Movie Mania #9…Planet of the Apes (1968)
“Man has no understanding! He can be taught a few simple tricks, nothing more!” Hello and welcome back to “Movie Mania” exclusive to the awesome Pop Culture Network. Today I am going to be taking a look at the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes. I am a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise and I have a lot of “behind the scenes” knowledge of the films. So keep reading to learn more about the film that changed the sci-fi genre forever.
Read the rest of Movie Mania #9…Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes was released by 20th Century Fox on February 8, 1968. The film had been pitched to a lot of movie studios but 20th Century Fox was the only one to agree to make the movie, sound familiar Star Wars fans? The screenplay is based off of Pierre Boulle’s La Planete des singes which is a French novel that was released in 1963. Arthur P. Jacobs, a rising name in Hollywood at the time, had the foresight to purchase the motion picture rights to Boulle’s novel immediately after the novel was released. Jacobs believed that it had great potential to be a motion picture. Boulle actually disagreed with Jacobs and considered La Planete des singes to be one of his lesser works.
With the rights purchased, Jacobs set out to make the movie. One thing that studio executives, like Richard D. Zanuck, insisted upon was a test shooting to make sure that the apes would not be met with laughter instead of seriousness. Luckily, the test proved to be effective and the film was given the “green light”. The film utilizes amazing prosthetic makeup created by John Chambers. Chambers was a World War II veteran that had done extensive work in making prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans. This made him an expert in prosthetics, something Planet of the Apes needed to be visually successful. With Chambers on board, the process of creating apes for the film began.
The makeup process was so intense that it would, at first, take up to six hours to transform one actor into an ape. This process was brought down to a rough three hours as Chambers began to master the art of making apes and taught it to other workers. The “appliances” as they were called were very detailed but also somewhat delicate and the actors needed to be careful not to damage them during lunch and other breaks in filming. There is actually a very interesting story associated with lunchtime during the filming of Planet of the Apes. During lunch, the chimpanzees ate with the other chimpanzees, the gorillas ate with the other gorillas and the orangutans ate with the other orangutans. This was a natural instinct that the actors displayed and it carried over even beyond lunch. Kim Hunter, who played the chimpanzee Zira, said in an interview once, “I knew Maurice [Evans] very well but I hardly spoke to him during filming. He was an orangutan…” This is a very interesting occurrence and it goes along with some of the subtle issues addressed in the film. It seems that the actors liked to stick with their own kind.
The actors also had to make exaggerated gestures under the appliances in order for the gestures to appear normally through the makeup. It was certainly not easy being an actor for Planet of the Apes but it certainly paid off.
Pierre Boulle’s novel, and Rod Serling’s (most known for his Twilight Zone series) first screenplay, had the apes living in a futuristic society. This society had massive futuristic cities and technologically advanced vehicles. This proved to be a production impossibility given the film’s budget and as a solution the apes were taken out of a futuristic society and placed in a more primitive one. The apes still kept their ability to: perform high level medical procedures, form a civilized society and use weaponry, it was just toned down to a “horse and wagon” type world for production purposes. I think that this was a blessing in disguise for the film as I feel that the apes look better in a primitive setting rather than a futuristic one.
With a new screenplay composed by Serling and Michael Wilson and everything else in place, Planet of the Apes was on the brink of making motion picture history. The famous, and powerful, Charlton Heston was chosen as the film’s protagonist, astronaut George Taylor. Having a famous star in a film almost always helps, especially with publicity, and Planet of the Apes capitalized on all of the benefits Charlton Heston provided.
The premise of the film revolves around the story of astronaut George Taylor who, along with his small crew, crashes on a strange planet. Taylor and his crew soon discover that they are on a planet ruled by talking apes. The apes not only talk, but they have a strict societal order and even a religion. In ape society: the gorillas make up the ape military, the chimpanzees are the scientists and intellects, and the orangutans are the politicians and religious figures. They hunt humans, mostly for sport, and treat humans as inferior savage animals. All of the humans, aside from Taylor and his crew, are unable to talk and are very much a resemblance of Neanderthals. Once the apes discover that Taylor is not like the other humans and that he can talk they become threatened by his existence and seek to “silence the animal”. Taylor manages to win over two chimpanzee scientists, Zira and Cornelius, who help him escape. When Dr. Zaius, an orangutan and the film’s main antagonist, catches up to the escaped Taylor he confronts him and the two engage in a heated argument over which species came first, humans or apes. Taylor manages to secure a deal with Dr. Zaius that allows him to roam the Forbidden Zone, with his female companion Nova, in search of answers as to how the “upside down civilization” he has come across came to be. Dr. Zaius warns Taylor that he might not like what he finds, and the final scene of the film proves Dr. Zaius right.
Planet of the Apes was a box office success. It appealed to both children and adults and even received positive reviews from critics. John Chambers received a special Academy Award for his work on the ape makeup and the film quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. Although the special effects and makeup are very much dated, especially by today’s standards, you can understand that they were groundbreaking for the time. The fact that we still love and watch this film is perhaps the greatest testament to the astonishing accomplishments made by the entire crew of Planet of the Apes. The film is also remarkable for its subtle, yet effective, use of cultural issues like race relations and class structure. Addressing such issues while still being a science fiction masterpiece was quite an accomplishment that set the tone for many sequels that would ultimately become the Planet of the Apes franchise. During the original development and filming of Planet of the Apes there was no thought of a sequel but the studio desperately wanted one after the global success of the first film. That sequel would become Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which I will take a look at next week.
Cast of Characters
Charlton Heston-George Taylor
James Whitmore-President of the Assembly
That will do it for this “Movie Mania” article. Please feel free to email me at Nick@PopCultureNetwork.com with any questions or comments. Also be sure to check out our forums at www.jointheforums.com and our store at www.shoppcn.com. Thanks for reading.
I’ll catch you guys next time!