Planet Of The Apes was my first exposure to a cinematically created universe that really transported me somewhere else. Yes, I was vaguely aware that these were actors shooting a movie, but I really managed to forget that while I was watching it. POTA (as fans would come to refer to it) stands as a science-fiction film that is unapologetic in its genre (which wasn’t always the case back then) and is willing to explore some of the big questions facing us (which is one of the things that made me fall in love with Star Trek, which debuted earlier but whose deeper meaning didn’t hit me for several more years). It is about ideas intertwined with elements of the fantastic, all of which were stirred to perfection. And then, of course, there was that finale – in which Taylor, having fought and won his freedom from the apes, discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty, signifying that he had been on Earth the entire time. Nine-year-old me was struck by this twist ending being as great as any of the ones I had seen on The Twilight Zone, completely unaware that the script had been co-written by TZ creator Rod Serling.
Many years later, I was co-writing a book on the history of what would become a franchise (shameless self-promotion: Planet Of The Apes Revisited) and re-watching the films. My kids decided to watch a few minutes of the first film and seemed incredibly bored (of course, these are the same people who, having grown up on the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films, complained that there was “so much talking” in Goldfinger – blasphemers!). I turned to them and said, “Guys, Planet Of The Apes was my Star Wars,” which was the moment where it all crystallised for me; where I recognised the importance of the film in my life and silently applauded all of its accomplishments, as well as its cultural impact. Planet Of The Apes, its four sequels, and subsequent television series was the Star Wars of its time. It touched the hearts and imaginations of a generation (mine included), offering itself as a milestone of Sixties filmmaking that manages to transcend the limitations of what had been accomplished at the time. Before Richard Donner made us believe a man could fly, Franklin Schaffner was equally convincing in making us believe an ape – in fact a whole planet of them – could talk!
Personal Note: The late Charlton Heston wrote the forward to Planet Of The Apes Revisited, and there was nothing more mind-blowing (not even the remnants of the Statue of Liberty) than getting a phone call at work, with that distinctive voice on the other end saying, “Mr. Gross, this is Charlton Heston. I’d like to talk to you about the manuscript for your book.” Merely a reinforcement for why Planet Of The Apes remains my favourite sci-fi film of all time.
To find out more about this exciting phase in SciFiNow’s forum feature, hit the link and check out the other movies that made our shortlist. Clue: Battlefield Earth is not one of them.
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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Planet Of The Apes
ET The Extra-Terrestrial
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
2001: A Space Odyssey
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
This article originally appeared in the print edition of SciFiNow issue 36 by Ed Gross. To buy a copy of the magazine or subscribe, go to www.imagineshop.com, or call our subscriptions hotline on +44 (0) 844 844 0245.