|Planet of the Apes (1968)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 21 August 2001|
Here’s a little confession from one of your friendly AudioRevolution.com reviewers –
‘Planet of the Apes’ changed my life. I don’t mean this in a coy, figure-of-speech, gee-that-was-nifty way – I mean it literally. I first saw the film when I was eight years old and it proceeded to promptly seize my imagination in a way no movie had done before and few have done since. On repeat viewings, as I became aware of the concepts of metaphor and analogy, ‘Planet’ began to actually affect how I saw the world – not that I expected apes to speak, but in how I understood things like entrenched prejudice, defensiveness, curiosity and conviction. Odds are that an adult seeing ‘Planet of the Apes’ for the first time now won’t get quite as much out of it – but if you can get into it, it’s still an amazing film, no matter when in life you encounter it.
If you’re just joining us, ‘Planet of the Apes’ is the first in what turned out to be a series of five films (not counting the Tim Burton remake now in production) about a world in which human beings and apes have changed places on the evolutionary ladder. In ‘Planet,’ a U.S. astronaut, Taylor (Charlton Heston), finds himself a captive in a simian society where the orangutan leader (Maurice Evans) has mysterious reasons for wanting other apes to go on believing that humans are dumb animals. Taylor’s only allies are Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), a pair of chimpanzee scientists whose passion for facts far outstrips their political maneuvering skills.
The screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, has long been praised for its Orwellian political satire and some dialogue that is at once obvious and profound (no wonder they can’t resist quoting this film in episode after episode of ‘The X-Files’). Director Franklin J. Schaffner creates one indelible image after another: Chapter 9’s frenzy in the cornfield, culminating with the sight of a gorilla on horseback; the ape courtroom in Chapter 17; the entire climactic sequence in Chapter 27 all are spine-tingling.
There are also enough grace notes in the film to fill a volume. Heston is remarkably good as the buff grouch Taylor, but it’s the ape characters who stand out: Evans’ Machiavellian Dr. Zaius, McDowall’s erudite, nervous Cornelius and Hunter’s radiantly determined Zira are indelible. No wonder they’ve become pop culture icons.
The good news for ‘Apes’ lovers is that visually, the DVD transfer is an answered prayer. The ultra-wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio is there in all its glory and the colors have been faithfully and vividly restored, without the strange tints that often haunt pre-1980 releases. We see the stunning bright blue of the sky above the unearthly desert (the location is actually Utah) in Chapter 6 and note the bright orange of an orangutan’s clothing in Chapter 17. The imagery is crisp, sharp and perfect. If you’ve been watching ‘Planet’ on revival house prints and/or the first wave of videotape releases, this will be the best-looking version you’ve seen in decades.
The sound is good, albeit not quite such a thoroughgoing cause for rejoicing. In fact, it’s a pretty accurate replication of the original track, which had its low points and glitches going in. As we might expect of a film made in 1968, ‘Planet’ cannot really make full use of 5.1, although music and ambience are mixed into the rears for a slightly more encompassing sound. Viewers who want 5.1 need to go into the "Languages" area of the menu and select it, as the sound format otherwise automatically defaults to regular Dolby Stereo.
In Chapter 1, Heston’s voice tends to sink in the center channel. However, Chapter 2, as Jerry Goldsmith’s powerful score soars on solar winds under the main titles, is full and rich, augmented subtly by the rears. Don’t panic when the sound goes away completely in Chapter 3 – the several-seconds-long patch of silence is part of the film, used to emphasize the complete lifelessness of the terrain. By Chapter 5, the dialogue sounds fine and sturdy. Chapter 9 has some extraordinary, scary percussion in the score – composer Goldsmith actually got his musicians to play pots and pans to create a musical passage unlike any other. There’s a slight stammer on the track in the transition between Chapters 12 and 13, when the soundtrack goes from frenetic activity, with screaming voices and blasting water, to near-silence inhabited only by low tones from the score and ambient sound. Chapter 15 brings us Goldsmith’s wild, eruptive accompaniment to a chase through the apes’ central city, culminating in a glorious growl of a musical climax that perfectly complements the rising snarl of Heston’s voice. In Chapter 17, the ape voices sound particularly sibilant. This isn’t a flaw of the DVD, but rather the nature of the original dialogue track – bear in mind that the actors are making themselves heard through thick latex appliances. (John Chambers’ ground-breaking ape makeup design won a special Academy Award, 13 years before makeup became a regular Oscar category.) The transition from Chapter 26 to Chapter 27 has a seamless meld of explosion that sweeps into a wave crash. In Chapter 27, there is a slight drop in volume as Heston goes into his final declamation, which seems to be a magnification of a phenomenon present on the original track. The stark sounds of the ocean as the end titles roll comes through with precision.
One aspect of ‘Planet’ that’s more striking on home video than in the theatre is the way in which the music, driving and dramatic as it is, always accommodates the dialogue, so that there’s never a duel between the center and the mains; if someone has something to say, it’s clearly audible without any volume adjustment. The disk doesn’t have much supplemental material – if you purchase the boxed set of the five ‘Apes’ films, it comes with a sixth disk, ‘Behind the Planet of the Apes,’ which has 120 minutes of extras – but it does have a very entertaining photo gallery, with apt selections from Goldsmith’s score playing over each of the stills.
Unfortunately, the box art on the new DVD gives away exactly which planet this is (although just about everybody knows it now, the ending was a genuine shocker when the film was first released). Happily, ‘Planet of the Apes’ is a film that has many layers beyond its plot twists. Visually, the DVD is everything one could want and aurally, it holds its own.