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February 28, 2012

Planet of the Apes

by Franz Patrick


Planet of the Apes (1968)
★★★ / ★★★★

Four astronauts were sent to outer space to explore what was out there in the universe. They left their family and their very lives behind in hopes of furthering humans’ knowledge about the unknown. But when their ship crash landed on an unknown planet, only three made it out alive. One of them was Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) who held a pessimistic, or realistic, depending on how one saw humanity, view on other people. Perhaps he would begin to appreciate humans more because it turned out that the planet was ruled by apes. Humans were treated like animals, hunted, and exterminated. When caught, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), an ape but an animal psychologist, found Taylor fascinating because he was able to write and talk, qualities no human on their planet possessed. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, when the apes started to speak in English, I admit that I laughed. The possibility that the English language transgressed lightyears worth of distance was amusing and downright silly. But it was supposed to be campy yet it had its own rules with much bigger roles later on. What made my eyes transfixed on the screen were its big ideas. Watching it was like looking at a mirror on how humans treated animals for the sake of scientific experiments. The subject of science, led by Dr. Zira and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), her husband-to-be, versus religion, led by Dr. Zaius, who’s position in the hierarchical ape society, ironically enough, was the Minister of Science, was explored and developed in a mature and often insightful way. Initially, I believed Dr. Zaius was just a villain, a big, hairy block that hindered in the way of progress for the sake of protecting what was written on the sacred texts he so deeply coveted. But when his motivations we fleshed out, I began to sympathize with him. The picture showed that he was not incapable of showing humanity. When the big revelation at the very end arrived, I didn’t feel cheated. In fact, I felt as though it answered many of my questions in one giant sweep. Based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, “Planet of the Apes” was surprisingly effective. The cinematography always changed. We started in the ship where it looked futuristic. It felt cold and safe. Fifteen minutes in, we were left to marvel at the barren desert where the astronauts saw that the only sign of life was a dried up plant. The characters looked so small and exposed to attack. When Taylor was captured, the look and feeling was a combination of both. I was convinced that the filmmakers had control over their project. Most importantly, they had a specific vision they wanted to convey and the motifs they implemented were multidimensional. A film that forces us to think outside of ourselves yet allows us to go back in our minds and reevaluate is, in my opinion, a quintessential science fiction story.

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