Planet of the Apes is a gaping plot hole. Taylor (Charlton Heston) crash lands on a planet centuries into the future. After some searching, he discovers a race of intelligent, talking apes. They speak English, fluent, proper English at that.
Yet, for the entirety of the movie, Taylor struggles to piece together what planet he is on. The astronomical chances of another planet speaking a familiar dialect, let alone Taylor understands, probably would keep a mathematical genius a lifetime to calculate. The kicker of Planet of the Apes? It never dawns on the viewer either.
Undoubtedly, if audiences had thought of this back in 1968, the film never would have been a success. If they thought of it during any of the sequels, they would not have made two TV spin-offs. If they thought of it over the course of three decades, Tim Burton never would have helmed a remake.
No one really notices because this is an engrossing piece of science fiction, quite possibly one of the best films in the genre ever conceived. Much of the credit is given to the stunning make-up and prosthetic work used to bring the apes to life. Undoubtedly, they deserve all of the praise that has been lavished upon them over the years.
What makes Planet of the Apes work so well visually is the camerawork. After the crew crash lands in the water, the camera pans out, spinning uncontrollably fast around the site. The dizzying effect is perfect to establish the situation, and uncontrollable nature of it all. Taylor’s attempted escape after capture features a camera shot from underneath the action as he scales a series of steps. Framing is unique and powerful.
The apes first appearance is iconic. Taylor, along with a two-man crew, enters a cornfield. Sticks suddenly begin popping up over the stalks, with no indication of what may be holding them. The scene continues only with sound effects and music, not a word of dialogue is uttered. The illusion of the apes capabilities are established first, not their power of speech, a perfect way to establish a sense of disbelief.
This is a smart film, certainly not something one would expect from a movie about talking, upright walking apes. It is a parable, a brilliant one at that, about the way man lives and fights. More importantly, it tells its own story about a new culture, one terrified of its past and where it came from. Watching the council cover their ears, eyes, and mouth as Zira (Kim Hunter) speaks out defending Taylor’s unique abilities is a stroke of minor genius, and a small laugh in an otherwise tense scene.
Even gutsier, Planet of the Apes turns Charlton Heston, hero of the screen, into a jerk. He quickly accepts his fate, tearing into his companion Landon (Robert Gunner) for not doing the same. It creates added tension as they explore what they believe to be a new planet, and offers human dynamics in addition to the flat landscape that is photographed flawlessly. It is a shame visions and writing like this are so rare in Hollywood.
Fox delivers a somewhat pleasing encode for the first hi-def presentation of the original Apes. Initially striking, the panoramic shots of the rocky, lifeless environments are spectacular. At 11:32, every single wave, rock, and land formation appears strikingly rendered. This holds true for much of their search for food and water. Every land mass or mountain they pass is beautiful. The encode only needs to handle a minute amount of grain, questionable but in these scenes, does not seem to be a problem.
The master used is in excellent shape, with minimal scratches, specks, and dirt. Most appear and disappear so quickly they can hardly be noticed. Colors are generally muted, likely the intent of the original photography. Flesh tones are pushed slightly pink, although not offensively so. Facial details are typically dull, a general softness dominating. The latter is a minor complaint. There is enough texture to bring out the fur of the apes make-up, along with beads of sweat all over Heston’s body and face.
Unfortunately, there are those scenes that look completely off. The scene in which Dr. Zaius interrogates Taylor personally appears significantly smoothed. A shot at 1:17:12 makes Zaius appear as some sort of watercolor, a digital nightmare. It does not seem to be a fault of the compression, but it definitely appears digital. Make of it what you wish.
The same problem dominates the entire chase scene during and after the funeral invasion. The smooth nature does not resemble film. In fact, the grain appears thicker, softer, and blotchier in these scenes. Black levels are also mediocre, establishing almost no depth in the frame, although this is a problem throughout.
A DTS-HD 5.1 effort offers the only uncompressed audio option, and generally sits in the center channel. Jerry Goldsmith’s unique score is strained. The highs sound hot, and the lows are generally non-existent. It has little power or force behind it. It comes through as being well preserved, with no distortion, popping, or static. At times, the music sounds lost, such as the discovery of the waterfall, where the water completely mutes the score.
Dialogue, while of course lacking a modern level of fidelity, is clean. It is certainly better prioritized than the score can be. Words carry a mild hollow quality, but remain clear and audible.
The surrounds remain silent, leaving the stereo channels to provide the bare minimum level of separation. During the corn field scene, you can hear the sticks batting the stalks in both the left and right channels. Horses running across the screen are occasionally tracked side to side as well.
An older commentary featuring Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Natalie Trundy and make-up artist John Chambers is the first of this exquisite set of bonus features. Jerry Goldsmith provides a second commentary, while author Eric Greene (Planet of the Apes as an American Myth) gets his words in via text for a third commentary.
Science of the Apes is a pop-up feature, thankfully available from the main menu to be viewed all at once, that focuses on (what else?) the science featured in the film. Together, these all run 39-minutes. Beyond the Forbidden Zone is a skippable trivia game that runs along with the movie. A fun “PSA” runs six minutes, as the ANSA explains what they do, adding to the mythos of the series.
Evolution of the Apes is the first featurette, a 23-minute piece on how the story originated and became a feature. Impact of the Apes looks at the legacy of the franchise, and interviews various people about its effect on their lives. Behind the Planet of the Apes (and it’s promo) is a fantastic two-hour documentary on the entire series, hosted by McDowall. This was available on DVD, but on its own disc.
Archives of the Apes is split into four sections, including one on the make-up, and other with some test footage. Eight different still galleries are included, and finally, the disc is D-Box compatible.