Title: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Stars: Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter
Astronaut George Taylor (Heston) and his crew crash land on a strange planet, after being in hyper-sleep for hundreds of years. After traversing a desolate plain, they start to find small pieces of vegetation, and proof that life can exist on the planet. They eventually find people, but they quickly realise that humans are not the dominate life-force on this planet. The humans are mute and have low intelligence, whereas their simian overlords have the brains and the power. Obviously this comes as a huge shock! Taylor is captured, but has been shot in the throat and therefore cannot speak, so the apes assume he cannot. When he heals sufficiently he amazes them with his ability to talk and his obvious intelligence. His appearance and uniqueness troubles Dr. Zaius (Evans), who as leader of the apes, knows a lot more than he would like to divulge. With help from two chimpanzees named Cornelius and Zira (McDowall & Hunter), Taylor sets out to find the origins of man.
Charlton Heston gives one of his most memorable performances as the charismatic, and rather conceited, Taylor. He sports a manly beard at the film’s beginning, but unfortunately shaves it off, which ages him considerably. Usually that has the reverse effect. He wears a loin-cloth for the majority of the movie, which he carries off pretty well, it must be said. He also gets to spout some cracking lines, including the obligatory “damn dirty ape” and the hum-dingers at the film’s finale.
The rest of the cast are hidden behind their ape make-up, but they do their best to make themselves stand out. In order to make their expressions visible through their make-up, they had to wildly exaggerate, which had the desired effect. Maurice Evans shines as Dr. Zaius, in a role that was originally occupied by the legendary Edward G. Robinson. Robinson decided he did not like the demanding make-up however, and the role passed to Evans.
Planet of the Apes was nominated for two Oscars – Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. The music was stunning and was highly unusual, ensuring that it lives long in the memory. The movie was also awarded an honorary Oscar for Best Make-up, which was cutting-edge at the time.
Planet of the Apes was followed by a slew of sequels and television shows, none of which could match the original. Tim Burton needlessly remade the film in 2001, and the less said about that the better. Thankfully, the series has been revived brilliantly by the last two movies, which belong in the same category as this one.