The original Planet of the Apes is an indelible icon of American pop culture that launched a series of increasingly inept sequels, a lame TV series, and a failed big-budget remake by Tim Burton. In spite of this dubious heritage, the original film is so entrenched in popular consciousness that even people who haven’t seen it have a pretty good sense what it’s about and even what the surprise ending is. Notwithstanding all of the above, or perhaps because of it, Planet of the Apes remains a near must-see, despite its flaws.
Adapted by Rod Serling from Pierre Boulle’s Swiftian social satire, Planet of the Apes is basically a feature-length "Twilight Zone" episode, with all that that implies for good and ill. There’s an ironic sci-fi reversal of real-world conditions, a rather thin plot padded to fill out the running time, heavy-handed but sincere allegorical moralizing, thought-provoking social satire, and a stunningly imagined climactic twist.
Charlton Heston leads an interstellar expedition to an unnamed planet revealed to be inhabited by intelligent apes and brute-like humans. The resulting cautionary tale of dogma versus science casts the ape religion in an unflattering light, but ultimately turns out to be more about humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. Flawed but worthwhile.
Helena Bonham Carter is also convincingly simian as the chimpanzee Ari, though less so than Thade, since she has to be visibly feminine and potentially attractive to the human lead (Mark Wahlberg). But the gorillas, like Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Krull (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), are as compellingly realistic as Thade, if not quite as expressive.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.