Derek Winnert

Planet of the Apes ***** (1968, Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter) – Classic Movie Review 1424


Based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 French novel Monkey Planet (La Planète des singes) , director Franklin J Schaffner’s awesome 1968 sci-fi adventure gives Charlton Heston one of his most memorable roles as George Taylor, an astronaut who lands with his crew on a strange planet in the distant future.


The surviving crew members stumble on a society where apes have evolved into creatures with human-like intelligence and speech. They have taken over as the dominant species and humans are mute, pathetic, subjugated creatures wearing animal skins. The astronaut crew are caught and imprisoned, and then badly treated by the simian inhabitants of Ape City on the strange planet. But fortunately there are good apes too and kindly monkey scientists Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Dr Zira (Kim Hunter) are around to help them.


The script was originally written by Rod Serling but underwent many rewrites before filming eventually began. Schaffner, hired as director on Heston’s recommendation, made changes that included creating a more primitive ape society, instead of the more expensive idea of having futuristic buildings and advanced technology. The intelligent, cogent screenplay, credited to Serling and Michael Wilson, draws potent political metaphors, while pumping up the suspenseful and exciting action on the way to a spectacular and chilling climax.


The remarkable, ground-breaking monkey prosthetic make-up is by the artist John Chambers, who won an honorary Oscar for outstanding make-up achievement.  Jerry Goldsmith’s exciting music was Oscar nominated Best Original Score and is rightly admired for its avant-garde composition techniques and use of unusual percussion instruments.

The film, which also stars Maurice Evans (as orang-utan Dr Zaius), James Whitmore (as the President of the Assembly), James Daly (as Honorious) and Linda Harrison (as Nova), is the first in a series of five made between 1968 and 1973, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs and released by 20th Century Fox, who still own the now twice rebooted franchise. It was a big hit; costing $5,800,000, it took $32,500,00 in America alone.


So there were four original sequels, starting with Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and a 1974 TV series before it was remade in 2001 by director Tim Burton, with Heston back in a cameo. Then 20th Century Fox surprisingly and disappointingly decided not to produce a sequel, though it rebooted the franchise in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014.

Planet of the Apes was shot between May 21 and August 10 1967, in California, Utah and Arizona, with desert sequences shot in and around Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.


McDowall appeared in four of the original five films and in the TV series. He only did a brief voiceover in the second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in which he was replaced by David Watson as Cornelius.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) are the other movies.

© Derek Winnert 2014 Classic Movie Review 1424

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The famous final scene was filmed at Point Dume’s Westward Beach on the Malibu coast.


Malibu Creek State Park, part of which was formerly the 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch, was the location of the astronauts’ initial encounter with primitive humans and superior apes, and of Cornelius, Zira and Taylor’s escape from Ape City.


Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, near Page, Arizona, was a part of the Forbidden Zone, through which Taylor, Zira, and Cornelius flee Ape City.


The crash of the astronauts’ spaceship, later named Icarus, was partly filmed at Lake Powell.


The astronauts’ journey from their drowned ship was filmed along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.


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