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Planet of the Apes
35th Anniversary Edition
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Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall. The classic and influential sci-fi tale about cultured apes and savage humans gets the royal treatment in this collector's edition with loads of bonus material. 2 DVDs. 1968/color/112 min/G.
Sci-fi fans will have plenty to go ape over with the 35th anniversary edition of Planet of the Apes. The film itself has been improved with an anamorphically enhanced picture and a new DTS audio track, and the second disc features the two-hour documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes (previously available separately or in the boxed set) and a variety of archive material, trailers, and art. The two audio commentaries, unfortunately, have some interesting moments but too many long gaps of silence. (Composer Jerry Goldsmith's track would have worked better as the complement to an isolated score.) Eric Greene's text commentary does provide a near-constant stream of details and trivia, but you're probably better off skipping all the commentaries and getting your info from the main documentary. --David Horiuchi
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The plot of PLANET OF THE APES is actually a subtle satirical socio-political allegory that addresses the hotbed of civil-rights and racial-equality issues of the late 1960s (and of today, to a lesser degree). On a broader level, the film's subtext also addresses the injustices of class stratification in modern Western society that tends to be drawn along religions, political, financial, and educational lines. Occasionally the film also touches on other disputatious socio-political issues, such as women's rights or the humane and ethical treatment of animals.
Heston plays George Taylor, an American astronaut who awakens from cryogenic sleep to discover that his spaceship has crash-landed on a world where gorillas, chimps, and orangutans have evolved into the planet's dominant intelligence. In this simian dystopia, orangutan's are the governing members, with ultimate authority over the direction of scientific advancement, the establishment of religious theology, AND the interrelation of the two; the chimpanzees are the scientists and engineers, but they are subjugated by the orangutans; and gorillas, at the bottom of the social ladder, are the soldiers and menial laborers. (The film's primary race-relations satire is obviously allegorized here: The orangutans are light-haired and light-skinned; the chimps are light-skinned but dark-haired; and the gorillas are dark-haired AND dark-skinned.) Much to his dismay, Taylor learns the hard way that apes have supremacy over homo sapiens--who themselves are little more than mute tree-dwelling brutes--and regard them as the most vulgar and reprehensible animals on the planet. Indeed, humans are hunted for sport and used in all manner of vile medical and scientific experiments.
In the late 1960s, some critics claimed that the plot structure for PLANET OF THE APES was really just an embellished rehash of an episode of TV's TWILIGHT ZONE in which astronauts from Earth are kept as exhibits in an alien zoo, and they supported this argument by pointing out that the script was co-written by the TV show's creator, Rod Serling. With the television episode, a situation is created that forces the audience consider the possibility that humans might not be the most advanced life-form in the universe. In PLANET OF THE APES, however, the entire animal kingdom is turned upside-down, with mankind now at the very bottom, so that via allegory and satire, the Western socio-political structure can be dissected and its faults "safely" exposed.
To help the audience suspend their disbelief and thereby give in to the fantasy of the film, stunning simian make-up was designed and engineered by John Chambers. Using a combination of latex appliances, custom wigs, and conventional make-up, Chambers was able to transform actors into convincing apes while still allowing them to maintain articulation with a good portion of their facial muscles. While make-up FX have come a long way since then, his work was innovative and groundbreaking, and many of today's make-up experts--including Rick Baker, who designed the fantastically realistic ape make-up for Tim Burton's 2001 "re-imagining" of PLANET OF THE APES--have said that Chambers' work in this film inspired them to pursue the art of make-up as a career. Chambers went on to win the Oscar for his efforts that year, only the second make-up person to do so, and it was chiefly his work on this film that lead the Academy to establish a permanent make-up category for the awards.
The 2-disc Anniversary DVD from Fox Home Entertainment will make any film lover go ape! It offers a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film from an excellently preserved print, as well as TONS of extras. One of those extras is the documentary BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES, which itself has been offered for sale at a standard DVD price BUT WITHOUT THE FILM included! Now you get both. The audio feature commentaries are a bit of a let down, as there are long gaps without any commentary at all. However, a text-based commentary by film historian Eric Greene is also included, and it can run simultaneously with one of the audio commentaries and thereby fill in the gaps.
All in all, PLANET OF THE APES is one of the best SF films of the latter 20th century, primarily because of the great acting, top-notch directing, excellent make-up, and an intelligent and socially relevant script. It still plays as well today as it did nearly four decades ago. And the 2-disc Anniversary DVD from Fox is reasonably priced and, with all the cool extras, provides hours of simian-based entertainment.
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