The older a movie is, the more dominant the question “does it still hold up” becomes. Now this is because due to progress in terms of special effects or equipment like cameras which makes some movies look dated pretty quickly. But also certain styles in directing, acting or the pacing of the story can make a movie feel dated. Apes is considered a classic and one of those movies that is widely available at movie stores everywhere. That might not sound so strange but just think of how many movies predating the 70s are laying in the DVD racks at the media shop around the corner. Most movies they have in stock are pretty recent. The older a movie is they have in stock the greater the chance is that it’s a classic. So Planet of the Apes could be considered a classic, and such a classic that the image of the twist ending is prominently figured on the cover of the DVD. Makes me wonder what the cover for The Sixth Sense will look like in 30 years.
In the Planet Of The Apes a crew of 4 astronauts in the future crash on a planet. One turns out to have died so the remaining 3 set out to explore the planet. After walking through desert landscapes they eventually find life in the form of plants and eventually humans, though they turn out to be mute. Before they can make contact with them they find out that these humans are not the dominant species on this planet as they find themselves hunted for sport by Gorillas. The lead astronaut Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, finds himself captured and put in cage where he is studied by a female chimpanzee named Dr. Zira. She eventually finds out that Taylor might not be just another mute human, but could be the missing link between man and monkey. Of course this interferes with the general belief on this planet that states that God made Apes in His own image and that what the scientists uncover does not correspond with the ancient writings of a set of scroll on which their belief is based upon.
This is where this movie took me by surprise. One minute you’re expecting an action movie, the other you’re watching a critical comment on religion, racism, war and man’s self-destruction.
Now the ending and its meaning due have a backlash on the whole story presented here. Since this movie is over 40 years old and the end is actually on the cover I’m going to discuss the problems I had with it.
Knowing that he was on earth the whole time made me notice things. First thing is that these apes live a lot like the Flintstones. Somewhere in history Man and Ape switched from being the dominant species, what also happened is that humans are now mute and the apes can communicate through speech. So somehow something occurred in ± 2000 years, a bit short for evolution to do its tricks, that switched the brain capacities of humans and apes. Now the new movie will handle the way that apes got smart, we made them by genetical experimentation, but not only do the humans lose their ability of speech, we also revert back to cavemen like living and the Earth in the future seems to be a wasteland, like maybe a nuclear war occurred, but that doesn’t explain as to why, except for the Statue of Liberty, almost no landmarks, ruins, vehicles and technology is present in the future where monkeys rule. Yes, the cave at the end states that it is all covered up like dinosaur remains were covered up millions of years a go in Earth’s layers of soil, but it will take even long to cover up all our giant landmarks even if there’s a 2012 scenario going on. The monks live like humans did a couple of centuries ago. And of course you can debate long about the causes, but when considering this planet is just Earth over 2000 years it would have made much more sense if the apes where made smart but us, took over, used our technology from then on and advance on it, turn us into slaves and bio-genetically make us mute.
But enough of that. The movie itself holds up pretty well I must say. The pacing is still good and the script is sharp written and full of an intelligent subtext about the human race and the way it was back in the 60s and still is now. I liked the cinematography of the desert lands the design of the Apes’ village. The presence of Nova, a girl the Apes want Taylor to mate with, is also appreciated as the girl is really easy on the eyes.
On the downside there are some directorial choices that feel out of place, the quickly zooming in shot which was hip back in the day is now annoying and cliche. Heston is his usual self and spouts his damns all over the place like he mostly does. Granted he has an enigmatic screen presence, but I never did like his way of acting. His is a bit hammy and the scene in the beginning where he laughs at a colleague planting a flash is truly over the top, and it includes the cliche zoom as well!
The Ape make-up is OK. I found it rather peculiar how some of the apes had pretty precise mouth movement while others were pretty static just opening and closing their mouths. The apes don’t move around like apes of course, but like people. A minor note which didn’t spoil the movie or anything, I got quickly used to it.
Planet Of The Apes is still an enjoyable watch after all these years. The widely known ending shouldn’t spoil it for you though you will question more during the movie than when the ending catches you by surprise.