“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter star in director Franklin J. Schaffner‘s 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes, adapted by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) and Michael Wilson from Pierre Boule’s novel La Planète des Singes. Planet of the Apes had a huge social and cultural impact upon its release and in the decades following, winning an Academy Award (for John Chambers‘ groundbreaking, convincing simian prosthetic work) and spawning several sequels, two television series, and even a franchise reboot. Though the camp factor is totally undeniable, the film manages to hold sway by virtue of a compelling story that’s self-aware enough to be as funny as it is dramatic, its thought-provoking questions about humanity, modern society, and culture as relevant in 2016 as ever.
In one of his best-known performances, Charlton Heston is George Taylor, one of several astronauts on a long, long space mission whose spaceship crash-lands on a remote planet that seems to be devoid of intelligent life. Taylor soon learns that he is not alone, and that the planet is ruled by a highly intelligent race of talking, thinking, reasoning apes who hold court over a multilayered, civilization as politically complex as the one he came from. Adding to the overall strangeness of the alien planet is that it is the human beings who are the grunting, inarticulate primates that live their lives confined to cages. When ape leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) discovers that the captive Taylor has the power of speech, he reacts in horror and insists that the astronaut be killed while sympathetic ape scientists Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) and Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) risk their lives to protect him.
Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968 / 112 mins / G) | Complex sociological themes run through this science-fiction classic about three astronauts marooned on a futuristic planet where apes rule and humans are imprisoned in pens. The stunned trio soon discover that these highly intellectual simians can not only walk upright and talk, but that they even have an established, complex class system and political structure as defined as the one on Earth. Things go even more awry when one of the ape leaders learn that these “foreign humans” are intelligent, and therefor a threat.