Film Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

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It may be tempting to dismiss Planet of the Apes as high camp, but there’s some provocative science-fiction under those monkey masks.  Charlton Heston plays an American astronaut who’s on his way back to Earth when he crash lands on a strange, desolate planet where apes rule and humans are primitive beasts of burden.  Heston is captured, tortured, and humiliated by the apes.  He finds sympathy from two ape scientists, Zira (played by Oscar winner Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), who risk heresy by defending Heston’s civil liberties in a court of law.  This is where Planet of the Apes is most compelling, in a tables-turned Scopes Monkey Trial where Cornelius and Zira try to explain evolution to a judicial panel with a painfully creationist point-of-view.

Apes also works for me as a horror movie, because I find few things more frightening than the forcible loss of one’s dignity.  Heston delivers a brave, physically taxing performance, but it’s marred by a couple of loud, crazy line deliveries, including the infamous, “Get your paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”  Hunter and McDowall do commendable jobs emoting through their prosthetics, and composer Jerry Goldsmith enhances the film with his innovative use of percussion and unusual instruments.

The film’s shocking finale is indeed a memorable one, but not likely to surprise you unless you’ve been living in a cave for 40 years.

Rating: 4/5 ★★★★☆ 

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About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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