“Planet of the Apes” at Film Forum, in New York, July 8 – 14
The best big studio release of the summer, believe it or not, is from 1968. “Planet of the Apes” will be at Film Forum (NY), in a new 35mm print, from July 8 – 14. It is a movie for all ages that can be enjoyed on many levels.
I first saw “Planet of the Apes” during its initial run, already a movie fan at age six. The original, and three of its four sequels, truly captured my imagination. (“Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” the final “Apes” movie, is the, how shall I put it, “The Godfather: Part III” of the series).
Granted, at such a young age, I did not pick up on “Planet of the Apes’” parable about racism and politics. I am sure I did not grasp the significance of the planet’s social structure of lighter skinned orangoutangs having authority over darker skinned chimpanzees, and even darker skinned gorilla soldier apes. “Some apes seem to be more equal than others,” Taylor (Charleton Heston) observes. I am sure I also did not appreciate the twist of fate for Heston’s misanthropic astronaut, Taylor. Taylor blasts off into deep space to leave behind the 20th Century, tired of wars and the way people treat each other, only to land on a planet 2,000 years into the future in which evolutionary roles are reversed. Human beings are mute, hunted, wild animals and apes are in charge. To young(er) Seth it was simply a movie with good guys, bad apes and good apes. Plus, the movie had lots of action, apes riding horses, speaking English, wearing clothes and carrying guns. How cool was that? Some kids collected baseball cards. I collected “Planet of the Apes” cards.
Now, seeing the movie years later, I can appreciate that the head orangoutang, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), is ultra conservative. Dr. Zaius, in addition to being in charge of science, is also “Keeper of the Faith.” He wants to make sure, at all costs, that the former jibes with the latter. Zaius wants the ape populace to buy the dogma that humans are the lower form of life. When Taylor, possessing the ability of speech, arrives, Zaius’ ideology is threatened. Why is it so important for Zaius to subjugate human beings? Even though Zaius and Taylor are at odds, in one major way they are similar. Each has a strong dislike of humans. Their points of view will be reconciled with one of the most shocking images and bleakest fadeouts in movie history.
The screenplay for “Planet of the Apes” was co-written by Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the novel, “Bridge on the River Kwai”). The story must have been a natural for Serling. Serling, who created “Twilight Zone” (still the best television series ever), wanted to write about social and political issues but knew that these were (and still are) hot topics. Network higher ups were concerned about alienating sponsors. Serling learned that as long as he cloaked his views in the form robots and aliens from outer space, he was safe. So how perfect to have a tale with a simple reversal in evolutionary roles to express his views, that also jibed with the ideas of the turbulent 1960s.
In addition to its four sequels, “Planet of the Apes” spawned a TV series, a cartoon and director Tim Burton’s disappointing 2001 remake. Yet another reboot is on the way. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” will be out later this summer. Catch the original while you still can.
Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street.