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Planet of the Apes (1968) - Illustrated Reference

Updated on June 26, 2017

Planet of the Apes was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and it premiered on 8th February 1968. It starred Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Linda Harrison. Screenplay by Michael Wilson & Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.

An American spacecraft launched in 1972 and carrying four astronauts in deep hibernation crash lands on an unknown planet in the year 3978. The only female astronaut dies during the journey, the surviving three discover a world ruled by intelligent apes.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had acquired the rights to French author Pierre Boulle’s (1912-1994) novel “La Planetes des Singes” (1963) and wanted to adapt it for the big screen. Writer Rod Serling worked on the screenplay, which needed plenty of rewrites. The book was titled Monkey Planet on its UK release.

A big movie star was needed to make the whole thing believable to audiences. Charlton Heston was Jacob’s first choice for Taylor and he accepted the role straight away, he felt it would make a welcome change from the historical films he had been making the past 10 years. Filming took place between May and August 1967

Taylor: If this is the best they've got around here, in six months we'll be running this planet.

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) / George Taylor, astronaut and leader of the space expedition.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Charlton Heston was a popular actor famous for his epic roles in films like The Ten Commandments (1956), El Cid (1961) and Khartoum (1966), he won a Best Actor Oscar for Ben-Hur (1959).

He reprised the role of Taylor in the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Heston has appeared in other sci-fi adventures such as The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973).

Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) / Dr. Cornelius, a chimpanzee, and an archaeologist and historian. Zira is his fiancé, they both help Taylor escape from Ape City.

Born in London, England, Roddy McDowall was a child actor appearing in classic films like How Green Was My Valley (1941) directed by John Ford and Lassie Come Home (1943), he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as Octavian in Cleopatra (1963).

He reprised the role of Cornelius in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and played Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

Taylor: Doctor, I'd like to kiss you goodbye.
Dr. Zira: All right, but you're so damned ugly.

Kim Hunter (1922-2002) / Dr. Zira, a chimpanzee, and an animal psychologist and veterinarian. She befriends and helps Taylor.

Ingrid Bergman turned down the role of Zira, she later admitted regretting her decision when she saw how well the film turned out.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Kim Hunter won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) playing Stella Kowalski. She reprised the role of Zira in Beneath and Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

Dr. Zaius: The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It's a question of simian survival.

Maurice Evans (1901-1989) / Dr. Zaius, an orangutan, he is Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith. Zaius knows the secret of the Forbidden Zone and that humans once ruled the planet.

Born in Dorset, England, Maurice Evans had previously appeared with Charlton Heston in the historical epic The War Lord (1965) and would reprise the role of Dr. Zaius in the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

Linda Harrison (1945-) / Nova, a primitive and mute human female. Nova would become Taylor’s ‘mate’ after being locked in a cage together by Dr. Zira for breeding purposes.

Born in Maryland, USA, Linda Harrison married Hollywood producer Richard Zanuck in 1969 (divorced in 1978), she reprised her role as Nova in the sequel in which she manages to speak one word “Taylor!”.

Maximus: Let us warn our friends that they endanger their own careers by defending this animal.
Taylor: Then I'll defend myself.
President: Dr Zira, would you tell... Bright Eyes to be quiet?
Taylor: My name is Taylor.
President: Bailiff. Silence the animal.

James Whitmore (1921-2009) / The President of the Assembly, an orang-utan.

Born in New York, USA, a veteran character actor James Whitmore was nominated for two Oscars, Best Supporting Actor for Battleground (1949) and Best Actor for Give ‘em Hell Harry! (1975) a one man show about President Harry S.Truman.

Robert Gunner (1931-2001) / Landon, a human astronaut and scientist, captured by the apes and lobotomized.

Jeff Burton (1925-1988) / Dodge, a human astronaut, killed by apes. Taylor finds his preserved corpse on display at a museum in Ape City.

Dr. Zaius: The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago.

At the end of the movie Taylor discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty half buried on a beach, the ape planet is actually Earth about 2000 years in the future. Mankind had by then destroyed itself through nuclear war and the survivors devolved into mute primitives (and some turned into scarred telepathic mutants, see sequel), apes had become intelligent and the dominant species.

In Pierre Boulle’s original novel, the hero Ulysse lands his spaceship on a planet 350 light years from Earth orbiting the star Betelgeuse, a planet dominated by apes, the human beings of that planet are primitive and savage,

Ulysse discovers that in the distant past humans were the dominant species and apes were kept for slave labour, eventually humans became too complacent and too dependant on their ape servants. The apes rose up and overthrew their human masters taking over the planet. Humans degenerated into a primitive state of existence.

When his life is threatened Ulysse escapes from the planet with Nova a human female he fell in love with. Returning to Earth 700 years after he first left it, Ulysse is shocked to discover it had also been taken over by intelligent apes, Earth had undergone the same evolution as that distant planet.

Pierre Boulle had also written the novel Le Pont de la riviere Kwaï in 1952, it was later filmed by David Lean as the multi-Oscar winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

The success of the big budget sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966) proved to 20th Century Fox studio execs that science fiction could draw in big audiences.

Charlton Heston recommended director Franklin Schaffner for the film after working with him on The War Lord (1965).

Edward G. Robinson tested for the part of Dr. Zaius in make-up with Charlton Heston but he soon left the project, he hated the whole make-up process and didn’t think his weak heart could stand working all day in the full get up.

Many of the early scenes were filmed near the Grand Canyon and Colorado river.

Taylor: Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

John Chambers (1923-2001) famous ape make-up won him a well deserved Academy Award he tested an early version of the ape mask on an alien in an episode of Lost in Space. Chambers had also worked on the TV series Mission Impossible and Star Trek, he created the pointed ears for Spock.

Taylor: It's a mad house! A mad house!

I do find it odd that Taylor lands on a planet ruled by apes and it doesn't bother him that apes speak perfect English and that he might somehow still be on Earth! What are the odds that an intelligent simian race on an unknown planet would adopt the English language? Poetic licence by the writers or maybe Taylor was still disoriented from the crash landing and still reeling from this upside-down world where apes rule and man is savage?

Planet of the Apes cost $5.8m to make and was a major success for 20th Century Fox, grossing $32.5m in North America and the 6th biggest hit of 1968.

It was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Costume Design and Best Music Score (Jerry Goldsmith). John Chambers won an Honorary Oscar for Outstanding Make-Up Achievement.

Apes was among the films selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2001. It was ranked #59 on the AFI’s 100 Thrilling Movies list, Jerry Goldsmith’s score was #18 on the AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores list, and "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.” was ranked #66 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes list.

Planet of the Apes spawned four sequels - Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970 Ted Post), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971 Don Taylor), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972 J. Lee Thompson), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973 J. Lee Thompson) a TV series (1974) and cartoon series (1975).

In 2001 a ‘re-imagined’ remake, Planet of the Apes, was directed by Tim Burton and starred Mark Wahlberg, followed 10 years later by a successful reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring James Franco.

Planet of the Apes is a classic science fiction film, with great actors, a great script, a wonderfully eerie atonal score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it contains one of the best twist endings in film history.

The Critics Wrote –

“An ingenious, adventurous, humorous, deliciously spooky example of one of my favorite popular genres, science fiction, it was smartly made and contained a useful moral or two.” (Richard Schickel, Life)

“An amazing film. A political-sociological allegory, cast in the mold of futuristic science-fiction, it is an intriguing blend of chilling satire, a sometimes ludicrous juxtaposition of human and ape mores, optimism and pessimism.” (Variety)

"Planet of the Apes," which opened yesterday at the Capitol is an anti-war film and a science-fiction liberal tract, based on a novel by Pierre Boulle. It is no good at all, but fun, at moments, to watch." (Renata Adler, New York Times)

"Planet of the Apes" is much better than I expected it to be. It is quickly paced, completely entertaining, a thoroughly satisfactory surprise ending... and its philosophical pretensions don't get in the way." (Roger Ebert)

"Starts and finishes splendidly but suffers from a sag in the middle.” (Halliwell)

"Intelligent science fiction with magnificent ape make-up, splendid cinematography by Leon Shamroy which makes full use of desolate landscape (borrowed from Arizona and Utah), and a twist ending." (Chris Tookey)

“A slick commercial picture, with its elements carefully engineered — pretty girl (who unfortunately doesn’t seem to have had acting training), comic relief, thrills, chases — All this wouldn't be so forceful or so funny if it weren't for the use of Charlton Heston in the leading role. With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power and he has the profile of an eagle --- This is one of the most entertaining science-fiction fantasies ever to come out of Hollywood.” (Pauline Kael)


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