Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Monkey Business

Before we get started on the 30 day British invaders challenge let's pause (or paws) to consider the Planet of the Apes films. There's a new CGI film out that is set up as prequel to the original film, and to possibly kick-start the franchise that the Tim Burton film seemed to have killed off.

Now I haven't seen the new one yet but what I have done is bought the box set of the original five movies which was nice and cheap on Amazon, less than the price of a cinema ticket in fact. I'm planning to watch them all in order. I know I have seen them all over the years but I only have dim memories of the four sequels, although the final film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, is a fond memory for me because it is the first film that I can remember getting in to see when I was under age. That's interesting in itself, I presume the film had an AA certificate which meant 14 years or older. It was released in 1973 when I was only 11 so I suspect I saw it on a re-release a year or two later. I seem to recall it was a double feature but I can't remember what the other film was. All I know is that myself and some school friends were very pleased with ourselves for getting in to see it before out fourteenth birthdays. Kids, huh?

So anyway I have just watched the original Planet of the Apes movie which is the one I'm most familiar with. Isn't everyone? In fact the covers of both the DVD and the box set features one of the most famous spoilers in movie history in that the famous image used gives away the ending of the film!

The film is pretty much how you remember it: the costumes and make up are good although some of the extras are clearly wearing full face masks rather than the prosthetic appliances that won the first ever Oscar for make up. The setting of the Ape city seems rather small although there are a few nice touches like the chapel sequence when Taylor crashes through an Ape funeral as he tries to escape. Then, of course, Charlton Heston gets to deliver his famous "damned dirty ape" line before escaping with Zira and Cornelius to head for the archaeological dig and from there to Taylor's date with his own destiny.

It all zips along quite nicely. There are several bits that don't make much sense. What was the purpose of the space mission in the first place? Why was there only one woman on board if they thought they would have to start a new human race? How does a talking human doll prove anything at all? And when Taylor and Cornelius have their strange, shouted conversation from opposite sides of a river gorge how did one of them get to the other side? There is also the odd moment when the stranded astronauts find a small plant as the first signs of life on the new planet and immediately dig it up.

But the really interesting thing about watching it now is that the main human protagonist Taylor is, let's face it, a bit of a dick. He clearly has strong views about the foolishness of humanity which he expresses in his captain's log recordings at the start of the film (and which, of course, set up the final shocking sequence). He spends much of the early parts of the film insulting one member of his crew, Landon and generally being obnoxious. He howls with laughter when Landon plants a small American flag in the ground by the lake where their spaceship has crash landed. And when he finds himself the prisoner of intelligent Apes and put on trial by them he doesn't resort to reason to try and argue his case but spends a lot of time shouting, resisting and generally behaving much as the conservative Dr Zaius expects him to.

It's an interesting choice by Charlton Heston. We know that Heston was involved with the screenplay and he practically chose the director himself so clearly this characterisation of Taylor was a deliberate decision by the actor. Heston has left a strange reputation behind, mainly for his involvement with the National Rifle Association but we have to remember that as a science fiction actor he played some very interesting, flawed characters. Think of him in The Omega Man or Soylent Green. He wasn't a straight-forward good guy in those films either.

The other nice feature that I had forgotten is the relationship that Taylor strikes up with Zira's teenage nephew, Lucius, who helps our hero escape. Taylor and Lucius get several nice exchanges about youthful rebellion and his dissatisfaction with the actions of his elders. It's an interesting bit of social commentary from the year 1968 when the film was released and there was plenty of youth in revolt all around our Planet of the Humans.

I was also struck by the fact that the image of Charlton Heston on the wikipedia page about him was taken at the 1963 civil rights march in Washington. The same march that Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech on. And in another interesting echo that speech was made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which was used as the setting for the twist ending in the Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes.

Anyway, enough musings on the original and on Charlton Heston. Next up is Beneath the Planet of the Apes which I remember features mutants, my first encounter with the word Omega, and the actor James Franciscus who was the Simon Baker of his day. Plus there's more of Linda Harrison in a cave girl outfit. So how can it go wrong?

No comments:

Post a Comment