I can remember being in grade school and flipping through television channels (maybe all 10 of them – we didn’t get cable) on a Saturday afternoon and inevitably it seemed that Planet of the Apes or one of its many sequels was on. I remember being a little freaked out by the look of the ape costumes. There was something not quite right about the human eyes, the quasi-real looking mask, and the barely moving lips that got to me. The strange thing is that I can recall only two scenes of the movie. One is Charlton Heston running half naked through the primitive ape village as those disturbing ape costumed people either scattered or attempted to capture Heston with nets. The other scene is when Heston is having a long dialogue with the apes. Wait, that covers about two-thirds of the movie. And there in lies why I never saw more than ten minutes of the sci-fi monkey classic when I was younger.
Fast forward to 2011 and I’m more patient with watching films. Since I really enjoyed this year’s ape movie, I wanted to give the original a full viewing. I ended up watching it with my ten year old son and six year old daughter. I was sure they wouldn’t make it more than thirty minutes. To my shock, they made it all the way to the end, though it tested their patience along the way.
I enjoyed Planet of the Apes overall. I’ve always liked the idea of the story. The overall execution was well done, campiness and all. The ape costumes were still a bit terrifying with the mouths barely moving when talking but that’s also part of the fun. What was less than fun was when the film tries desperately to hit you over the head with its themes, using heavy handed dialogue that takes place in a single setting, normally with long dialogue between Heston and one or more ape. It wouldn’t be bad to have one of these scenes but there were at least three and none of them added significantly to the story. There are some deep messages being preached in the movie, but by the time one of these overly long scenes ended all I could think about was if we’d get to see some more action. For all its good intentions, Planet of the Apes is at its best when the expedition is downplayed and the action is moved to the forefront. Just enough expedition and exploration of deeper themes goes a long way to making a film like this hit the perfect balance between action and deeper meaning. Unfortunately, the screenplay for Apes seems determined to hit the viewer over the head with not so subtle ideas about social justice, religion, and science.
I love the idea of Planet of the Apes. When Charlton Heston gets to play the role of action hero, it’s highly entertaining. Seeing him act so dramatically with these strange looking simians who ride around on horses was mostly fun. Discovering even more ways The Rise of the Planet of the Apes subtly made references to its original predecessor was also a lot of fun. The famous ending, complete with Heston’s over the top reaction topped it all off in a way that was at once campy and oh so serious.