“Planet of the Apes” was released in 1968, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling (of “The Twilight Zone”). It stars Charlton Heston as Taylor, an astronaut who wakes up nearly 2,000 years in the future after cryosleep (a sci-fi gimmick) and crash lands onto a planet in which apes rule over nomadic, unspeaking humans.
The aspect of this film I loved the most was that it actually had things to say, even though it’s a film about ape-people (on the surface). It wasn’t some cheesy, mindless sci-fi flick. The film had themes of race, religion, imprisonment, and the human race’s treatment of other species. It also makes the viewers think, raising questions such as: “Is it moral to lie to a whole society when the truth is more harmful than beneficial?,” “When does science and the desire to learn more go too far?,” and “Are humans a detriment to all other types of life on Earth?”
The pacing and structure of the film was great too. Each act is a different type of movie. The first act is astronauts trying to survive in a dangerous environment, the second act is a horror movie in which humans are imprisoned, and the third act is a political thriller & escape movie. This made for a truly unique story that otherwise could be generic, and it also made the film less predictable.
The society of the apes was fully realized as well, as the film efficiently sets up the mindset, culture, government, and beliefs of the apes. What was so interesting and complex about them was that they were raised to believe that their treatment of humans was for the greater good and the protection of their race.
An aspect of the movie which was mixed for me was the acting. Almost all of the performances were great, especially those of the actors playing the apes, who had the obstacle of wearing restrictive costumes. However, Charlton Heston’s performance was too over-the-top for the film’s tone, and, unfortunately, he had an unlikeable screen presence. Since the character of Taylor was purposely written to be cocky and conniving, it was Heston’s job as an actor to provide charisma and a charm to the role to make Taylor more likeable. That’s simply the standard job for actors in blockbusters. Robert Downey Jr. was fantastic as Tony Stark in 2008’s “Iron Man” because of his charisma. I wouldn’t say Heston took me out of the film, but I do think he held the movie back.
Something important to note about the film is that the costumes are quite dated. They don’t look embarrassing or completely unrealistic, but they do heavily restrict the movements of the actors’ mouths, causing there to be a lot of Spaghetti Western-level lip syncing. That said, the technology of the time period “Planet of the Apes” was made just wasn’t quite there yet, so I can’t blame the filmmakers for it. I’m sure the costumes looked terrific in 1968, but in 2021, they don’t hold up well.
Despite some of its dated costume design and Charlton Heston’s strange performance, “Planet of the Apes” still holds up as an exciting & philosophical sci-fi film with great action, direction, dialogue, characters, and worldbuilding.