top of page
  • Rev Horror

Planet of the Apes

Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner (1968)

An astronaut in the distant future crash lands onto a planet filled with damned dirty apes.

I never really had any interest in Planet of the Apes if I'm being honest. Like, I know all of the pop culture references, had a pretty general idea of everything that happened in the film, and I'm certainly not the biggest Charlton Heston fan in the world. As such, I never felt the need to watch the original film (or any of its sequels or remakes, for that matter). I happened across a trailer for the upcoming film a couple of weeks ago, however, and figured that now was the time to reconsider my apathy, especially since the entire franchise is now available streaming on Hulu. I suppose I can't argue with free...

Taylor (Charlton Heston) is an astronaut from Earth, having taken a mission in which he travels the galaxy in a black hole of sorts which prevents him from aging at the same rate as he would have on Earth. The ship that is carrying him and his fellow astronauts crash lands on a planet that looks very different from his own, on account of a lack of vegetation and, well, a whole bunch of monkeys. Finding himself in a foreign culture in which apes have the power, Taylor must try to convince them that he is not a mindless mutant and take back whatever power over his situation that he can manage, finding a few simian sidekicks along the way.

I was aware going in of the themes of the dangers of nuclear war, racism, and class warfare, but I wasn't quite cognizant of just how deep those subtexts ran. Don't get me wrong, they're hardly subtle, though that's not to say that they're not well done. Screenwriter Michael Wilson, who was hired to write another draft of Rod Serling's original script, was a victim of the House Un-American Activities Commission, and he pulls no punches in slipping some references to his experiences into the screenplay. The conflicts between religion and science, likewise, is on full display, an unfortunately prescient take on what happens when those in charge of religious practices are also put in charge of the educational community. We'll delve a little bit deeper into that part of the plot in a minute.

Heston is alright, an acquired taste as he delivers a performance that likely wouldn't fly today. It's a role for the time, of course, in the same way that most of the actors in Star Wars don't deliver Oscar-caliber performances. He's a bit wooden, a bit melodramatic, a holdover of Old Hollywood in a late-60's role that just so happened to become a cult classic. He is nevertheless charismatic, a decent leading man alongside the mute Nova character played by producer Richard D. Zanuck's fling-and-then-wife Linda Harrison. The same can be said of the chimpanzee-nee-scientist Zira (Kim Hunter) and her beau-and-also-a-monkey Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). They're all watchable, oddly fascinating despite their relative lack of artistic appeal.

It would be easy to consider Planet of the Apes boring. There's just something about it that prevents it from being so, an intangible quality that is difficult to parse and even moreso to explain. It's a cult classic for a reason, and it's a film that is perhaps even more important today than it was when it was made. As many pockets of America threaten to slip further into some sort of Christofascist anarchy, it's easy to imagine a day when someone could find themselves stripped of their liberties simply for telling a demonstrable truth. Despite the inherent silliness in the Primate Plot, there's a whole hell of a lot underneath the surface here that is worth examining. It's difficult to imagine modern filmmakers taking such a bizarre and eye-rollingly unsubtle attempt at social commentary, but hey, it was the 60's. It's worth a watch anyway if you, like me, have avoided the monkey madness up to now.

Who this movie is for: Sci-fi fans, Cult classic devotees, Scopes Trial buffs

Bottom line: Planet of the Apes is a classic that I can't believe slipped past me for so long, and it's well worth a watch for anyone who doesn't mind a little ridiculousness with their sci-fi. It's watchable, entertaining, and contains that je ne seis quois, lightning in a bottle quality that is so often characteristic of films that become cult classics. It's still an excellent critique on our culture, perhaps even moreso than when it was made, and it's worth checking out for that alone. The entire series is streaming on Hulu, and you should definitely give it a watch.

Featured Reviews

Featured Interviews

bottom of page