Forum feature: Planet Of The Apes

The primates will have their revenge.


Welcome to SciFiNow’s long-running feature that gives you the chance to vote for the greatest sci-fi film of all time. Every issue for the next ten months the industry’s best writers will campaign for their favourite film from a shortlist of ten, with our readers ultimately deciding which film deserves the accolade of Greatest Sci-Fi Film Of All Time.

Today, Ed Gross argues the case for Franklin Schaffner’s Planet Of The Apes.

POTA-003Ever been to a movie that quite literally changed your life? That impacted on you in such a way that it opened up your imagination as it never had been before? Undoubtedly many people would bestow that honour upon the original Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope). While that pre-prequeled film undoubtedly impacted on me, it simply didn’t compare to the original Planet Of The Apes.

Produced by Arthur P Jacobs and directed by Franklin Schaffner, the first Planet Of The Apes film (which stars Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Linda Harrison) reached theatres in 1968. My memory of it was that I caught it for the first time in 1969, double featured with the short film The Bible (which seems improbable given the subject matter of Apes, but that’s definitely my memory). I was all of nine years old at the time, but instantly knew that I was watching something extraordinary.

The first half hour of the film deals with the space flight of a vessel commanded by Heston’s George Taylor, and their arrival on what appears to be an alien world. The survivors of this doomed expedition – which had landed nearly 2,000 years after it launched, its crew (with the exception of a hot blonde turned wrinkled corpse) preserved in suspended animation – make their way across the strange terrain, witnessing bizarre thunderstorms and arguing among themselves. It’s a deliberately paced sequence that today’s audience would never sit for, but back then, even as a kid, I had gotten used to the idea of gradual story reveal and character exposition without explosions backing them up.

Things play out as the survivors find a colony of primitive-looking humans, with Taylor ironically noting, “If this is the best this place has to offer, we’ll be running this planet in six months.” I didn’t know what irony was at the time, of course, but somehow I grasped its meaning a moment later when the humans, responding to the sound of a battle horn, take off in panic, followed by Taylor and his fellow astronauts. The reason? Armed gorillas riding on horseback, firing their weapons at the fleeing ‘animals’ and scooping them up in nets, joking among themselves as they pose for photos, and shooting Taylor in the frickin’ throat (and this was a G-rated movie!).

Without recounting the entire plot, what follows is the discovery that Taylor and his fellow astronauts (one killed in the hunt and the other lobotomised) have landed on a planet of intelligent apes, where humans are savages. With that reveal, I was completely blown away. I didn’t look at this ape civilisation as actors in make-up; as far as I was concerned, this was a planet of talking apes and I simply couldn’t believe it. There’s no doubt I missed the power of iconoclast Taylor being put in the position of defending humanity to a tribunal of apes, but I sat there and marvelled at what looked to be a thriving society with their own fashion, architecture and decided racist view towards humans.

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