Planet of the Apes DVD

As an 11-year-old boy deep into science-fiction and horror, “Planet of the Apes” was the perfect antidote to a dreary 1968 summer. My mom and her brother went to see the film at a local drive-in, and after they came home, they did nothing buy talk about the film.


I had seen the coming attraction in a theater, but their enthusiastic thumbs up made me want to see the film even more.

planetoftheapesWhen I first saw “Planet of the Apes,” I was awestruck. Wow, here was a film where simians made apes out of men. Maybe I was too young to appreciate the irony of the script by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, but time would take care of that. Time would also expose the film’s meager trappings, but for 1968, “Planet of the Apes” was the cat’s meow.

In between playing Moses and serving as the mouth piece for the NRA, Charlton Heston found time to play Col. George Taylor, an American astronaut on an extended mission. When we first meet Taylor, he’s completing an audio journal before retiring in hyper-sleep. Also aboard are two male astronauts (Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton) and a female astronaut whose fate is played out before the end of the opening credits.

Sent spiraling through a time warp, the ship crash lands on a desolate planet thousands of years in the future. Stranded in another time and place, the three men begin a search for resources. After a long trek, they come across fresh water and vegetation, and something quite unexpected: human life.

Believing themselves to be superior to the locals, Taylor and his crew see opportunity. Their dreams of running things are immediately dashed when they are ambushed and rounded up by the real landlords, intelligent apes. After being locked up in a cage, Taylor begins to understand his situation. Evolution has reversed itself on this planet, and apes are the superior beings.

Good news for the apes, bad news for Taylor, who has been picked to be a lab rat for some rather nasty experiments. It’s here where Taylor meets and befriends married Chimpanzee scientists Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), who would rather understand man than dissect him.

When Taylor finally regains his voice, which was damaged during capture by a bullet, his intelligence amazes the scientists and scares the leaders. Deemed a freak, Taylor is ordered to undergo radical tests by Orangutan leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). Desperate to keep Taylor alive, Zira and Cornelius help him escape, leading them to the Forbidden Zone, an area off limits to all simians. It’s here where Taylor learns the truth in one of the most striking finales in film history.

“Planet of the Apes” holds up well after all of these years. The performances are strong, especially Heston as Taylor. His conviction is absolute, allowing us to feel for a man trapped by extraordinary circumstances. His transformation from non-believer to co-conspirator is quite believable. It didn’t hurt that Heston was in great shape and looked comfortable in a loincloth.

Under all of that make-up, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter created human characters that we could actually care about and feel for. Given choice dialogue, McDowall and Hunter delivered a couple who felt like they were married. It’s hard enough pulling off a believable performance, but doing it under layers of rubber is a testament to the talent of the performer.

The ape council is well represented by Evans as Zaius, a skeptical orangutan who knows the truth but is afraid to admit it. James Whitmore and James Daly are also effective under all of that hair. Without saying a word, Linda Harrison shows emotional depth as Nova, Taylor’s human amour. Her reactions to Taylor’s little speeches are honest.

There’s also conviction in Franklin J. Schaffner’s direction. It would have been so easy to make a monkey out of the material (like the last three films in the series). Instead, Schaffner and the writers approach the material with total seriousness. There’s no wink-wink, nudge-nudge. They believe in the material, which translates into a wholly satisfying film.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 Widescreen

While most of the frame looks decent, the stock footage scenes and some of the daylight scenes look absolutely nasty. Lots of dirt and scratches here, which really show up in the digital transfer. The image overall is nice, with warm but not overly brilliant colors. Saturation is okay but not definitive. Flesh tones look good, and attention to detail (all of that fur flying around) is sharp, with good depth of field. Blacks are adequate, while whites tend to look dirty due to the wear and tear of the original master. I wish someone would have taken better care of this Sci-Fi gem.

HEARING: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) English & French Dolby Digital Surround

The remastered soundtrack is lightweight but effective. Not much in terms of stereo separation (remember, the original film was presented in mono). Dialogue mix is strong, while sound stages are underused most of the time. Rear speakers pump through some artificial music cues and the occasional sound cue, but surround effects are totally missing. Clarity is good, with no noticeable hiss or distortion. High ends are clean, while low and middle ranges get the job done without showing off.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes)Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing.

check.gif (406 bytes)Subtitles in Spanish.

COORDINATION: Clumsy

check.gif (406 bytes)While most of the fun stuff has been included on an optional disc, the extras included on this Disc are far from exemplary.

check.gif (406 bytes) There is a photo gallery that is short and to the point, with behind the scenes snapshots of the make-up and actors.

check.gif (406 bytes) The original theatrical trailers for all five films in the series, plus a special presentation for the DVD collection.

check.gif (406 bytes) An extremely weak “Cast” page that is nothing more than a listing.

check.gif (406 bytes) Web Link to the film’s Internet site.

check.gif (406 bytes) Colorful, well designed main and scene access menus utilizing images and music from the film.

PROGNOSIS: Fit

check.gif (406 bytes) “Planet of the Apes” is one of those films fans have been waiting a long time for on DVD. It’s arrival is welcome, I just wish the product had met expectations.

VITALS: $29.98/Rated G/112 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: PLANET OF THE APES

BIRTH DATE: 1968

HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



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