Take a Drink: whenever Charlton Heston says something cynical
Take a Drink: for each new species discovered
Take a Drink: every time an ape denigrates a human or treats one like an animal
Take a Drink: every time Heston has to get physical
Do a Shot: “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Since I live in Russia, I have two options for watching new releases. Go to the theater and listen to some hilariously mismatched doofus overdub the dialogue in Russian, or wait until a film hits DVD several months down the line.
Or watch some kid have a seizure with his smartphone, I guess.
Perhaps my most anticipated film of the summer was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and with it hitting DVD in a few weeks, I figured there was no time like the present to marathon the original series, which I’ve only seen bits and pieces of. It all kicks off when three astronauts led by Colonel Taylor (Charlton Heston) crash on a mysterious planet. They discover primitive humanoids soon after, and then the true rulers of the planet… Apes!
I was obviously familiar with the famous ape makeup and bigger moments of the film (“You damn dirty ape!”, the ending, etc) which led me to believe this would be a fun but schlocky sci-fi romp. So, I was not prepared for how inventive, boundary pushing, and just damn good-looking Planet of the Apes would be.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner oversees a beautiful film, from its shining production design to its intriguing cinematography from DP Leon Shamroy, full of Panavision vistas of its American Southwest location, shot so wide as to be almost fisheye at times, accentuating the alien nature of this stark landscape. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a discordant, sometimes almost frantic, and always intriguingly deployed score that must have freaked any 1968 moviegoers who made the mistake of watching this high right the fuck out.
Better than any DARE PSA
Oberst mentioned in his excellent rundown of the sequels that the original feels like an extended extra-special episode of The Twilight Zone, complete with Rod Sterling’s own sharp, epic dialogue, and he’s hit the nail on the head. The zeitgeisty, pacifist, anti-nuclear message and Hollywood-friendly vegetarian, anti-animal testing overtones aren’t all that original, but the flipped on its head, role-reversal allegory has that Sterling cleverness all over it.
Charlton Heston proves to be just about the ideal deliverer of this style of dialogue, really selling lines that would come off as fatally cheesy from most other actors’ lips. He’s proud, cynical, both towards the Earth he left behind and this new oppressive society he finds himself in, but secretly hopeful, and driven to survive. He also imbues his role with incredibly subtle tics, the way he bares his teeth unconsciously, his posture when entrapped…
On the ape side, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans are the standouts. You never question their characters or think of them as people in masks, which is quite the accomplishment really. Evans in particular brings a nice mix of gravitas and menace to his orangutan theologian. And of course, the ending is one of the great ones, powerful even if you know what’s coming (and you probably do).
“Taylor, I am your Uncle!”
I know this won an Oscar for makeup, but it took two more sequels for the actors to make it look like they are actually talking and not just chewing on the rubber insides of their masks. Even as iffy as that and some of the overdubs and matte paintings look, though, you have to give them a bit of a pass. A little less excusable is the often awkward tell, don’t show exposition, although the series would get much worse in that respect…
Planet of the Apes shows up on every Best Sci Fi films list for a reason- it perfectly showcases the genre’s potential both as social commentary and imaginative headtrip.