Film Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Also known as: Secret of the Planet of the Apes (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Peter Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, M. Emmet Walsh, Norman Burton, Charlton Heston (archive footage)

Twentieth Century Fox, APJAC Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“They became alert to the concept of slavery. And, as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said ‘No.’ So that’s how it all started.” – Cornelius

I guess I remembered the beginning of this film wrong, as I said in my review of the previous one that the ending kind of didn’t leave it open for the films after it. However, this one starts off in what was then modern times. From memory, I thought that the apes in the picture went back in time at some point midway through the story but they actually start off in 1970s America.

Anyway, it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen this one and memories can do weird things, especially when one has spent a lot of the time between the memory and now, experimenting with several vices. Don’t worry, I barely party anymore because getting old makes you more chill and because amateurs at the local bars and opium dens is a deterrent.

I really dug the hell out of this film though and revisiting it was certainly a worthwhile and entertaining experience. As of now, this is my favorite film of the lot. While I see the first chapter as a better motion picture, overall, I found this one to be more entertaining and more effective at making its point, using the bigotry between apes and humans as a metaphor for xenophobia.

I was also really glad to see Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter move into the main focus of the story, as their arrival on Earth sets in motion a hope for unity but ultimately leads to fear overcoming the masses and eventual tragedy.

Due to the time travel element, this sets the stage for its sequels and it also makes the whole series a time loop. Honestly, after this sets in motion the events that cause the creation of the ape world from the first film, you can watch the five movies in a constant loop or start with whichever chapter you want and then loop back around to it. It’s a pretty unique thing and it’s one of the many factors that make the original Planet of the Apes franchise really damn cool.

The acting in this is also really good and it’s certainly a step up from the second, fairly mundane movie. I’d say the acting is on the same level as the original but with McDowall and Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Also known as: Planet of the Man, Planet of the Apes Revisited (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Ted Post
Written by: Paul Dehn, Mort Abrahams
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston, Paul Richards, Victor Buono, Gregory Sierra

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” – Mendez

From memory, I always considered this to be the worst of the Planet of the Apes movies. I’m pretty sure I’ll still see it that way, once I get done revisiting the original five pictures.

This is just a really weird film and a major misfire, after its great predecessor and its mostly enjoyable sequels. Plus, this ends in a way that sort of kills the franchise. I’m not sure how they explain away this film’s ending in the next movie because I haven’t seen it in years, but this movie ends with the destruction of Earth.

Anyway, Charlton Heston returns but he’s only in the opening of the film and then in the third act. The lead role was given to James Franciscus, who looks an awfully lot like Heston, even though he’s a new character. However, he eventually meets Heston and works with him in trying to free themselves from the apes.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is so bizarre, though. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Apart from the apes, we meet a new group of antagonists, which are humans with psychic powers due to their exposure to radioactivity from Earth being nuked by mankind, earlier in this timeline’s history. The people also wear masks to cover up their disfigured faces. However, their masks are realistic versions of what their faces would look like without being destroyed by radiation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s just a stupid plot device so that the studio could cheap out and only use makeup effects sparingly.

In the larger Apes mythos, it’s almost best to ignore this picture. It doesn’t really fit with what comes after it and it threw a curveball into the narrative and concept that was so bad, it was never revisited or re-adapted in future remakes.

Apart from that, this is still a good looking film for its time but it’s still pretty obvious that the studio was trying to do things on the cheap: recycling previous set pieces and props while using less makeup effects and diverting away from the apes as the biggest focal point.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Release Date: February 8th, 1968 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by: Michael Wilson, Rod Sterling
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Norman Burton

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – George Taylor

I’ve been meaning to review the original Planet of the Apes film series for quite awhile but I’ve also been meaning to review a lot of other films too and I can only do so much at a time.

Anyway, I’m here now and I’m glad that I revisited this, as it’s actually been a really long time since I’ve watched the original five films. In fact, it would’ve been before the 2011 reboot series started.

While I’ve always loved the Planet of the Apes concept and I’ve enjoyed all the films in their own way, I never found myself being super nostalgic for them. That’s probably a generational thing, as the first film came out more than ten years before I was born. However, these movies were on television a lot and I grew to really love them but nowhere near as much as the other franchises I loved before I was born like Godzilla, Star Trek, Doctor Who and James Bond.

This first movie is, hands down, the best of the lot. I like the story of the fourth film best overall and it’s the one I would watch the most but this film is on a different level, as far as being cinematic art.

Also, a lot of this film’s greatness is due to Charlton Heston. While he also appears in the first sequel, from memory, that film was an extreme misfire and surprisingly didn’t wreck the franchise. Granted, I’ll have a clearer view on it after I revisit it and review it in about a week.

This film follows a group of astronauts after an accident, they wind up on a planet ruled by intelligent apes. Heston is the only one to really survive through the whole ordeal and the movie focuses on his captivity and his being immersed in ape culture. Mostly, the film serves as a sort of metaphor for xenophobia and bigotry. I think it was Hollywood’s way of making that message more palatable than trying to be heavy-handed about it. Plus, this was supposed to be entertainment. Maybe modern Hollywood should’ve taken notes from older Hollywood. But the message here isn’t too dissimilar from what Stan Lee tried to convey in his ’60s X-Men comics.

The point is, art doesn’t need to be extremely literal. The message, if presented well, can come across and seep into the minds of the art consuming masses. Planet of the Apes succeeded in that regard and that’s probably why it became such an iconic picture in the science fiction genre, which still was a long way off from reaching full acceptance by the general public.

Low brow entertainment aside, this is a well-crafted film with good pacing and even better cinematography and shot framing. From top-to-bottom, it’s a competent picture. It is also well acted and has some of the best special effects of its time. The ape makeup still looks tremendous in spite of its limitations. I was glad that Tim Burton carried the practical, physical style of effects into his 2001 reboot.

Ultimately, the original Planet of the Apes is a true science fiction classic, deserving of its praise and longevity.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

Also known as: The Visitor, Return of the Apes (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2001 (Hong Kong, Puerto Rico)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Warner, Lisa Marie, Glenn Shadix, Erick Avari, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston (uncredited)

Tim Burton Productions, The Zanuck Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!” – Attar

I feel as if I was one of the few people that didn’t seem to mind this film when it came out. It certainly deviated greatly from its source material but I liked some of the ideas that were explored in this picture and I liked that it took a well-known concept and tried to create something new out of it without rehashing things we’ve already seen five times within its own franchise and a dozen times over with all the ripoffs of it.

This hasn’t aged well, however, and it is pretty apparent that the movie just seemed to be aimless without much meat to chew on. It honestly feels as if the film wasn’t completed and it’s missing an entire act.

There’s just a real lack of story and context and while you can follow the simplicity of the narrative, all the characters come across as paper thin and there is obviously a history between many of them that needed to be expanded upon.

However, the film did have production issues, as its start date was delayed and one of the major locations was suffering from a drought and needed water pumped in. There have been other issues alluded to in interviews with those involved, over the years, but a lot of that could be brushed off as hearsay.

One thing I like about the movie is that it used practical, physical effects for the Apes. Everyone in the film wore prosthetics and it gave the film an authentic sense of realism where most movies were already reliant on CGI in just about every regard.

Additionally, I like the visual tone of the film and its general style. It looks cool and the world feels lived in and legit.

Still, it’s just lacking a real sense of plot and character development and because of that, it feels soulless and flat.

Also, while I liked this initially, it’s kind of a boring movie once you look passed the very distracting and alluring visuals. I honestly feel like I have a love/hate relationship with this film as there are many things that went wonderfully right but there are major things that didn’t deliver.

In the end, the film feels half-assed, rushed and like a wasted opportunity. This could have been the start of a new, exciting version of the Planet of the Apes franchise but instead, it’s a disappointing dud that left a pretty harsh blemish on Tim Burton’s career, which was still damn solid in 2001.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Planet of the Apes movies, regardless of era, as well as late ’90s/early ’00s blockbuster science fiction.

Film Review: Soylent Green (1973)

Also known as: Make Room! Make Room! (working title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1973 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Stanley R. Greenberg
Based on: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
Music by: Fred Myrow
Cast: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotton, Brock Peters, Dick Van Patten

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I know, Sol, you’ve told me a hundred times before. People were better, the world was better…” – Detective Thorn

As a big fan of ’70s era science fiction, it’s probably a crime that I hadn’t seen Soylent Green until now. I’ve had the film spoiled for me my entire life, as the last line of the film was a meme decades before memes existed. And frankly, knowing the big twist ending didn’t do much to make me want to actually sit through the picture in an effort to learn what I already knew. In fact, I knew the meme before I even knew it was from a movie.

All that being said, had I known that Edward G. Robinson was in this and that it was his final film, I probably would’ve watched it sooner. I’ve always loved and admired the man’s work, especially his range, as he can go from the vile, intimidating gangster type to the sweet, kind patriarch type without being typecast as one in favor of the other. The guy is a legend and he was one of the top actors of his generation, even if he’s mostly forgotten today by modern audiences.

This stars Charlton Heston and while I also like the hell out of that guy, at this point, he felt like he was just playing a version of himself. That’s not entirely a bad thing but he’s a better actor than he appeared to be in this era, where he didn’t seem to add much flourish to his roles, he just played them straight and went full Heston.

Apart from the two great leads and the twist ending, there isn’t much here to set the film apart from other ’70s dystopian movies and I’d have to say that the best of the decade is lightyears ahead of this film, which is pretty slow moving and a bit drab.

It has some definite highpoints and it explores a few cool ideas but I’d rather watch something like Logan’s Run, or hell, even the visually similar Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which despite being the fourth film in that series, was pretty damn cool.

Soylent Green isn’t as action heavy as I had hoped and the fascist dystopian nightmare only goes street level in one scene, really.

By the time you do get to the end, regardless of knowing the big reveal, it all seems kind of pointless. So what, society is being force fed something terrible by their government? What do you think big government will lead to?

In a nutshell, this is well acted and it is shot beautifully with some solid cinematography but it doesn’t bring much of anything worthwhile to the dystopian subgenre of sci-fi other than a big gross out reveal at the end. I’m not sure how the film compares to the novel but I hope that the book had more to offer for its readers.

Granted, I do like the metaphorical ending of Robinon’s character’s life in the movie but I wouldn’t call that an intentional artistic choice. The filmmakers probably didn’t know the guy would actually die before the film’s release. In fact, it’s been said on record that Robinson knew he was terminally ill but that the filmmakers did not. He died twelve days after the film wrapped.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The Ωmega Man, Logan’s Run, Westworld and other ’70s science fiction.

Film Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

Release Date: February, 1958
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Universal International, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes, 111 Minutes (restored cut)

Review:

“A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.” – Ramon Miguel ‘Mike’ Vargas

Touch of Evil wasn’t a roaring smash when it came out but it got the respect and the recognition that it deserved as time marched on. In 1993, this motion picture was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Over the years, it has become recognized as one of Orson Welles’ greatest bodies of work.

While the appearance of Charlton Heston as a Mexican is a bit bizarre and would have all the people up in arms today, once you get beyond his pencil thin mustache and brownface, you realize that beneath the visual stereotype, he is at least playing the Mexican character heroically. Plus, Heston’s not a bad actor anyway and he does his best to make the character of Miguel “Mike” Vargas work.

The cast also includes the eternally alluring Janet Leigh and Orson Welles, who wrote and directed this thing. Zsa Zsa Gabor even shows up in a strip club but this is the 1950s and boobies weren’t allowed to be seen in legitimate motion pictures.

Watching Heston and Welles play off of each other was a magnificent sight. These two men truly felt at odds with one another and their rivalry developed flawlessly on screen. The tension between them was so strong and overbearing that it really drove the picture. Janet Leigh and her character’s situation also added an extra level of suspense that made this one of the most powerful film-noirs I have ever seen.

The story takes place on the Mexican border in Southern California. A bomb explodes in a car near the border gate and it brings in the American detective, played by Welles, and the Mexican detective, played by Heston. As the story rolls on, Heston’s Vargas realizes that Welles’ Quinlan is a crooked and racist prick. As Vargas delves deeper in trying to solve the mystery, Quinlan fights back and takes action against Vargas and his wife. Ultimately, the film paints the white American police force as bigoted and corrupt while painting the Mexican detective as just and true with many of the Mexican characters being victimized by the corrupt white cops. I can see where this would have ruffled some feathers in the 1950s.

While not quite the masterpiece that Welles’ Citizen Kane is, Touch of Evil still greatly showcases Welles’ ability as a filmmaker and an auteur. He has a dark and brooding style that is remarkable and stands tall, in a way that is very uniquely his own. Truthfully, Welles was using a noir visual style before the genre even cemented itself into 1940s Americana.

Touch of Evil is a magnificent picture. It challenged social norms and still provided the world with a solid film-noir, as the genre was coming to its end. It doesn’t feel derivative or like something we’ve seen before, which is pretty impressive, nearly two decades into this genre’s peak in popularity.

Rating: 9.5/10