Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Lou Wagner, Woodrow Parfrey, Jeff Burton, Buck Kartalian, Norman Burton, Wright King, Paul Lambert
Written by: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling, based on a novel by Pierre Boulle
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 112
Date: 02/08/1968

Planet of the Apes (1968)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Damned Dirty Apes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On Planet of the Apes (1968), the direction by Franklin J. Schaffner -- who would win a Best Director Oscar two years later for Patton -- is impersonal and uninspired, and Charlton Heston's lead character is hard-headed and inflexible, but somehow this melding of clever science fiction ideas with old-fashioned popcorn thrills just clicked. Perhaps screenwriter Rod Serling, creator of the legendary "Twilight Zone" TV series, is part of the reason. Or perhaps it was the novelty of seeing apes riding horses and shooting guns.

Four astronauts travel at the speed of light, hoping to explore new galaxies. They suddenly wake up from stasis to find themselves crashing on a planet with a sustainable atmosphere. The only survivor, Taylor (Charlton Heston), discovers a race of intelligent apes and winds up their prisoner. With his throat wounded, he is unable to speak, but tries to catch the attention of a pair of ape scientists, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter). They wish to communicate with him, but unfortunately, ape leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) believes he's a threat and puts him on trial. Taylor escapes with the help of the scientists, seeking a cave full of artifacts that prove human intelligence. But can Taylor make his case in time?

In his role, Heston gets some memorable lines, but it's McDowall and Hunter as the two ape scientists that anchor the movie, embracing communication and connection between two species. Their open-mindedness and open-heartedness are key. The question of science versus faith is still relevant, but perhaps even more so is: what happened to the humans? How could they wipe themselves out? If viewers don't feel like answering those questions, then there are the good chases and battles to focus on.

This original 1968 movie yielded five sequels (and counting), one remake, and two TV series; it was extremely popular in its day and still has many fans. It's one of those rare sci-fi movies that's based on thoughtful ideas, but also contains fighting and action. Though the MPAA gave it a "G" at the time, it's probably the equivalent of a PG-13 film today.

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