Review Of The PLANET OF THE APES Franchise (Original 5 Films)


Be seated! This ad hoc tribunal of the National Academy
is now in session. The president of the Academy presiding. You may proceed, Dr. Honorious. Learned judges, my case is simple. It is based on the notion that all sequels
are unnecessary. As evidenced by the movie franchise that we
have before us today. Hollywood makes sequel after sequel. They’re not sharing original sci-fi stories…
they’re only interested in the money. These sacred truths are self-evident. The proper number of sequels is zero. Despite poor reviews and diminishing ticket
sales, 20th Century Fox keeps advancing this insidious storyline in hopes of creating a
some kind of ‘franchise’! Come to the point, Dr Honorious. Movie Night charges that this franchise isn’t
worthy of a five-picture series, it shouldn’t have stopped at one. No one could possibly enjoy “Beneath The Planet
Of The Apes”. That’s a lie! Mind your tongue, madam. With the tribunal’s permission… allow me
to expose this hoax by direct examination. Proceed doctor, But do not turn this hearing
into a farce. Tell the court, Mr. “Heston” – why does our
culture keep welcoming shitty sequels? l know nothing of your culture. l… I admit that. Of course he doesn’t know why – he’s responsible
for it! Tell us, why do you consider the this franchise…
these “apes” to be equal? Some, apes it seems, are more equal than others. Ridiculous. Why did you do a sequel? Why does the science fail to make sense? Why does an entire ‘planet’ of apes only seem
to have a single village? Eh? Ahh… I rest my case, your honors. I’ve heard enough, I motion we get this episode
started already. A wise suggestion, Dr. Zaius. Very well. This tribunal will examine all the evidence
presented here, and in due course render its verdict. This hearing is adjourned. And this is Movie Night! Hi, I’m Jonathan Paula – and welcome to Movie
Night. Tonight I’ll be reviewing the original five
films in the “Planet Of The Apes” series – and of course, next week I’ll be reviewing Tim
Burton’s remake from 2001 in addition to the reboot trilogy. But we’ve got to start at the beginning, so
here’s my review of “Planet Of The Apes”. An monumental experience. Loosely based on the 1963 novel La Planète
des Singes by Pierre Boulle, this science-fiction action film was a smash success following
its April 3, 1968 release – grossing around six times its $5.8 million dollar budget. The G-rated production by director Franklin
J. Schaffner follows an astronaut crew who crash-land on a planet in the distant future
where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species… while mute humans are enslaved. Hollywood icon Charlton Heston brings his
larger-than-life persona to the lead role as a headstrong and resourceful commander
who finds himself stuck in one impossible and unbelievable situation after the next. Shot in the neck while being rounded up, his
ape-captors think he’s another dumb, silent human. But when his vocal chords heal at the conclusion
of a long chase he’s finally able to yell out, “Take your stinking paws off me, you
damned dirty ape!” – a triumphantly powerful moment that shocks the entire ape community
and remains one of the best lines in movie history. But this scene arrives well past the halfway
mark, as the apes aren’t even introduced until a half hour into the 112 minute film. The opening act – that has Heston and his
fellow ANSA astronauts fumbling through the desert searching for life – are interesting
and moody… but the film doesn’t truly ‘turn a corner’ until we finally see those scary
looking gorillas on horseback. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter portray sympathetic
chimp scientists who befriend the strange talking human, while Maurice Evans turns in
a fantastic performance as the despicable and uncompromising Dr. Zaius. The narrative themes touch upon the prevalence
of animal cruelty, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and science vs. religion; with
McDowall questioning, “How can scientific truth be heresy?”. Indeed, it’s hard to watch the ‘courtroom’
scene in this film and not be frustrated at the leadership’s stubborn refusal to listen
to reason or truth – a reality that sadly parallels today’s politics. But just when things get a bit too upsetting,
there’s an impossible-to-miss “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” sight gag! Which is nice. While the titular concept sure is a terrifying
one, the movie unfortunately feels more like “Village Of The Apes” – as only a single settlement
is shown. This is not say the scope of the film is unimpressive
however. Thanks to the involved stunt-work, award-winning
make-up, and giant set design – it’s obvious a lot of time, talent, and money were invested
in creating this imaginative environment. Earlier, we’re treated to some curious sound
effect choices – like a weird reverb on Charlton’s obnoxious laughter, or the screeching scream
heard when he discovers his female counterpart died in hypo-sleep. Visually however, the film makes terrific
use of the long Panavision frame – especially in wide group shots… even if there are lots
of distracting zooms, a technique popular in the 60s, but one that feels particularly
jarring today. Early work from Jerry Goldsmith mixes loud
woodwinds with rhythmic percussion for a very lively, somewhat jungle sound. The atonal score also netted “Planet Of The
Apes” one of its two Oscar nominations; the other for came Morton Haack’s memorable costume
design. And since it didn’t exist as a category yet,
John Chambers was instead given an honorary Academy Award for his groundbreaking ape prosthetics
and make-up. Compared to the rebooted trilogy of today,
the apes here mayn’t look very ‘realistic’ – but they never look fake either. The chimps, gorillas, and orangutans resemble
hairy humanoid-ape hybrids, allowing you to occasionally forget you’re just watching actors
in funny masks. It’s rather difficult to discuss this film
without mentioning its unforgettable final twist – a moment that has been parodied and
referenced countless times in the 50 years since this film’s release. So I’m just going to go ahead and spoil it
for the few who aren’t already familiar. Heston discovering the Statue Of Liberty half-submerged
in the sand might not make much sense geographically, or even metallurgically (why hasn’t the cooper
statue eroded yet?) – but it is an incredible final image with haunting implications; the
‘Planet Of The Apes’ is Earth. It is an absolutely stunning reveal, and one
that warns of man’s continued hubris, with Heston’s frustrated accusatory screams closing
out the film. The whole sequence feels like the ending of
a great “Twilight Zone” episode. After two-thousand years, Earth would undoubtedly
look slightly different, but even still, you’d think skilled astronauts would be able to
recognize their own planet. The stars, sun, gravity, atmosphere, and temperature
should have all been clues as to where they really landed. This minor character deficiency, coupled with
slow-pacing early on are my only real gripes. The success of this movie not only made an
indelible mark on its genre – it also inspired four direct sequels, a remake, a reboot trilogy,
a short-lived television show, an animated series, comic books, a video game, and one
hilarious fake musical in an episode of “The Simpsons”. Still remarkable and entertaining a half-century
later, “Planet Of The Apes” is a sci-fi milestone. Now let’s see what the Movie Night audience
had to say. Praising its story and final twist – we all
agreed, this is a truly AWESOME film. Next up tonight, the ill-advised, “Beneath
The Planet The Apes”. An embarrassing follow-up. The second picture in the original “Apes”
series was directed by Ted Post, and managed to quadruple its $5 million dollar budget,
despite being totally unnecessary. Following the unexpected reception of the
first film, this 95-minute sequel was quickly commissioned and released in May of 1970. But when your lead character has strong reservations
about returning, and you’ve already blown the biggest twist in movie history… where
do you even take the story next? Practically nowhere, as it turns out. The G-rated script follows James Franciscus
– the sole survivor of an interplanetary rescue mission who searches for the only survivor
of a previous expedition. But instead he discovers a planet of talking
apes and an underground city of telepathic humans who worship an atomic bomb. Realizing he’s on a planet dominated by intelligent
apes, he mutters to himself, “It’s a bloody nightmare.” Unfortunately, so is this film. Sadly, much of the first hour of “Beneath”
is just an accelerated retread of the first film; there’s a crash landing, our hero is
captured by apes, and then escapes with Zira’s help. It isn’t until Franciscus finds himself in
a familiar New York subway station that things get interesting. First off, we need to address Heston’s absence
– who only agreed to return on the condition that his scenes be shot within two weeks,
and his character be killed off. After appearing in a brief intro, he’s pushed
out of the way and replaced by James Franciscus – a guy who looks like Heston’s stunt double. The film even references their strikingly
similar appearance when Kim Hunter mistakenly refers to her new human friend by the old
one’s name. Awkward. His performance isn’t necessarily bad – but
without the charisma or presence of his taller counterpart, he just feels like a discount-brand
knock-off. At least Maurice Evans and Linda Harrison
were able to return, even if they don’t do anything we didn’t already see in part one. Disappointingly, Roddy McDowall had prior
commitments, and was unable to appear as Cornelius – making this only picture in the pentalogy
that he does not appear in. Unfortunately, this is another movie where
I really must spoil the ending to provide context to my commentary. As it turns out, Heston’s request to be killed
off also included a suggestion as to how, “Why don’t I just set off this bomb and destroy
the world. That’s the end of the sequels.” And so, “Beneath” finishes with one of the
ballsiest and bleakest endings in the history of science fiction. Charlton Heston explodes Earth. The screen fades to white, and a heretofore
unheard narrator describes that our ‘green and insignificant planet, is now dead”. Wow. The ending doesn’t redeem the film, but it’s
so definitive and ambitious, I actually kind of love it. Save for those final moments, this is a forgettable
and unoriginal experience. It’s honestly an accomplishment this movie
didn’t kill the franchise outright. Completionists will enjoy exploring more of
the titular world, but casual viewers would be best served to skip over it entirely. “Beneath The Planet Of The Apes” is a pointless
repackage of its superior predecessor – and a MEH… film. Third tonight, my review of “Escape From The
Planet Of The Apes”. Completely different, but really fun. This Don Taylor sci-fi film earned more than
$10 million more than its $2 million dollar budget after its release in May of 1971. The more socially-minded narrative follows
a trio of talking apes who travel back in time to 1970s Los Angeles and shock the world
with their intelligence and desire for equal rights. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter reprise their
roles as the warm-natured chimp couple who find themselves experiencing a reversal of
fortune of the original movie’s plot. The result is an easy-going and more satirical
story than the darker and serious films that came before. McDowall and Hunter are both fantastic in
the lead roles, balancing their scientific curiosity with cautious hesitation remarkably
well. They may be monkeys, but they end up being
the most human characters in the entire film. Remarking on the deceitful nature of man,
Hunter explains, “We’ve meet hundreds, I trust three.” Okay, rant time. Where the hell did the monkeys get a time
traveling spacecraft? In the first film – which takes place just
a year prior – the apes didn’t even understand the concept of fight… Heston threw a paper airplane across the room
and it blew their minds. But now they’re piloting a rocketship?! I get it, the writers (at Heston’s behest
– hey that rhymes!) painted themselves into a corner with that whole, “blow up the entire
planet” ending of the previous film… so going back in time prior to its destruction
was really the only place a sequel could have gone. And since time-travel was a major linchpin
of the original movie – it’s a reasonably fair plot-device here. But to suggest that some random, heretofore
unseen monkey was intellectually or physically capable of retrieving and restoring a spacecraft
from the bottom of a lake given what we know about their relatively simplistic culture
is utterly preposterous. Even more frustrating is that all of this
takes place off-camera! This opening-scene twist is the literal foundation
of the entire five-picture series – but it’s a completely unearned moment that insults
the intelligence of the audience. Once you get past the monumentally frustrating
twist however, the scene itself is actually pretty bitching way to open a film; apes in
spacesuits and some awesome music from Jerry Goldsmith. As for Sal Mineo, ‘new guy’ who’s responsible
for rebuilding the time ship? He’s killed off almost as soon as he’s introduced,
immediately reminding me of Marty McFly’s line at the beginning of “Back To The Future:
Part II”, “Then what the hell did you bring him for?” Elsewhere, Ricardo Montalban is featured in
a small but pivotal role as a kind circus owner who immediately befriends the talking
chimps. The 98 minute narrative delivers plenty of
classic sci-fi what-if scenarios; from the stranger-in-a-strange-land moments to first
contact procedures. The scene where talking apes testify in front
of a presidential inquiry instantly makes “Escape” more enjoyable than the first lousy
sequel. It’s also a scene that must have been particularly surreal
for Academy Award winning Hunter to play, being a former victim of Hollywood’s “House
Un-American Activities Committee” two decades prior. Later, the film pivots from playful wardrobe
montages to a dramatic fugitive story with knee-jerk speed. The shift in mood is an abrupt one. And why does the film take place on the west
coast? The first two movies are set in the distant
future version of New York, so it would have made sense to parallel that here, right? Instead – in what can likely only be attributed
to the filmmakers’ laziness, “Escape” takes place in present day directly outside 20th
Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. Thanks to lasting imagery this is easily the
second best feature in the five-picture series… but it’s also tonally inconsistent and built
on an unforgivable plot hole. Ultimately, “Escape From The Planet Of The
Apes” is a genuinely amusing and thought-provoking picture. It’s a GREAT film. Now, let’s discuss “Conquest Of The Planet
Of The Apes”. Thin, but compelling. Released in June of 1972, this science fiction
action film from director J. Lee Thompson is the fourth film in the continuing “Apes”
saga. Like each passing sequel in this series, the
PG-rated film had its budget slashed even further to only $1.7 million – but it still
managed an impressive $8 million in profit. In a futuristic world where humanity has embraced
ape-slavery following the extinction of all cats and dogs – Caesar, the talking ape child
of two time-traveling chimps, surfaces after twenty years of hiding to lead a revolt against
man. Roddy McDowall returns to the franchise in
his third picture to portray his own offspring, now stuck in a world dominated by humans who
are unaware of his true intelligence. I was glad to see Ricardo Montalbán return
as well, in a much larger role, now functioning as Caesar’s defacto father figure. He brings much needed compassion and heartfelt
sincerity to the film. Don Murray, Natalie Trundy, and Hari Rhodes
round out the primary cast a stern Governor, an ape love interest, and a sympathetic ally,
respectively. The first few minutes of dialogue is nothing
but clunky exposition reminding newcomers of what happened in the previous films. For what it’s worth though, thanks to “Escape’s”
ending – “Conquest” actually feels like a proper sequel; a film which builds off its
predecessor, rather than recreating it or spinning off somewhere else. And indeed, of the five films, the third picture
was the only one intended to have a follow-up. Although “Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes”
is set in 1991, you can tell it’s “the future” since all the police officers are dressed
like Grand Moff Tarkin and the PA system keeps warning about a “labor demonstration”. The entire universe feels decidedly Orwellian
– despite being rather clearly filmed at the University of California, Irvine campus in
the early 1970s. The narrative parallels to African-American
oppression is obvious, but no less meaningful, with McDowall gaining sympathy from Rhodes,
a black security guard by suggesting, “You, above everyone else, should understand.” It’s obvious Caesar is a born leader, capable
of leading a revolution – but “Conquest” does a generally poor job of illustrating how he
actually accomplishes this and convinces his fellow primates to rise up. There’s a scene where McDowall just begins
looking at other chimps – and somehow they understand how to disobey their human masters
and when… without any further explanation. The film desperately needed an extra scene
showing Caesar functioning as something of a teacher, instead of just giving orders. A scene where he cleverly selects his own
name out of a book clandestinely telegraphs his impending defiance. From then on though, the 88-minute picture
is really light on story developments – the last half hour is really just one big, seemingly
unchoreographed riot sequence. McDowall closes out the picture with a powerful
monologue where he triumphantly marks this violent uprising as the “birth of the planet
of the apes”; highlighting a real missed opportunity for the producers to name this picture accordingly. Despite this dragged out final act, and an
accelerated plot that relies too frequently on convenience, “Conquest Of The Planet Of
The Apes” is a worthy entry for the franchise with meaningful themes of racism and rebellion. I thought it was a GOOD movie. Finally, here’s my review of “Battle For The
Planet Of The Apes”. Out with a whimper. This $1.7 million dollar sci-fi action film
was led by returning director J. Lee Thompson, and released on June 15, 1973 – earning back
around $7 million at the box office. Don’t be mislead by “Battle’s” cool movie
poster though – the 93-minute film is never that exciting… and how can it be? It’s rated G. Ten years after the uprising
seen in “Conquest”, ape leader Caesar wants both species to live in peace, but militant
interests on both sides threaten the stability. When the “Apes” franchise began just six short
years earlier, no one could have guessed the timid little scientist with a British accent
would go on to be the figurehead of the entire franchise, and yet – that’s exactly the mantle
Roddy McDowall took up. He returns here for his fourth and final appearance
as the pragmatic Caesar. By this point, he’s got the monkey-mannerisms
locked in, but the real benefit of his continued presence is just having a familiar face to
root for, as mostly all other characters have been swapped out with analogs or replacements. Natalie Trundy and Severn Darden both reprise
their characters from “Conquest” – but they were tertiary players in that film, at best. While I appreciate seeing returning characters,
the timeline of this fifth movie just doesn’t make sense to allow it . It purports that
all apes gained the intellectual capacity for speech and reason in a single generation;
which runs in direct contradiction to the “centuries of evolution” explanation that
was provided in the third film. In the original, Charlton Heston accidentally
found himself 2,000 years in the future, when it seems he could have just traveled to 2012
and achieved the same result. Notable newcomers to the cast include Paul
Williams as a wise orangutan teacher who answers a riddle by stating, “All knowledge is for
good. Only the use to which you put it can be good
or evil.” – and cinema legend John Huston as the mythical Lawgiver ape, who bookends
the movie by sharing its events in a flashback story. Hampered yet again by budget limitations,
the titular events play out on a decidedly small scale in the nondescript setting of
Malibu State Park. And what was once Academy Award winning make-up
now look like stiff rubber masks. Seeing the early beginnings of ape society
– and the ending of man’s – is reasonably interesting – but it’s a curiosity that wears
off quickly. When my father first showed me the “Planet
Of The Apes” films as a kid, we stopped at “Escape”. I don’t know why, but I just never bothered
to watch the final two installments until a couple weeks ago when I began preparing
for these reviews. And while neither “Conquest”, nor “Battle”
are bad films – they’re largely forgettable and uninteresting. They exist only to fill in the story we’re
already familiar with. We know what will happen, and even how it
will happen; this is merely an exercise in completion; and to fulfill the series’ desire
to come full circle with its dystopian roots. And while these two films are not without
purpose, the story in each is thin enough that combining them into one movie probably
would have been best. I imagine when you create five movies in six
years, you begin to get a little punch drunk. Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment
of the sequels is convincing audiences to root against their own self-interest; namely
mankind itself. In the first film, we wanted humans to overthrow
the apes, and now we’re cheering on the apes to defeat the humans. Enjoyable for fans of the franchise – “Battle
For The Planet Of The Apes” isn’t interesting or necessary enough to really recommend otherwise. I thought it was ALRIGHT. That does it for part one of my “Planet Of
The Apes” reviews, but stay tuned next week to hear my thoughts on the Tim Burton remake
and the new reboot trilogy. In the meantime, click or tap here to watch
my reviews of Harrison Ford movies, click or tap here to watch my episode on the Rocky
franchise, or click the Jogwheel icon to subscribe, and be notified of new uploads when they’re
released. Once again, my name is Jonathan Paula, thanks
for watching and have a good Movie Night!

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