorillas who form the military. Caesar takes a trip into the infected zone to find a recording of his parents and comes across a group of surviving humans. Unfortunately the humans decide that they should follow Caesar back to their village and try to wipe them out. Certainly the best part of the film is the dynamic between the different classes of apes, as Caesar tries to rule in an equal opportunities kind of way. This all goes to pot when he finds out that Aldo, the gorilla leader, has killed his son.

A fairly explosive conclusion to the series, not a classic and some of the action is fairly run-of-the-mill, but a very interesting climax none-the-less.

Rating: 3 out of 5