IN LIMITED RE-RELEASE July 24th and 27th — It’s pretty exciting that two of the most important pieces of cinema ever released, “Night of the Living Dead” and “Planet of the Apes” would come in the same year and pack the same intellectual punch. Written by non other than Rod Serling, “Planet of Apes” is like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone” filled with terror, and social commentary. And much like the aforementioned George Romero horror film, “Planet of the Apes” garners an absolutely shocking ending that is still one of the best delivered finishers in film history. Though the title says it all, “Planet of the Apes” is still a rather unique genre experience, mainly for its willingness to avoid showing the apes until a good portion of the movie has passed.
Charlton Heston gives an iconic turn as Colonel George Taylor, an astronaut who crash lands on a distant planet after a space expedition and learns the hard way that apes are rulers of this world. Primitive and yet completely organized in class systems that are identified through the species of apes, much like the human race, Taylor is stuck in a world he’s completely unfamiliar with, and can barely muster the strength to rebel, as the sights startle him. Pierre Boulle’s source material is drastically different from the film adaptation, but none of the impact is lost, nor is the commentary on the way we relegate our animals to the lower echelons of our society.
There’s the irony of our primitive counterparts becoming rulers of a jungle land while humans are servants, pets, and test subjects for medical experiments. Meanwhile the various ape species garner their own system of classes and aristocracies, mulling over the structures of their own society. The gorillas are police officers, military, hunters and workers, and the orangutans are administrators, politicians, lawyers and priests, while and chimpanzees are intellectuals and scientists. As Taylor watches his friends die, he inevitably begins to fight back, and, much to the shock of the apes, speaks back defiantly. This sparks an immediate rebellion, and prompts the ape society to completely re-think the way they operate.
“Planet of the Apes” features a world and society that’s different from ours and yet perfectly similar, even alluding that the apes are still in their early stages of evolution as a species. Franklin J. Schaffner’s production from the Serling script is masterful, with a massive cast of brilliant performers offering great performances. Heston’s turn is immortal, all the while folks like Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, respectfully transcend their ape visages to convey very unique and complex characters all around. “Planet of the Apes” is a pitch perfect science fiction film, that still conveys sharp social commentary and will win over the hearts of science fiction purists old and new.