When I was young I used to love to eat oranges, but it wasn’t only the taste or the benefits of some good old fashioned vitamin C I was necessarily after. I would cut the fruit in half and then carefully peel the rind, attempting to keep the halves in one piece. I’d cut one of those pieces in half again. I would then place them around my mouth and there you’d have it… instant Apes makeup. Then I would twitch my face muscles to imitate Roddy McDowall’s clever facial movements intended to make the foam prosthetic pieces come alive.Talking through those orange rinds, I’d imagine I was one of those intrepid apes from the films or television series and have all sorts of ape adventures. My playtime had the extra unintended benefit of protecting me from colds. Of course, as an adult I have long since abandoned such childish ways and no longer fill my face with orange peels, at least while anyone else is looking. But the Apes films and shows have never lost their — I guess you could call it appeal, for the 10 year old I still carry around inside. When Tim Burton went to work on his remake of the franchise, a little bit of that kid emerged, and I might have picked up an extra orange or two at the grocery, just in case. Unfortunately, while I am a fan of almost everything
George Taylor (Heston) is an astronaut. His mission was to explore space beyond our own solar system. It was a one way trip aided in part by suspended animation and breaking the time barrier. He and his fellow travelers are awakened just as the ship is plunging toward a planet to crash in a large lake or inland sea. They abandon the ship, leaving it to sink, stranding them here forever. The place is an arid wasteland where nothing appears able to live. Taking what little they can salvage, they begin to traverse the vast desert. They come upon a primitive mute tribe of humans just as they are hunted and captutured by gorillas on horseback. Captured himself
The original Planet Of The Apes was based very loosely on a French novel by acclaimed writer Pierre Boulle. The screenplay was written by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling and Michael Wilson. In Boulle’s original story the apes lived in a more modern society. They had tanks, cars, and aircraft. This would end up being one of those times where budget restraints would end up being a fortunate problem to have. For these reasons, it was Serling who decided to put the apes in a more primitive surrounding. The end result was a look to the film that added as much to the film’s atmosphere as Chambers did with his makeup. Jack Martin Smith would take these primitive conditions and develop an architecture that said a lot about the society we were exploring here. When you look at the film, the entire outrageous idea becomes suddenly very easy to buy into. What was once feared as an idea doomed to silliness became one of the most poignant social commentaries of our time.
Roddy McDowall was a genius. He understood immediately that with all of this rubber and foam it would be difficult to convey any sense of living skin. He developed a system of facial movements, that he trained others in the cast to use, that made his three ape characters as real to us as any human. You quickly forgot that this was a costumed and made up creature and accepted him almost instantly as an intelligent character with all of the emotions, motives, and consciousness required to make him sympathetic. When he passed, it was a sad day for me, because I knew that there would never be another film or show that could capture the essence of Planet Of The Apes again. Maurice Evans was nearly as compelling as the story’s nemesis, Dr. Zaius. Together a superior cast that never considered not taking the material seriously are given a wonderful environment in which to act out their drama. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a haunting score using percussion to make it all sound like it could well have been created by this ape culture. Finally, John Chambers brings the creatures to life, and amid this fantastic science fiction setting we all got a lesson on human rights. And we had a blast doing it.
Planet Of The Apes is presented in its close to original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. You get a fine 1080p image created with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. What amazed me most was how well the image held up under high definition detail. I’m more impressed than ever with the makeup of John Chambers. The new greater detail allows you to see pores and other subtle elements to the makeup. Colors are quite impressive. The dark greens of the chimp costumes finally has texture I had not seen previously. Some of the flesh tones are a bit on the light side for my tastes, but that’s likely the way it appears on the original negatives. The black levels are above average. The film has never appeared this sharp before, and I’ve had all of the earlier releases from VHS through laserdisc to the more recent box set of DVD’s. If you love this film as much as I did, it will be worth every cent for the upgrade. I promise it will be like seeing it again for the first time.
The DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track delivers about everything you could want here. Jerry Goldsmith delivered a score just loaded with subtle nuance. It all comes alive here as if brand new. Dialog is perfect. There isn’t a lot in the way of an aggressive mix here, but the persons in charge were respectful of the source material. Remember that in 1968 there was barely stereo in our lives.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries. The first features Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and others. It’s not a commentary, per se. It was pieced together using interview clips of the principals. That makes it awkward at times, even though the editor tried to make it sound like they were talking off of each other. It was included on the original DVD release. Jerry Goldsmith has the 2nd commentary, and it’s worth a listen. Seldom has music played such a vital role in building the culture of a film.
Many of these features appeared on the box set release of the film.
Beyond The Forbidden Zone Adventure Game: You are trying to get the team from
A PSA From ANSA (HD): This is a fake public service announcement from the fictional Space Agency in the film. It details the mission that sends Taylor and his crew on their one way flight.
Evolution Of The Apes (HD): This is a 23 minute history of the story from Boulle’s novel through the various screen adaptations before the movie itself. All of the key players, mostly writers, are profiled here.
Impact Of The Apes (HD): The franchise has had a huge impact on our pop culture. This 12 minute feature looks at the tremendous marketing of the film.
Law Giver Intros: This is a silly CG Orangutan who provides a disk and film intro as if he were talking from the Sacred Scrolls. Cute, but not necessary.
Science Of The Apes Bonus View: These are short little clips that can be played throughout the film as part of an enhanced play mode. They are pretty distracting used that way, but fortunately you can access them on their own. There are 38 total.
Behind The Planet Of The Apes (SD): This 2 hour documentary of the franchise is hosted by Roddy McDowall. It’s not in the greatest shape but a welcome addition. It was released by itself when the box set was released. There’s plenty to see here including make-up test footage with Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius.
The Archive Of The Apes: This is a catch all department for footage, outtakes, dailies and other nice gems from the making of the film. Some of it is silent.
Galleries and Trailers fill out this release.
I don’t know that I’ll ever get tired of these films. Even if you think the idea got hijacked along the way, this first film is simply irresistible. I’m not sure the upgrade is for everyone. If you are a fan of the films, you need to make room for this one in your budget and on your media shelf. It’s a childhood pleasure that still pleases 40 years later. I’ve tried to imagine a world without Planet Of The Apes. “It’s a madhouse….a madhouse.”