Filmsite Movie Review
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)

Planet of the Apes (1968) is a classic, thought-provoking and engrossing science fiction film that was the loosely-adapted film version of Pierre Boule's 1963 science-fiction novel La Planète Des Singes (Monkey Planet). The script of director Franklin Schaffner's exciting, engaging, and action-packed time-travel adventure film was developed by The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling and ex-blacklisted Michael Wilson.

[Note: "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air," the 15th episode of Season One of Rod Serling's popular TV show The Twilight Zone that first aired on January 15, 1960, had a similar storyline - with a twist ending. The episode involved a crew of astronauts who crash-landed on an unknown asteroid, and then ultimately discovered that they were back on Earth near Reno, Nevada.]

It was the first in a popular, clever, mostly successful and serious five-film series of classic simian films about apes that had evolved into an intelligent society. There was this original film and four sequels:

Years later, director Tim Burton's remake Planet of the Apes (2001) was a remake of the series. A further rebooted film series followed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), and Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024).

The colorful Panavision film provided solid entertainment value, created momentum for science-fiction cinema, and had an effective, politically-charged message of social commentary. Its advanced make-up techniques reversed the social positions of intelligent humans and brutal apes to slyly criticize and satirize racial and class stereotypes. It also examined the effects of technology upon humankind. This Vietnam War, Cold War and Civil Rights era film made many subtle points about race, animal rights, the establishment, class, xenophobia and discrimination.

It was one of the early pioneers of modern multimedia marketing blockbusters, spawning many sequels and versions and two television series spinoffs, and tie-ins to merchandising, such as action figures, toys, collectibles, story/picture books, a record soundtrack, comic book adaptations, hardcover and paperback books (of the source novel), Topps bubble-gum trading cards, and more. These achievements foreshadowed later merchandising for Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones series.

There were numerous taglines on posters and other advertising:

  • Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man. In a matter of time, an astronaut will wing through the centuries and find the answer. He may find the most terrifying one of all on the planet where apes are the rulers and man the beast.
  • Man...hunted...caged..forced to mate by civilized apes.

Some of the poster art was descriptive of the main characters:

This is Commander Taylor, Astronaut. He landed in a world where Apes are the civilized rulers and man the beast. This is Marcus, head of security police. His Specialty: violence and torture. This is Dr. Zira. Leading Psychologist. Seeker of Truth. Her experiments on men have led her to a secret about the human animal. This is Dr. Zaius. Brilliant scientist. Only he has the power to save or destroy the animal called man.

The main plot was about four NASA astronauts, including Colonel 'George' Taylor (Charlton Heston), who traveled for centuries in cyrogenic suspension. After crash-landing on a strange Earth-like planet, they found themselves stranded in a strange and remote place ruled by English-speaking intelligent simians who lived in a multi-layered civilization. The apes dominated society, and humans (who possessed few rights) had been reduced to subservient mute slaves and were even hunted as animals by security police, or used for mating.

The G-rated 112-minute sci-fi adventure film became well-known for its iconic, chilling, and startling twist-ending that was inexplicably and explicitly revealed on video/DVD box covers and its cover art. The ending depicted a post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear futuristic planet (Earth) - revealed in the film's startling conclusion by a half-submerged Statue of Liberty.

The production budget of $5.8 million was quickly surpassed by box-office gross receipts of $32.6 million (domestic). It received two Academy Awards Oscar nominations (with no wins): Best Costume Design (Morton Haack), and Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith), and an Honorary Award was presented to John Chambers for "outstanding makeup achievement." A category for Best Makeup was not established until 1981.

Plot Synopsis

In the pre-credits sequence, after a six-month space flight from Cape Kennedy, lead astronaut Col. (George) Taylor (Charlton Heston) completed his final log report as a fully-automated touchdown-landing sequence was initiated. According to Dr. Hasslein's time theory, their Ship Time was July 14, 1972, but Earth's Time was March 23-27, 2673 - due to their vessel accelerating nearly at the speed of light. In six months, Earth had aged almost 700 years since they had left, but they hadn't aged hardly at all, due to Hasslein's theory about a twist in space that propelled them forward.

The misanthropic Taylor mused about how he had left Earth in early 1972 because he hated humanity. He wondered if humans on Earth were still engaged in warfare, or enabling starvation of their neighbor's children:

(voice-over and in-person) And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We're now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep, and I'll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we will finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space. By our time, that is. According to Dr. Hasslein's theory of time in a vehicle traveling nearly the speed of light, the Earth has aged nearly 700 years since we left it, while we've aged hardly at all. Maybe so.

[Note: By the time their journey ended another 12 months later, a total of 18 months in space, over two thousand years had passed on Earth. See below.]

This much is probably true. The men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed. I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets, but one more thing - if anybody's listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It's purely personal, but seen from out here, everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man's ego. I feel lonely. That's about it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who has sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbor's children starving?

At the end of the transmission, Taylor injected his left forearm with a hypodermic needle, to join his fellow crew members in deep sleep, nearby in glass caskets or capsules. Cryogenic sleep (or suspended animation) would be the second 12-month leg of the long journey with the ship on auto-pilot. He strapped himself in with a safety belt inside the 4th empty chamber. There were three other astronauts already in deep sleep hibernation:

  • John Landon (Robert Gunner)
  • Dodge (Jeff Burton), a black man
  • Lt. Stewart (uncredited Dianne Stanley), a blonde female

A lap dissolve transition introduced the title credits.

Afterwards, the spacecraft rapidly descended and crash-landed in a large bluish-green lake amidst towering, desolate sandstone rock formations and sandy buttes. [Note: The sequence was filmed at Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.] As the camera pulled back, a red light in the cabin flashed. The three bearded male astronauts awakened in their hibernation bunks with domes that automatically opened - and shockingly discovered that Stewart (a wizened, hairy skeletal figure with dried flesh) had perished due to a crack in her individual capsule that caused an air leak.

The cabin began to leak water that sprayed the astronauts - the spacecraft was rapidly sinking. Landon was commanded to send out a signal to Earth that they had landed. They determined that the outside atmosphere and air was OK to breathe. They blew open the escape hatch, abandoned ship, and tossed out an inflatable yellow raft with various survival kits and cases of equipment. Before leaving the craft (the last of the three), Taylor noticed the time controls -- it was now Earth Time November 25, 3978 - 2,006 years later. As they rowed to the barren land, the spacecraft sank and vanished beneath the stagnant salt water. Taylor noted: "We're here to stay." He hypothesized that they were about 320 light-years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion. Dodge looked up at the bright sun and mused: "That could be Bellatrix." Landon disagreed ("It's too white for Bellatrix"), and then added: "The question is not so much where we are as when we are."

After landing the raft, Dodge ran some soil tests with his sensor equipment and Geiger counter. They had only a few items salvaged from the crash: one pistol, 20 rounds ammo, a medical kit, a camera, TX-9, and enough food and water for three days. Landon surmised that they had been away from Earth for about 18 months. However, according to Hasslein's theory, they were 2,031 years old, and had been away from Earth for about 2,000 years ("give or take a decade"). Taylor then emphatically theorized about the stark reality of their situation:

"Time's wiped out everything you ever knew. It's all dust....It's a fact, Landon. Buy it. You'll sleep better."

After running tests, Dodge determined that "nothing will grow here...there's just a trace of carbohydrates. All the nitrogen is locked into the nitrates," but there was no dangerous ionization. The odds were against them, as Taylor warned: "If there's no life here, we've got just seventy-two hours to find it. That's when the groceries run out." Before leaving, Landon planted a small American flag into the rocky soil, as Taylor wildly guffawed at the sight.

In the arid heat, the three stranded astronauts hiked through the jagged rock formations of the desert. They ran and slid down a steep dune of dust and crumbling rock. While crossing a flat plateau, there was thunder and flashing bolts of dry lightning, with no rain. The three fled from gigantic dislodged boulders that rolled down into their path.

Dodge was confused by the weather conditions, including cloud cover at night, and a strange luminosity, but the planet had no moon. Taylor reminded them of their location, his disgust for Earth's humanity and its meaninglessness, and his existence in the here and now:

"You're 300 light-years from your precious planet. Your loved ones are dead and forgotten for 20 centuries....Even if you could get back, they'd think you were something that fell out of a tree....There is just one reality left. We are here and it is now. You get ahold of that and hang onto it, or you might as well be dead."

Landon was disconsolate: "I'm prepared to die," but Taylor remained unsentimental: "Chalk up another victory for the human spirit!" As they walked along, Taylor mocked Landon for accepting the space mission-assignment: to be an All-American hero, to receive accolades, and to achieve immortality, and then he turned meanly sarcastic:

"There's a life-size bronze statue of you standing out there somewhere. It's probably turned green by now, and nobody can read the name plate. But never let it be said that we forget our heroes."

Later, he told Landon about the reason for accepting the mission and forsaking Earth altogether - his optimism about a better world elsewhere: "...I'm not prepared to die....I'm a seeker, too, but my dreams aren't like yours. I can't help thinking somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be."

As if Taylor's wish came true, Dodge located a single, scraggly, flowering desert plant, indicating: "Life." Dodge was exuberant: "Where there's one, there's another. And another. And another." They soon discovered more signs of life. Other unidentified 'creatures' or figures were observed from a far distance scrambling over the tops of some of the rock formations.

When the astronauts entered a more lush area of tamarisk, they were startled by a long row of strange humanoid-'scarecrows' perched on the edge of clifftops above them. The distant set of five wooden crosses seemed to establish a boundary line or serve as a warning. They climbed up to more closely inspect the 'scarecrows' - animal or vegetable matter (unrecognizable animal pelts) appeared to be tied to each cross (or maybe they were decomposed human corpses?).

Indeed, they discovered that the 'scarecrows' had been built to guard an oasis. They heard the sound of rushing waterfalls as they came upon a lush oasis, with a large pool of fresh water. Ignoring the structures, they raced toward the inviting sight - and decided to strip down and go skinny-dipping. At the far end of the pool, Landon discovered fresh muddy human-like footprints in the wet sand, but then, as they looked back, they saw their piles of clothes and equipment being taken by grasping hands.

Left naked, they pursued the culprits through the thick brush and found their strewn-about supplies damaged and their clothes ripped. They followed more closely after putting on in a few of the salvaged clothes items, and came upon a large group of primitive, bi-ped human-like creatures (male, female, and children) wearing animal skins and loin-cloths. The feral primitives were stripping a fruit tree and gathering food from a cultivated cornfield. Taylor was thankful that they seemed harmless: "Well, at least they haven't tried to bite us." Dodge added: "Blessed are the vegetarians." Taylor surmised that the humanoids, who were munching on raw maize cobs, were also mute. One of the long, black-haired female primitives caught Taylor's eye. Landon was worried: "We got off at the wrong stop." Taylor was more optimistic, predicting that they would soon rule the meek and frightened people:

"If this is the best they've got around here, in six months we'll be running this planet."

Suddenly when the primitives sensed danger and froze in place, there was a ferocious roar from the nearby woods. The creatures responded instinctively and hurriedly fled through the cultivated field - and the astronauts followed. The innocent human-like creatures charged through the cornfield, but then changed direction - long sticks were seen above the tall plants, beating down the corn to flush out any of the primitives who were cowering and hiding. The attackers became visible - viewed approaching on horseback. A volley of rifle shots was indiscriminately aimed at the creatures, as they ducked and cowered.

Next Page