I have an embarrassing confession to make: I never watched “Planet of the Apes” before now.
I love good science fiction and I have known about the franchise since forever, but I always missed out on it. Since I started this project, I knew it would come up eventually so I have had it standing unopened on the shelf for the past… uh, five years or so.
Now is finally the time and I have watched the famous “Planet of the Apes”. And, yeah, it was good, but…
Okay, let me start with the good stuff. Production value is very high, and it is great to finally enter the period where Hollywood began to pour money into science fiction rather than making them on a shoestring budget. This production bears all the marks of big Hollywood: Beautiful cinematography, neat special effects, the elaborate and not too artificially looking set design and not least the ape costumes. The set designs deserve some special attention. In the sixties there was a tendency to make cheap, artificial looking TV sets. Take the villains lair of the typical James Bond movie of the era. Here, on “Planet of the Apes”, they went out of their way to make the ape community look real. There is still a little way to go, but they are thinking it right, creating a combination of the familiar and the alien in culture, artifacts and dwellings.
I also like when science fiction goes with an idea and explores it without merely using the genre as an excuse for extravagant action. Here of course it is the inversion of the human-animal relationship that lets us study ourselves from the outside. The apes are adapting many human traits including those they despise in humans. Something that is directly applicable to many, if not most revolutionary governments. You become the very thing you fought. Then of course we have Taylor (Charlton Heston), the sole surviving astronaut, who is our eyes dumping into this world, bring along our sentiments. It is an exciting soup and generally they made it work.
The “but” comes from a very important concept in science fiction, that of internal consistency. For us to fully believe in the story there must be a consist logic that may be different from the real world, but must obey its own laws and here is my problem. The most glaring is that of language. The apes speak English, and not just for the viewers, like Russians speaking English in “Chernobyl”, but Taylor understands them, and they understand Taylor. He does not have to learn their language. And not just that, they also write using the same letters and language. Now, given that the (SPOILER!) ape civilization sprung up on the back of human civilization on Earth, it can be explained, but would Taylor not notice this right away? Would he not find it peculiar that on this strange planet people spoke and wrote English? And how did evolution create a complete copy of humans there? While we are at it, would not animal-like humans go around naked? These humans are described as something akin to monkeys in our world and they would never try to cover themselves. Even “modern” primitive human tribes in remote area hardly cover themselves and usually not the breast. Not that I am requesting a nudity show here, but would astronaut Taylor not find it a bit peculiar? And how can the apes see “animals” that dress themselves as bestial?
These inconsistencies are annoying because the rest is as good as it is. I even like Charlton Heston in this role where his natural arrogance helps it along and the ending of course is spectacular. I think everybody knows how it ends, so I had that twist ruined, but then you could say that there were so many hints that really Taylor should have figured out early on that he was on Earth.
I do recommend “Planet of the Apes”, it is a milestone movie, and I honestly do not know how those 112 minutes passed so fast.