Planet of the Apes (1968)

Bummertown
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1968
Director: 
Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: 
Charleton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans
The Setup: 
Astronaut crash-lands on planet of, well, you know...
Discussion: 

It's one of those summer days where there's nothing to do, and if there is, it had better have air conditioning. All the art galleries are closed for the summer. Then, there it is: the art house theater is showing Planet of the Apes, which I have actually never seen, and has of course always been on my list. And since it's so well known, it's got to be guaranteed to be pretty good, right? Alas, wrong. This is one of those situations where you finally see what everyone's been talking about an come away saying "What a bummer."

I missed the first few minutes, and came in after Charleton Heston as Taylor and two other astronauts have crashed on this strange planet. They know that they have been asleep for 2,000 years, and even if they could go home, everyone they know would be dead, a fact Taylor keeps reminding his fellow astronauts of, in between taunting them for what he assumes to be their sentimental attitudes, or religious beliefs, or hope for a future. All in a tone of mocking superiority, and not stopping after it's clear he's driving them insane. Okay, I HATE this character. WHAT an asshole. I was thinking "Christ, to be trapped on some strange planet with some arrogant loudmouth asswipe!" It was to the point I was hoping one of his fellow astronauts would either just kill him, or at least say "You know what? You guys go that way and I'll take my chances over here. Bye."

Nevertheless, they stick together, and eventually come upon some cavemen-esque humans. Then there's a call, and the humans are marauded by a bunch of apes on horseback. After a LONG chase, one of the astronauts is killed, and the other two caught. At a certain point, Taylor is shot in the neck, and I seriously thought "Oh good, now he'll shut up!" which in fact he does... he can't speak for a while. He is thrown in a cell in the lab of "animal psychologist" Dr. Zira, played by Kim Hunter. There is lots of Taylor trying to communicate, guards saying things like "Animals can't speak!" and Zira thinking they can be domesticated and trained to do useful chores. In fact, this could describe pretty much the next hour, with variations. I understand it might have been compelling at the time, but is it something you really want to sit through now?

So there's Roddy McDowall as Zira's fiancé Cornelius, who saw some stuff in the forbidden zone that contradicts Ape theology, and becomes advocate of Taylor. The next hour is made up of variations of Taylor getting treated like an animal, numerous escape attempts, then him regaining his speech, trying to convince the orangutan elders that he is intelligent, and unending ideological discussions in which he faces anti-human attitudes. I found it all incredibly tedious. Sure, it's peppered by certain lines that have become camp classics, delivered in Heston's typically over-the-top macho way, but even that isn't enough to overcome the sheer tedium of enduring banal ideas you can see coming from thirteen miles away, and the fact that there is nothing really happening, and it's taking forever for nothing to happen.

Present since the capture of the humans has been Linda Harrison as Nova, sultry human female. She is a doe-eyed innocent, a Playboy bunny-type who's been slightly rumpled, and Taylor adopts her as a pretty lil' filly who couldn't possibly have a thought in that sexy little head. And she doesn't! This movie comes from the place where the man treats women like mental children, there to bat their eyelashes and worship men, and Nova shows us nothing to contradict this. If we're going to examine prejudices, maybe Heston should have landed on Planet of the Amazons? It grows still more insulting as we're abruptly asked to believe that Taylor and Nova have some sort of connection, and have FEELINGS for each other, despite there being absolutely no connection aside from her being a pretty, vacant little thing who OBVIOUSLY needs a man to take care of her. At a certain point Taylor starts talking about whether she LOVES him, and you're like "WHAT?!?" What would she possibly love him for? They've barely spoken. But in this movie a man loves a woman because she has boobs and makes alluring looks, and she loves him because he big man, and she simple idiot child. It's kind of funny to see the movie trying to be so racially progressive, while so backward in this other, incredibly glaring way.

Yeah, so speaking of racially progressive, it seems fairly obvious that this movie is trying to make us think about racism, with a world in which the white man is suddenly the minority, and--you won't be shocked if I inform you that some people have referred to blacks as apes, will you? This movie seemed to run with that, and show a world in which they are in control and the white man is considered an animal, who couldn't have thoughts, or reason, or be trusted. This would have had a lot more resonance in 1968, when this was released. Great, but what you end up is an ideological movie full of a bunch of arguments and tribunals where you can see where all this is headed from a mile away, and just ends up horribly tedious. It all continues apace, with a few long chases, until Taylor finally negotiates his freedom--along with Nova, who you know he has SUCH a connection with--they round the corner and PLOP, the famous ending just happens, the end.

I pretty much hated it. My friend warned me about it, but I didn't listen. I know a lot of people like it, and admire the photography, and find the whole thing just a fun hoot. Great, but not me. I just found it all so tedious. Is it better than the Tim Burton remake? Not really, although this one has the cultural relevance, so if you must watch one of the two, watch this one. And if you want to write and tell me what you or anyone love about it, please do so. As for me, I wish I had those hours back.

Should you watch it: 

You need to surprisingly less than you think.