Planet of the Apes
- Franklin J. Schaffner
- Reviewed by
- a.k.a. Jacinda
- Review date
- Thursday, July 26, 2001
In 3978 an astronaut crew crashes on a distant planet. The three men led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) discover that the planet is inhabited by apes who have acquired speech and the ability to invent technology while man is uncivilized and unable to speak. As a result the dominant race has enslaved men who are considered to be wild animals. On the run Taylor is separated from his crew members and caught by the apes. They take him to a laboratory where Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) conducts experiments to prove that men can be tamed. While Zira realizes that Taylor is something special, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) is trying to undermine her scientific findings and charges her with religious heresy. The only way to save Taylor’s life is to escape to the forbidden zone of the planet where Taylor has to face the unbelievable truth...
Dystopias set in the future usually deal with problems in the present. Planet of the Apes is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It criticizes social, cultural and religious aspects of the real world. The movie takes on a philosophical approach to anthropomorphism. The protagonist Taylor is best described as a cynic who is sick of his own species. He is willing to give up his life among men to go on a mission in space and never return. Even though he disapproves the human species he is not prepared for the world of the apes.
The portrayal of the ape society actually is a mirror of men’s society. Therein lies the criticism of culture as we know it. It is an archaic culture and a totalitarian state with religious rules based on the superiority of the ape species. There is even racial separation in the ape society: Gorillas are warriors that obey orders and serve as soldiers while the compassionate chimpanzees are scientists trying to prove the evolutionary connection between apes and man. Their plan is severely undermined by the ruling class of the sophisticated orang-utans.
Among them there is Dr. Zaius who is the most colorful and fascinating character of the movie. He is fully aware of the connection between apes and man but does everything to hide the truth. He makes his knowledge his religion: Men slaughter among their own species and go so far as to destroy their own planet. Dr. Zaius’s words capture the human essence perfectly and in the end one understands why he tries to keep the truth under wraps. The ideas of the movie obviously derived from the cold war and the fear of a nuclear catastrophe.
Franklin J. Schaffner’s movie depicts a world that may not be too different from the one we live in. The ending reveals a terrible truth that found its place in film history. With a haunting score and groundbreaking make-up effects Planet of the Apes undoubtedly deserves to be called a cult movie.
“Somewhere in the Universe, there must be something better than man!”
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