The Planet of the Apes Movies
The Planet of the Apes
= 4 stars
Planet of the Apes is a classic science fiction film in that campy 70′s vibe – equal parts 2001 mind trip and an original series Star Trek episode. But its core is a neat, Twilight Zone story surrounded by some solid, memorable acting by Charlton Heston and talented actors in ape costumes which take this film out of schlock and elavate it to pop-culture milestone.
The idea of a planet ruled by apes where humans are slaves begs for sociological and psychological interpretation. There is racial discrimination, a hot subject at the end of the sixties and its civil rights movement. The ruling apes look down on the humans, not unlike how we humans look down on animals and as hard as it is to believe today, some look upon other people. Yet the ape society itself is divided by class and race: the chimps are the intellectuals, the orangutans the religious and societal elite, while the apes and gorillas are relegated to military and law enforcement. Although we are supposed to view the apes as the “other,” they have more in common with human society than not. It’s the juxtaposition of seeing Charlton Heston as a prisoner that gives us the insight into how ridiculous our society can be.
The sneaky, shocking ending brings to light the ultimate fear of most citizens during the cold war â€” that the insanity of nuclear weapons would result in quite literally, the end of the world. Also worthy of note is how the idealism of the astronauts is swiftly crushed. In trying to escape from earth, they only end up returning. It is a literal companion to the idea that humans are likely never able to escape their own humanity, meaning our base instinct to be violent, warlike, and self-destructive.
Our inability to escape our own worst aspects is a theme as old as time itself. In that sense, it’s possible the film isn’t called Planet of the Apes because it’s ruled by literal apes, but because it recognizes humans as apes, too. Apes are our ancestors and in the most cynical sense, we haven’t much evolved. Through the situations in the Planet of the Apes films, it’s continuously suggested that much of human society functions not any better than primate society and in many ways is more destructive and harmful to planet we live on. So although it seems like we’re on a far away planet in outer space, the ending is so shocking when we realize this planet is our own, and the title has a double meaning. Some of the best science fiction uses other worlds and fantasy as an analogy towards an understanding of our own world.
Return to Planet of the Apes
= 3 stars
The sequel to The Planet of the Apes is inferior in many ways to the first, namely that the surprise ending concept was used as the basis of Return to the Planet of the Apes. Much of the first half features a Charlton Heston clone running around trying to get to the end of the movie. We have to watch him basically retrace the steps of astronaut Taylor discovering the apes, be in awe at their intelligence, how they treat humans, and realize the truth about the planet’s past.
It would have made much more sense to simply follow the path of Taylor as he falls into the hands of the underground atomic-bomb worshipping mutuants, but Charlton Heston didn’t want to be in the film, and therefore negotiated that he would only appear for a few minutes at film’s beginning and end. He also supposedly came up with the most cynical film ending ever, both because it utterly destroys the world his character lives in but also because it was largely motivated by a selfish impulse to never have to appear in any more Planet of the Apes movies. It served its purpose on both counts but didn’t stop the filmmakers from creating several more sequels, perhaps paving the way for truly unbearable remakes and sequels we must suffer through today.
Of course for a time period where people were afraid of the impending end of the world at the hands of people themselves due to a hot nuclear war, this movie had some strong messages. There is a prophetic tone as the apes believe that the humans are evil and must be exterminated, and Taylor proves them exactly correct through his quest to end the madness. So he doesn’t really beat the apes by destroying them as they truly he believed he would do that very thing.
Escape From the Planet of the Apes
= 3 stars
Escape From the Planet of the Apes switches things around as Cornelius and Zera get in a spaceship and travel back in time to land on Earth around 1970. So the plot pretty much plays out as the original movie, except this time the twist is that a child is born. This addition plays out in an interesting way as Ricardo Montablan makes an appearance as Armando the circus owner, who takes the intelligent baby ape under his wing in preparation for more sequels. Plus the characters of Cornelius and Zera ensure they need not appear in any more sequels.
Conquest of Planet of the Apes
= 3 stars
The most cynical entry in the series yet, we’re in a totalitarian police state run by men in black outfits and a population of enslaved ape servants. Ceasar, the child of Cornelius and Zera, has grown up to have the ability of speech. Armando is forced to divulge the secret and this builds to about half an hour of the ape revolt amid a background of guns and flames. Pretty scary stuff, and the analogy of the apes vs. humans as a race war is pushed to its limits.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
= 3 stars
The first ten minutes are pretty sad as they basically recap the last two films, but once the war starts brewing between the apes and mutated men, the film finds a firm footing. The film serves to bridge the gap between Conquest and the first Planet of the Apes film. It’s neat to see how tribes of men and apes co-exist in a post apocalyptic world; sort of how the Flintstones hung out with dinosaurs. However the ending seems to contradict the future Earth in the first two films. One can only assume that after this inital period of peace, something went awry and war returned – perhaps the reason for the tear down the statue of Ceasar in the final scene.