Thursday, November 13, 2014

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers:  Michael Wilson, Rod Sterling, Pierre Boulle
Cast:      Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved. The crew is supposed to have traveled at near light speed and due to time dilation they aged by only eighteen months whereas in Earth it is around 4000 AD. 

If you want to know about time dilation, general relativity and stuff like that, Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' is highly recommended. I got a vague handle about the concepts when I read it some time back but would like to read it again. The fact that Earth has aged by 2000 years is significant to the story because the big twist in it is that it is in-fact their planet Earth only where they landed, which Taylor (Charlton Heston) realizes only when he encounters the fallen piece of Statue of Liberty at the end. The stress on time dilation in itself is a big clue but you don't really need that to figure out where it is going because just a basic understanding of evolution itself is enough, which the protagonist Taylor doesn't seem to possess. They encounter humans first and then the master of the planet-English talking apes. If they were indeed on an earth-like but different planet, then it is very unlikely that the species evolved over there would be exactly like the ones on Earth. Lets just for a minute suspend our disbelief and suppose that it also followed the same evolutionary path, but then why the fuck should they evolve into speaking the same fucking language. So what I am saying is that if the viewer understands evolution and assumes that people behind the film also do, then from the get go itself you would realize that it is indeed planet Earth. Then the whole thing of that being a twist doesn't really work and only thing you have apart from that in the film is the mildly humorous take on Ape Bureaucracy and scientific thinking which is similar to the one Europe had during the Dark ages. That and Charlton Heston's Humphrey Bogartesque performance as the protagonist-Taylor.  

I had seen parts of the 2001 film with the same name and going by its wiki page the plot is much different to this one. It doesn't seem to rely on this big stupid twist but I don't know whether the protagonist realize it much after Ape starts talking in English. For the original Planet of Apes to work, it needs an audience that doesn't understand evolution like its protagonist Taylor. It might have got such an audience in the late 60s but still that is no excuse. Overall the film didn't work for me not just because of the twist (which I was aware of) but the satire part of it was not good enough to make it interesting.

Film was a big hit and drew praise for the prosthetic used for the apes. Coming as it was during America's Civil Rights Movement, some people also interpreted it as a metaphor for Blacks ruling over whites. 

Rating: 2/5