In the same way that the re-make of Godzilla was unfavourably compared to the early Toho classics, so Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes had to withstand comparison to Schaffner’s mould-breaking interpretation of Pierre Boulle’s novel. In all, there were five movies in the Planet of the Apes series (this was followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes) and the original is now recognised as one of the finest science fiction movies ever made. At the time, it only received one Academy Award, for best make-up, but along with 2001 it revitalised a moribund genre.
Charlton Heston (who cameoed in Burton’s film) stars as astronaut George Taylor, a cynical man who’s on a space mission with three fellow travellers. Landing on an alien planet 2000 years into the future, the three survivors discover a world where everything is topsy-turvy. Uniformed gorillas who speak English rule the planet, with humans merely a mutant species, pored over by the scientific ape culture, who abhor the gorilla regime but are subservient to it. Taylor’s life is initially spared because he’s lost the power of speech and his captors are amazed to discover that the human has signs of intelligent life.
Aided by Dr Zira (Kim Hunter) and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Taylor is soon able to communicate with the apes. Dr Zaius, the head of the state, doesn’t like what he’s hearing, however, and orders the prisoner to be lobotomised. The rebellious Zira and Cornelius help Taylor and his ‘mate’ Nova (Linda Harrison) escape to the so-called Forbidden Zone, a vast area where archaeologist Cornelius previously found human artefacts. Pursued by Dr Zaius and guerrilla soldiers, Taylor is about to find out the unpalatable truth about the planet of the apes in one of the most memorable movie endings of all time.
Julius, Dr. Zira’s nephew, critiques human behavior:
Julius: You know the saying, “Human see, human do.”
Taylor explains his decision to become an astronaut:
Taylor: Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women. Lots of love-making but no love. You see, that was the kind of world we’d made. So I left, because there was no one to hold me there.
The cross-species chemistry between Taylor and the chimpanzee doctor heats up:
Taylor: Doctor, I’d like to kiss you goodbye.
Dr. Zira: All right, but you’re so damned ugly.
In the apes’ religion, man is not cast in favorable light:
Cornelius (reading from the apes’ sacred scrolls): Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death.
These are Taylor’s first words to his ape captors:
Taylor: Get your stinking paws off me, you damned, dirty ape!
Taylor tries to wrap his mind around the new reality:
Taylor: A planet where apes evolved from men?
The infamous finale in which Taylor sees the Statue of Liberty and realizes he’s on earth:
Taylor: You maniacs! You blew it up. God damn you! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!
The evidence mounts that, indeed, humans were once the superior race:
Taylor: Doctor, would an ape make a human doll that talks?
Dr. Zaius belittles the human race:
Dr. Zaius: Dr. Zira, I must caution you. Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I’m all in favor of it. But your behavior studies are another matter. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of simian survival.
Ouch! And this coming from an orangutan:
Dr. Zaius: You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.
USA / 1968
Director: Franklin J Schaffner
Writers: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling, based on Pierre Boulle’s novel
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison