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"somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man…"
-- Astronaut George Taylor

Unquestionably, PLANET OF THE APES is one of the most compelling and enduring science fiction films of the 1960’s. A brilliant blend of social and political allegory, wrapped up in the veneer of first class science fiction- the movie has become cinematic icon that spawned movie four sequels, as well as TV series, plus a recent motion picture remake that tried its hand at reinventing the popular movie franchise. Loosely adapted from a novel by Pierre Boulle, the strength of 1968’s PLANET OF THE APES actually stems from a captivating screen story, a protagonist with whom every viewer can relate, the movie’s convincing ape makeup, and finally, one of the most memorable surprise endings in the history of the cinema.

In its opening minutes PLANET OF THE APES introduces a group of astronauts, who are undertaking an interstellar mission, in a spacecraft that is moving very close to the speed of light. Unexpectedly, the astronauts are awaked from suspended animation when their craft crash-lands into an inland sea on an unknown planet. Lead astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is able to read the sinking spacecraft’s chronometer before abandoning ship and discovers that more than two thousand years have elapses since he and his comrades left Earth. With any chance of rescue a virtual impossibility, Taylor and his shipmates begin a trek across the desert looking for any signs of life on this alien world. After depleting their supplies, the astronauts come upon a lush jungle populated with primitive humans. However, any thoughts the astronauts may have of running the show on this strange, new world are quickly extinguished, when they encounter the planet's dominant species.

On this upside-down world, apes are intelligent creatures with their own society- a society in which humans are lowly animals to be hunted, or to be used in medical experiments to benefit simian science. Captured by the apes and deprived of the power of speech by a gunshot wound, Taylor finds himself with no way of differentiating himself from the mute primitives that surround him. Eventually, Taylor is able to convince sympathetic chimpanzee scientists Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) of his intelligence. However, when Taylor regains his poer of speech, he quicly discovers that the existence of an intelligent, speaking human flies in the face of accepted simian doctrine. The very notion of this talking human is especially troublesome for simian chief scientist and defender of the faith, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who wants to eradicate every trace of Taylor’s existence with all due haste. PLANET OF THE APES then builds to an unforgettable climax, which, as I mentioned above, has become one of the most memorable in the history of the cinema. The cast of PLANET OF THE APES also includes James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Lou Wagner, Woodrow Parfrey, Jeff Burton and Buck Kartalian.

For this 35th Anniversary Edition release, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made PLANET OF THE APES available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 playback. Rectifying the mistake of their first DVD issue of the film, this 16:9 enhanced version of PLANET OF THE APES looks fantastic. The image is on this DVD is very sharp and produces terrific clarity and detail. However, unlike the preceding release, this DVD produces better image definition and subtle detail, which is certain to please anyone with a large-scale 16:9 display. Colors are very solidly rendered, with vibrant hues and natural looking flesh tones. Blacks appear reasonably accurate and the whites are crisp. Shadow detail is on par for a late sixties production and the contrast is generally smooth. The film element used for the transfer appears very clean, although one will notice a mild grain structure in various places. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.

For this release, PLANET OF THE APES comes with 5.1 channel soundtracks in both the Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. Given the age of the original recordings, one would normally question the necessity of including a DTS track on this DVD release. However, considering the presence of Jerry Goldsmith’s impressive score for PLANET OF THE APES, Fox make the right choice by affording it the best possible sonic presentation. With that said, there are the expected sonic limitations in the sound mix- both fidelity wise and sound effects wise (which are always held to the barest minimum in the original sound design). Certainly, DTS renders Jerry Goldsmith’s score as clean and robust as these thirty five year old recordings can sound, but the DTS also underlines the dated quality of the film’s sound effects.

The forward soundstage dominates the mix, with good channel separation. As for the surround channels, they primarily add a bit of fill to the score. Dialogue is always completely understandable, but some of the voices are occasionally a bit edgy. While the DTS track does get the nod, the Dolby Digital is very similar in character to the higher bit rate format, and does an admirable job with Goldsmith’s music. French surround and Spanish monaural tracks are also provided, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a fine array of supplement materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features two running audio commentaries; the first is with composer Jerry Goldsmith, while the second includes actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, Kim Hunter, producer Richard Zanuck, make-up Artist John Chambers. Goldsmith’s comments are featured with an isolated version of his score, while the other commentary track has been edited together from various sources and seems a bit sparse in places. A text commentary by Eric Greene, author of "Planet Of The Apes As American Myth" is also featured on disc one.

Moving onto disc two, one will find the majority of the supplemental programming. In the Exploring The Apes section, one will find Behind The Planet Of The Apes Documentary - a terrific two-hour documentary that made its debut on American Movie Classics. Hosted by Roddy McDowall, Behind The Planet Of The Apes Documentary looks at all five films in the series, but the emphasis and most of the screen time being allotted to the original PLANET OF THE APES. A promo for the documentary is also included in Exploring The Apes, as is a makeup test with Edward G. Robinson, Roddy McDowall’s home movies, silent dailies and outtakes, plus a specialized trailer for N.A.T.O.. There is also an original 1968 featurette, a thirteen minute Look Behind the Planet of the Apes from 1972, in addition to footage of directors Don Taylor and Lee Thompson working on the later sequels to close out the section. The Publicity section features theatrical trailers for all five movies, various text film reviews, plus domestic and international poster art. The Galleries section includes costume design sketches and various production photographs and stills. Ape Phenomenon consists of images of merchandising and prop items from private collections. Disc two is also DVD-ROM enabled, which gives one access to an "apes" chronology.

PLANET OF THE APES is indeed one of the most unforgettable films from the science fiction genre and a movie that has become a cinematic icon. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment finally gives PLANET OF THE APES its due by releasing it in a 35th Anniversary Edition that presents it in 16:9 enhanced widescreen (something that fans have been clamoring for), plus the DVD features DTS audio and a fine body of supplemental features. Hopefully Fox accede to fans wishes for the remaining four films, and will be re-releasing them in 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentations. As for this widescreen release of PLANET OF THE APES, it is indeed very highly recommended.



Planet of the Apes (Widescreen 35th Anniversary Edition) (1968)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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