Review Date: 9/26/16
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison
"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"
Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the captain of a four-man crew on a deep space mission. As a result of some mechanical failure, the crew ends up in suspended animation for 2000 years and are awakened when their spaceship crashes on a barren Earth-like planet. After traversing a desolate wasteland for a couple of days, they encounter a jungle and are attacked by a group of armed apes. Only Taylor survives, and is taken into custody as a zoo specimen. The chimpanzee Doctor Zira (Kim Hunter) is fascinated by his advanced intelligence, as all other human life on the planet is savage and primitive. The rest of the ape society condemns Taylor as a freak, and his very existence violates the tenets of their religion (despite the fact that science doesn't support their religion, either). A young scientist named Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) believes in the unpopular notion of evolution and has discovered archeological evidence of human civilization predating ape civilization. He and Zira take a huge risk by accompanying the doomed Taylor to the Forbidden Zone in order to help prove his theories. However, nothing can prepare Taylor for what he finds.
The whole thing plays out like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone," which should come as no surprise since Rod Serling wrote the original screenplay. It was very much a product of its time, and the political attitudes of the 1960s force their way into ape society and tend to make the film feel dated. "Never trust anyone over thirty!" Taylor is an asshole throughout the entire film and is a perfect example of the aggressive and destructive behavior that brought the human race to ruin. Nowhere is this more evident than when he and the other astronauts are wandering in the wasteland and stumble across a lone plant - the first and only sign of life they've encountered on the planet. In their elation of discovering life, the first thing they do is kill it. To me, that was the most powerful scene in the whole movie. Of course, the shock ending is the real punchline, but it comes as no surprise since it's been so deeply ingrained in pop culture for nearly fifty years. Still, even with the obvious evidence and foreshadowing, the presentation and delivery are highly effective, and the film fades to black while the credits roll in complete silence. It's downright eerie, and gives you ample time to reflect on Taylor's fate and revelations. I can imagine audiences at the time being completely dumbfounded.
The visual effects are quite good and the film won an Academy Award for make-up. The ape prosthetics are quite effective, even though the mouth movement tends to be stiff and puppet-like. However, the actors do an excellent job with emoting, and their strong dialog delivery compensates for the make-up's shortcomings. Charlton Heston gives an appropriately over-the-top performance and is fun to watch. Linda Harrison provides some pleasant eye candy as Taylor's chosen mate, although all she gets to do is look scared and run around in a cave-girl bikini (which I'm not complaining about). The social commentary is extremely barbed, and the main focus is a criticism of religion and how it's used to blind and manipulate the masses, even in the face of its own obvious hypocrisy. This actually reminded me of George Orwell's "1984" quite a bit, especially when Dr. Zaius, the supposed "defender of the faith", admits that their religion is just a lie to protect the people from the truth. The absurdity and bureaucracy of the ape's justice system is a blatant reflection of our own, and the film does an excellent (if not overly heavy-handed) job of criticizing and satirizing modern society and attitudes. It's a thought provoking film that's still universally relevant today, which makes it a true science fiction classic.