Movie Review – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Imagine suddenly being placed in a world where things were the opposite, where human beings were running wild and apes were in control of society.

That’s the premise for 1968’s hit science-fiction film, Planet of the Apes.

In Planet of the Apes, George Taylor and two other astronauts crash land on an alien planet where human beings are wild with no permanent homes, no form of communication, and no real society.  They live in packs and stay on the run from the apes, advanced creatures that can speak, they have clothing and weapons, and they have a functioning society complete with their own city.  When Taylor is captured by the apes, the apes are shocked to see that he’s very different from the other human beings.  Some apes believe that Taylor is a missing link that explains their society, while other apes believe that Taylor is a mutation that must be destroyed.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - movie poster

Planet of the Apes (1968) – movie poster

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, Planet of the Apes stars Hollywood legend Charlton Heston in the lead role of astronaut George Taylor.  Co-starring in the film are Roddy McDowall as Cornelius, Kim Hunter as Zira, Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius, and Linda Harrison as Nova, one of the human beings.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes begins out in space as astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) readies their spaceship for their trip back home to Earth.  Joining him are astronauts Landon (Robert Gunner), Dodge (Jeff Burton), as well as a female astronaut already asleep and in stasis.  Although there’s no mention of the spaceship’s name in the 1968 version of the film, a 2008 Blu-ray edition of the film includes a short film where it’s mentioned that the ship is called Liberty 1.

Liberty 1‘s mission left Earth in 1972, and it travelled faster-than-light through a wormhole to distant galaxies.  As a result, while the mission itself has only lasted for six months, it’s theorized that 700 years have passed back on Earth.

Taylor is the last astronaut still awake before going into stasis.  He records his thoughts into the ship’s recorder before climbing into his sleep chamber and entering a form of hibernation.  The Liberty 1 continues on autopilot and continues its journey back to Earth.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Suddenly the Liberty 1 arrives at a planet and crashes into a lake.  The crew is woken and alerted to their situation.  Liberty 1 was damaged in the crash landing, and it begins filling with water.  Now it’s a scramble to escape from the sinking spaceship.  One of the astronauts tries to send a mayday signal to Earth, but he’s unsuccessful.  The three male astronauts (the female astronaut was killed when her sleeping chamber malfunctioned while she was in stasis) abandon the Liberty 1, climb into a life raft, and slowly paddle towards shore.  They watch as the Liberty 1 sinks beneath the waves, abandoning them on this strange planet.

Before abandoning the spaceship, George Taylor noticed that the control panel indicated that the Earth year was really 3978.  This means that they had really been in space and travelling through a wormhole for over 2,000 Earth years.  The astronauts only aged for about 20 months, and they all have the beards to prove it.

Taylor knows that the three of them are alone, and there will be no rescue from Earth.  Everybody and everything that they had known has been gone for not just hundreds but thousands of years.  Right now they have enough supplies to last for three days, but that’s it.  Unless they can find sources of food and water, they they’ll die in the harsh environment on that planet.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

The three astronauts explore the landscape and eventually discover what looks like a fence (or scarecrows, depending on how you look at it).  It’s proof that they’re not too far from intelligent life.  When they discover a source of fresh water, the three of them decide to go swimming.  What they don’t know is that they’ve been observed and followed by unknown creatures.  The creatures steal the astronauts’ clothes and wreck their gear.  The astronauts attempt to give chase, but they don’t see the creatures, and they only recover some shreds of clothing.

The three of them continue and eventually come across a group of human beings foraging and eating some fruit.  The humans are dressed in skimpy clothing, and they don’t speak with each other.  The humans also don’t really care when they spot the arrival of the three astronauts.

Things change when a loud sound from the nearby trees sends the humans running in a panic.  The people are eventually attacked and captured by a band of apes.  Landon is knocked unconscious and captured, Dodge is shot and killed, and Taylor is shot in the neck and also captured.

Taylor is taken to a medical facility where ape doctors treat him and remove the bullet from his neck.  He’s given a blood transfusion from another human being, and Taylor makes a complete recovery.  It’s just a bit of a shock to him as, A) his neck injury prevents him from talking, and B) he’s being kept in a cage and treated like a wild animal, just like the other human beings.  Taylor quickly realizes that not only can apes walk upright and speak in English, but they also wear clothes, have weapons, attend schools, and have an advanced society, just as humans did back on Earth.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

This is a world where gorillas are police officers, hunters, and general laborers; orangutans are the administrators, politicians, ministers, and lawyers; and chimpanzees are scientists and intellectuals.  Below them in their world are human beings, creatures who cannot talk and are considered dirty vermin and are hunted for sport, or they’re captured for slave labor or medical experiments.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), a chimpanzee scientist, takes a peculiar interest in Taylor (a human being she has named “Bright Eyes”).  She studies Taylor’s behavior and is convinced that he’s trying to talk and say words.  When she brings this news to Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), he’s unconvinced.  He believes that Taylor is simply mimicking the chimpanzees, and that humans really cannot talk.  Zaius warns Zira about her beliefs and wild theories involving behavioral studies.

Taylor is then given a “gift” of a female human being named Nova (Linda Harrison).  They hope that Taylor will mate with her, but he refuses on grounds of his own beliefs.  Despite that, Nova tries to bond with Taylor and grow closer to him.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Several days later, Taylor and Nova are relocated to an outdoor cage with other humans.  Zira runs into her fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and shows him Taylor.  Neither of them are watching when Taylor writes a message to them into the dirt, letting them know that he can write and communicate.  Zaius then arrives and Cornelius tells him about an expedition to the “Forbidden Zone” (the vast desert next to the lake where the Liberty 1 crashed) to find more artifacts.  Cornelius has a theory that the apes evolved from an advanced race of humans that used to live thousands of years ago.  Zaius doesn’t believe in that theory and doesn’t want to hear any more of such a claim.

Nova notices that Taylor is attempting to communicate with the apes, so she quickly erases Taylor’s message in the dirt.  Another human does so as well, and this sparks a fight between Taylor and the humans.  The apes quickly rush into the cage, capture Taylor, and relocate him back inside to the kennels.  After Taylor is removed, Zaius spots the remains of the message and he covers it up, making sure that nobody else sees it.

Back in the laboratory, Zira leans close to Taylor’s cage and he snatches her notebook and pencil.  Before he’s beaten by the guard, Taylor writes “MY NAME IS TAYLOR.”  Zira is shocked and is convinced that he really is intelligent.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Zira then takes Taylor into her office, and she and Cornelius try to learn more about where he’s really from.  Cornelius has a hard time believing that Taylor and the other two astronauts crossed through the Forbidden Zone and reached their society.  Despite that, there’s little evidence to explain how Taylor is so different and much more intelligent than the other humans.  When Zaius arrives in Zira’s office, he orders that Taylor is returned to the laboratory.  After all, animals weren’t allowed in other parts of the compound.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

After learning that he’s about to be castrated, Taylor escapes from the laboratory and makes his way through the ape’s village.  He sneaks through a funeral ceremony, goes through a museum (he sees the stuffed body of Dodge on display), and is ultimately captured while in the marketplace.  Suddenly Taylor recovers his voice and he tells the crowd, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Taylor is returned to a cage and eventually placed in front of a trial to determine his fate.  It’s a heavily biased trial against Taylor since he’s a human being and not an ape.  Therefore no laws exist to protect him.  His mere presence is offensive to the three judges.  When Taylor is finally given a chance to speak and show off his intelligence, he’s unable to answer the questions as they all relate to the ape’s society and beliefs, things that he knows nothing about.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

At one point Taylor is allowed to go outside and point out one of his fellow astronauts.  He recognizes Landon, but he’s shocked when he sees that part of Landon’s head is shaved and he has a large scar.  Landon is unable to speak, and he doesn’t recognize Taylor.  This enrages Taylor and he accuses Zaius of removing part of Landon’s brain to make him feral.

Back at the trial, Taylor stands his ground of claiming to come from a planet where humans were the dominant form of life.  He doesn’t budge from his position.  Cornelius offers a different theory that Taylor is really from that planet’s own past, and that he knows about locations in the Forbidden Zone.  The judges reject the theory and maintain their belief that Taylor is simply a mutation and a freak of nature.

The trial ends with the judges still deciding how to handle Taylor.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

After the trial, Zaius brings Taylor into his office and admits that he knew that Landon could talk.  He also admits to intentionally butchering Landon’s brain to prevent other humans from knowing about intelligent humans.  Zaius believes that Taylor and Landon came from a “tribe” somewhere beyond the Forbidden Zone, but Taylor still maintains that he’s really from a distant planet from 2,000 years ago.  Taylor is then sent back to the laboratory.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

A short while later, Lucius (Lou Wagner), Zira’s rebellious nephew, helps Taylor break out of his cage.  Taylor insists on taking along Nova, and the three of them slip away from the laboratory.  Taylor and Zira are disguised and placed in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, and they’re taken outside of Ape City and to a secret meeting spot with Zira.  Cornelius then arrives with fresh horses, and everybody rides to the Forbidden Zone and the cave where Cornelius has been discovering artifacts from the past.

The group of them eventually Cornelius’s dig site inside of a cave that overlooks a beach on an ocean.  They start to examine the artifacts when a group of apes ambushes Lucius while he’s outside and standing guard.  Taylor joins the firefight and he aims a gun at Zaius.  He forces Zaius to call off his apes.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Zaius is then led into the cave so that he can examine the artifacts and see if Cornelius’s theory can be proven after all.  If so, then Zaius will retract the charges brought against Zira and Cornelius during Taylor’s trial.  Taylor is able to identify all of the artifacts as relics from a human being’s advanced civilization, but Zaius thinks that all of the artifacts could easily have alternate purposes.  The situation changes when a human doll is discovered —- a doll that makes a human sound when a button is pressed.

The question presented to Zaius is simple —- Why would apes make a human doll that could talk?

Before he can answer, another firefight erupts outside of the cave.  This time Lucius is captured.  Taylor successfully shoots and kills a few gorillas, but they’re still outgunned and outnumbered.  Taylor fakes an injury to lure Zaius out of the cave.  When he leaves the cave, Taylor holds Zaius at gunpoint and forces him to withdraw his soldiers.  He also tells the gorillas that he’ll let Zaius go free if he can have food, a horse, and lots of ammunition.

Taylor then challenges Zaius to admit the truth about his beliefs towards humans.  Zaius admits that he’s always known about older, more advanced societies of human begins.  Their society’s scrolls have warned about humans and the dangers that they possess.  Zaius also admits that he doesn’t hate humans, but that he really fears them instead.  He has known that one day an intelligent human being like Taylor would show up, and that could lead to the downfall of the ape’s society.  It’s believed that the Forbidden Zone used to be a paradise, but the humans destroyed it hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Taylor is given his horse and supplies, and he tells Zaius that he’s going deeper into the Forbidden Zone to discover what really happened to the humans.  Zaius warns him that he’s not going to like what he discovers out there.  Taylor then says his goodbyes to Cornelius, Lucious and Zira (he even gives Zira a kiss, an act that shocks the other apes), and he and Nova leave on their journey.

After Taylor leaves, Zaius orders the cave to be destroyed and sealed.  Cornelius, Zira and Lucius are then arrested and taken back to Ape City where they’ll be tried for heresy.  He also informs them that all traces of the true origins of humanity will be covered up and erased.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes (1968) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Planet of the Apes ends a short while later when Taylor and Nova spot a structure on the beach.  It’s the remains of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue is heavily decayed and only parts of it remain.  Taylor sinks to his knees and pounds his fist into the sand, furious that he really is on Earth.  His fellow humans really *did* destroy themselves thousands of years ago, just as Zaius said.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is 1968’s Planet of the Apes a good movie?

Definitely yes!

For starters, Planet of the Apes asks a terrific “what if” question —- What if you were suddenly placed in a world where humans were running wild and apes ruled society?

It’s a fascinating situation that urges you to continue watching and seeing how astronaut George Taylor deals with the apes.  The odds are severely stacked against him, and he’s forced to fight for survival on the streets and in the courtroom.  Just when you think that you’ve seen everything, the film concludes with a killer twist where Taylor has really been on Earth the whole time.

The ending is shocking and leaves you believing that Taylor’s situation is now completely hopeless.  Earlier in the film he believed that Earth had already advanced 2,000 years, and that their mission on the Liberty 1 was long forgotten, but there was still that glimmer of hope that perhaps, just perhaps, Taylor would find his way off the planet.

But that doesn’t happen.

Taylor knows that he’s on Earth.  The planet was destroyed in a great war many years ago.  The past civilization has been erased.  Human beings have become feral as apes have evolved and rose to the top of the animal world, complete with their own civilization that ironically mimics that of the human beings’ society from so many years ago.  As much as the apes hate human beings, they have evolved and advanced to becoming just like the human beings from years ago.

It’s really quite fascinating when you look back and reflect on the events in the film.  It also makes you want to learn more and see what happens next.  Fortunately, Planet of the Apes became a franchise with several direct sequels along with two reboots.

Planet of the Apes (1968) – movie trailer

In the end, Planet of the Apes is a terrific science-fiction film filled with action, moments of suspense, some courtroom drama, and even a good, old fashioned conspiracy involving the orangutans in charge of Ape City.  And of course, one cannot forget about the ending when Taylor discovers that he’s really on Earth, and that his society has been completely destroyed and almost forgotten.

four-and-a-half stars

George Taylor – “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

——————–

George Taylor – “It’s a mad house! A mad house!”

——————–

Cornelius – [reading from the sacred scrolls of the apes] “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.”

——————–

Dr. Zaius – “You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.”

——————–

Dr. Zira – “What will he find out there, doctor?”
Dr. Zaius – “His destiny.”

——————–

George Taylor – “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell!”

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