Planet of the Apes

Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, and Linda Harrison

"Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn.  Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed.  Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land.  Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours.  Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death."
-Cornelius (Roddy McDowall)

That's a hard quote to challenge.  At a time when mankind is killing the planet with pollution, a time when war is constantly raging somewhere around the globe, and a time when nutcases are shooting others' lives to pieces on a daily basis, that's an especially difficult quote to challenge.  Though uttered by a fictional ape named Cornelius some 46 years ago, this quote from the apes' Sacred Scrolls still rings true today in such a profound way.  While the social overtones of the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes remain a fixture of the tumultuous 1960s, they hold equally as much potency today in 2014.  Still, I've always been somewhat partial to the quote "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

Astronauts George Taylor (Charlton Heston), John Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), and Lieutenant Stewart (Dianne Stanley) have been sent on a mission in space.  Thanks to time dilation, what seems like a mere 18 months on their spacecraft has actually been several thousand years.  The current year is 3978 AD.  As George awakens, their ship begins to descend and eventually crashes in a lake on some unknown planet.  George, John, and Dodge survive the crash and begin seeking food and shelter.  Wandering through a desert, the trio eventually finds plant life and drinkable water.  While swimming in the nude, some thieves steal their clothes and tear them to shreds.  Seeking out the perpetrators, George, John, and Dodge surprisingly find a rather primitive group of humans with seemingly no capacity for speech.

While the trio is in a cornfield trying to understand how these inferior humans came to be, a group of armed gorillas on horseback ride into the area and start shooting the men and women down.  Dodge is shot and killed in the scramble, while John is left wounded and unconscious.  Taylor is shot in the throat and captured.  Rendered speechless by his injury, he's taken to a facility in Ape City with the other surviving humans where he is treated by animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter).  Recognizing he's in some upside down world where apes are running the show, Taylor tries to communicate by any means he can to explain his situation.  This includes both body language and written communication.  First, however, he needs the apes' attention.  Once Zira takes notice of Taylor, she names him "Bright Eyes".  Curious about this deviant, Zira wants to study him in detail, but her superior Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) has his doubts.

Planet of the Apes stands as one of the great science fiction films of all time.  This compelling post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama has it all.  Director Franklin J. Schaffner delivers an inventive movie that pushes the boundaries of science fiction while challenging the very audience watching the movie to take a good look at themselves in the mirror.  With expansive sets, solid special effects for the era, and a thunderous score, Schaffner imaginatively gives us this upside down world that's all about Simian survival and how mankind is the root of everything that has gone wrong in this world.  He gives us tense, thrilling drama as Heston's Taylor tries to survive in a cold, cold new world.  He gives us badass apes who have an imposing presence in everything that they do.  All in all, Schaffner crafts one spectacular motion picture in Planet of the Apes.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the outstanding cast Schaffner has on his hands.  As his star "Bright Eyes" Taylor, Charlton Heston has a commanding on-screen presence.  His leading man charisma emblematic of Old Hollywood, his unmistakable authoritative voice, his emboldened demeanor, and terrific acting skills all make for one great performance.  What I love most about his performance, however, is the rich acting Heston delivers when his character can't speak.  When he's entirely reliant on body language and facial expressions to convey ideas, Heston elevates his game and gives us an immensely intriguing character.  The only supporting cast member who really steals Heston's thunder on screen is Maurice Evans.  As the slippery, surreptitious scientist Dr. Zaius, Evans delivers an utterly intriguing performance in which his character has this certain undeniable mystique.  This air of mystery about his character — who he is and what he knows — fuels the larger storyline.

It's clear where I stand on Planet of the Apes.  It stands in the company of the most groundbreaking sci-fi films of its generation (or any other for that matter).  This thought-provoking tale that subverts our world and the way we've understood mankind's own heritage is a rare film that was truly ahead of its time.  Planet of the Apes gets a sober rating.