Sunday, January 11, 2009

Planet Of The Apes

It's official. I enter the new year with my own plunge of sorts viewing my first Blu-Ray disc ever. I decided upon the classic, Planet Of The Apes [1968]. The Girl and Boy Wonder watched along with me to make it an event. It's hard to believe but the film is actually rated G. Can you believe that? There is nudity, violence and a frighteningly intense score powered by one Jerry Goldsmith. Still, in all seriousness, it's pretty tame compared to the films of today I suppose. But when your kids ask you questions like, "Did he just say 'damn you, God damn you all to hell'?" or "Dad, why are the apes beating the snot out of that man?" or "eww, why is that woman dead?" that might be considered PG [parental guidance]. I'm thinking. I mean, let's face it, it's not Bambi or A Bug's Life or even Ice Age. Being a smart ass aside, Planet Of The Apes is terrific science-fiction and weaves terrific political and social commentary throughout. All of it goes way over the kids' heads. I think. They are just so smart today.

And forget about the overrated Tim Burton reimagining of Planet Of The Apes. In many ways I'm the last person to fall in line behind a Burton film. I never seem to fully appreciate his work and generally feel they fail to deliver in the final analysis. Certainly he has a fanbase out there and his films are visually trademark Burton, but their bloated on visual style and the scripts are often weak or weird. His recreation of the 1968 classic Planet Of The Apes just doesn't cut the mustard. It's okay, but kind of pointless when you have the amazing original.

I thought I'd step back in time for this one and while it is a visually stunning film it's also loaded with thoughtful commentary on human behavior. Whether it's the evolution of man or ape, the treatment of animals, class envy or any other social phenomenon this film delivers. You might think this film would be beating you over the head with social and political commentary, but it manages to be insightful and entertaining without the required ape drubbing. Case in point, as kids many of us renacted Planet Of The Apes without a thought or care about the power of the film's many messages. You're oblivious to the more complex layers of the film, which is why it delivers brilliantly on a number of levels. Rarely can a film walk that line.
The film's screenplay was co-written with Rod Serling and it does play a bit like a colorized version of The Twilight Zone. It has that kind of serially pensive commentary within the framework of a science fiction film. Planet Of The Apes is based upon a book of the same name by late, French author Pierre Boulle [Bridge On The River Kwai no less]. The performances are splendid including that of the late Charlton Heston and the late, wonderful Roddy McDowall cloaked in ape make-up as Cornelius and along with Kim Hunter as Zira. The two really brighten the screen with some outstanding character roles. I always loved the curl and snicker of McDowall's Cornelius. By the way, it was the Cornelius doll, um action figure, that I once possessed that went on many a mission with the original Kirk & Bones. He's out there somewhere.

Planet Of The Apes is a visually beautiful film too from the canyon vistas of Heston's initial crash to the location settings chosen for the primitive state established by the apes. Set designs, make-up, everything holds up over four decades later. It's really astonishing. On Blu Ray it is vibrant and I am humbled by the sharp picture quality of this original work. It can't hold a candle to the films made today and released on Blu Ray but it is spectacular for a film of that era. Still, it's the story and it is filled with suspense, striking music and stunning visual detail. It's interesting how many of the players involved in this work have passed on leaving the legacy of a film to speak for them and a story that endures the ages with lessons to teach without trying to hard. Things as simple as Heston's desire to leave his world behind for something different only to find himself returning to find just that. Be careful what you wish for as they say.

Forget the apes, let's run off and start civilization all over together as fast as we can! R U with me? She is definitely one of those smokin' ultra hot hotties you'd find on vintage Star Trek!
US Astronauts crash land and find themselves on a planet turned upside down. Apes rule humans and the parable of man and animal is unleashed. When we first meet Taylor he is ironically looking for something better than man. In the end, he finds himself falling back on man's instinct to survive, use weapons and use his wits. When he rides off on the horse with the one primitive woman it's like Adam and Eve and an all new beginning. Of course there is that powerful conclusion with the Statue Of Liberty [a fitting symbol from French writer Boulle as the statue was given to the US by France as a gift of friendship in 1886]. Heston realizes he's been on Earth all along and that man, whom he had a low opinion of to begin with, has indeed destroyed the planet as represented by the fallen Statue of Liberty. The apes now rule a class-layered simian society and the ruling class prefers to keep it that way as any good, logically-thinking, powerful government would. They keep the truth buried to the masses and masque it all with falsehood. There are just loads and loads of moral lessons that are woven throughout this adventurous, risk-taking, time-travelling, sci-fi yarn.

I must admit by today's standards it runs a little slower than most films [in particular when Heston's character, George Taylor, is imprisoned for the middle portion of the film and still it's fascinating], but it still kept my kids attention enough until the riveting conclusion that was lost on them. Still, can you imagine a film that explores characterization and story over special effects, noise and senseless, non-stop violence? You would do yourself justice to take a look at a classic in science fiction like the original Planet Of The Apes. It's out there and it's waiting for you to discover or re-discover it.
Planet Of The Apes: A-


Unknown said...

Hey man,

I've never actually seen this film, just know what it's about through the parodies in The Simpsons etc. :)

However, since you're also venturing into the exciting world of BluRay, if you're into nature shows, I can recommend BBC's "Planet Earth" on BluRay - it basically is the ultimate HD demo disc, with all the amazing footage you can imagine. There's this one shot in the first episode of a giant shark jumping in the air and munching on a seal at the same time - it's all in slow motion, and if your TV is large enough, you can see each and every drop of the splash as it lands - it's so amazing that it almost feels like 3D. I have a 52" full HD LCD thingy and these kind of things usually lead to me watching with my mouth open. ;)

SFF said...

Hey bud
It's funny you mention Planet Earth because my boy wonder got it for Christmas from a family member. Unfortunately it's just regular plain old, so yesterday, DVD [haha just kidding]. Seriously I'm still dying to watch it and probably will despite it not being Blu Ray. It's funny because the now failed HD DVD version of Planet Earth still sells quite well on Amazon. Go figure. I've seen that shark/ seal scene you mentioned. I feel so bad for that seal. :(

Thanks as always and check out Planet eventhough it's great Simpsons fodder, it really is a visual classic worth checking out.

Unknown said...

I actually heard that that seal sold drugs to baby seals, so he had it coming.

No, seriously, you kinda have to toughen up to watch these nature shows. Nature has no mercy. I learned that from watching these shows when I was a kid - I always thought it was so unfair that the camera/crew people didn't help the poor lil' animals getting maimed! :)

SFF said...

I need to have a thick skin. It is dog eat dog out there or in this case shark eat seal. I love the nature shows. My son the boy wonder can't quite stomach it yet. We'll work on it. : )