We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether or not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and Kim Hunter
In case you haven’t had a chance to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, you should. It’s a f*cking fantastic movie. Bold, intelligent, beautiful, and tragic, it’s probably one of the best war films that I’ve seen in a long time, one that truly attempts to examine the human condition. Even more, I think it’s the best of the Apes franchise since…well since 1968.
That’s not knocking the other movies, but only two have truly risen to absolute classic status. However, the longevity of this science fiction franchise is damn amazing, and it doesn’t look (or feel) like its ready to stop any time soon. Now that the eighth film will end up one of 2014’s biggest summer hits, what a perfect time to reflect and inspect the rust of the original 1968 flick.
Under the examination: Planet of the Apes
Now this is a nightmare.
THE STORY: A group of astronauts traveling through space are on their way back to earth following one long ass deep space exploration when they crash land on some planet. Centuries have passed since they left, they’ve all grown a one week beard (I really hate movie beards), and now they’re stuck on a foreign planet. The catch? Well, on this planet apes rule and mankind acts a subspecies, unable to speak or think freely. When lead astronaut Taylor and his crew are taken, it’s up to him to save his buddies and rise above his captive status.
WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I still remember the first time I rented Planet of the Apes in college (from one of those ancient video palaces). I was on one of those classic movie kicks, trying to knock one off the list at a time. Expectations were low because I really didn’t know much about it beyond it was that talking ape movie that The Simpsons had parodied so well (if somehow you don't know that one, do yourself a favor and google). However, I soon found that this wasn’t just another sci-fi film, but an effective, timeless masterpiece. Oh sure, it's now watered down due to an endless amount of sequels, TV shows, comics, and cartoons, but what isn't anymore. I remember telling a few friends about it, only to see that I was the dumbass who waited so long to see.
Hottest movie kiss ever? Maybe...
Rewatching now proves the immortal status of director Franklin J. Schaffner's work. It has a specific pacing and scope that plays just as big as 45 years ago. The sets don’t look nearly as good as what Dawn of the Planet of the Apes accomplished (or obviously the ape makeup/CGI), but it just works here. Things are different enough to look familiar but not close enough to give away the final gag. With that said, until recently Apes movies never were big budget films. They relied on story and character to really create impact on the audience.
I think Apes owes a massive debt to Mr. Charlton Heston. For a brief four-year period, dude made three science fiction classics (this is one), and I wish he had made a few more. Certain actors just fit in science fiction, and he's one of them. There’s something about his granite jaw and old man way of talking that provides a solid backbone for the film. He's represents that John Wayne-type American spirit to fight for what he believed in, no matter the consequence. And that's what he is as Taylor, who goes from spaceman leader to captive to freedom fighter.
The effectiveness of the ape makeup is equally surprising. Created by John Chambers (who also made Spock’s ears), it looks quite real and believable considering the technology at the time. Oh sure, their lips barely move and the actors look stiff, but their performances still come through. Roddy McDowall’s Cornelius, Kim Hunter’s Zira, and Maurice Evans’s Dr. Zaius all seem just as real as Andy Serkis’s Caesar in terms of creating individual characters. We can’t play compare contrast with the effects, but performances never change and these actors set the bar pretty freakin' high.
Smoking inside a spaceship is the dumbest thing ever.
WHAT BLOWS NOW: By today’s standards, Planet of the Apes is slow. Painfully at times as it takes a too long time for Heston and friends to find the apes and get the story rolling. Yeah, I know we're supposed to feel the shock and awe of learning that apes rule, but you know it's sorta given away in the title. It’s also funny to see Heston’s space ship. Released the same year at 2001: A Space Odyssey…well, it just doesn’t hold up, looking cheap and ridiculously small. I hope at least that they had one more room to hang out in. And as intelligent as the film is, why the hell would Heston smoke inside his spaceship. That’s just stupid.
THE VERDICT: Planet of the Apes remains a bold, thoughtful, entertaining film that does what good sci-fi is supposed to. It has us reflecting upon our own decisions and ideas. It remains one of the finest examples of science fiction ever produced. Even better, after 45 years it might have a few age spots but it's completely rust free.
This is just damn cool.