The Gap at Banana Republic
My review for Halloween this year is the science fiction classic “Planet of the Apes.” There’s no ghouls, monsters, witches, or immortal serial killers, but most of the cast are in costumes so I think it’s quite fitting. But if you’re looking for a horror angle, there’s its “Twilight Zone” scenario: a world where humans are inferior to apes.
Charleston Heston plays George Taylor, one of the three astronauts who are marooned in a futuristic planet. After searching for some life form in a desert-like surrounding, the men encounter a tribe of homo sapiens. These astronauts, intellectual beings they are, take note of the humans’ primitive fashion and their inability to speak. Things begin to get interesting however, when a group of gorillas in horsebacks, arrives at the scene and hunts the humans for sport. The astronauts split up but the film stays on George, who unfortunately gets captured and is jailed among the primitive humans. To his amazement, he discovers his simian captors walk upright and speak English. Why, they’re almost like humans. And the humans? Well, the apes treat them like animals. Weird. What accounts for this puzzling role reversal and gap among the species?
I wasn’t really planning on watching this. I had already seen Tim Burton’s “re-imagined” 2001 version. But the 1968 film is such a well-known and intriguing sci-fi that my inner Curious George couldn’t resist. And I discovered that the older film was more eager to be thought-provoking, even though Burton’s film had better production values. I think the 1968 version is genius in the way it skewers our perspective. Automatically, our sympathies lie with the human protagonist and go against the apes. But the man is in the “animal” role and the apes really represent humans. So, in a sly way, the movie makes us side with animals and make us examine the cruelty of a man. I call this the “take a good look at your bad self” movie. Granted, the lessons imparted are old-school stuff. These are for the 1960s generation to learn. We, the world community of the new century, already know better, right? And yet, the movie’s issues such as animal cruelty, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the rejection of evolution are still relevant today. Now, I understand why the film can be called a classic.
And yet, despite its brainy concept and significant message, the movie looks laughable and campy. The actors are obviously in ape costumes and on top of that, they don’t even act like apes. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but adds a dimension of oddity to the whole experience. And it’s probably what makes the film entertaining in its own strange way. I also love the protagonist George Taylor in full-on hero mode, just because he’s Charleston Heston. The guy is always thinks he’s right and smarter than anybody, which is oddly the superiority complex the film tries to discourage. I love the out-of-this-world absurdity of it all. But hey, cheesy or not, “Planet of the Apes” remains one of the most fascinating social satires I’ve ever seen. It encourages us to be responsible humans and not go ape at each other.
Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Lou Wagner, Woodrow Parfrey, Jeff Burton, and Burt Kartalian
Based on the novel
La Planète Des Singes by
Franklin J. Schaffner