What would it be like it if you weren’t the most dominant species on the planet? You might be hunted for food, domesticated as a household pet, or experimented on by cosmetic companies. And how bad would you feel if those excruciating make-up tests still made people look like this?:
Welcome to the Planet of the Apes, where the above is actually considered fantastic make-up. In the bizarro world of Hollywood, they actually give you honorary Oscars for that, which is strange, since at first blush, Planet of the Apes doesn’t look like Oscar material. It’s a movie with a bunch of actors dressed up as monkeys, imprisoning other actors dressed up like idiot humans (insert your own actor joke). And yet 40 years later, the movie is a hallmark of American cinema, enshrined by the Library of Congress, honored as having one of the best film scores by the AFI, and quoted by millions of people every day who want to call their boss a “dirty ape.”
The movie begins several thousand years in the future, with a group of astronauts crash landing on a planet. This happens with some frequency in sci-fi stories. Contrary to The Right Stuff, fiction writers believe that astronauts are actually among the universe’s worst pilots. They never simply land on the planet. They always crash.
Also common in sci-fi stories are planets that are well suited for human living, and the Planet of the Apes is no different. The oxygen is breathable, the soil is found to produce vegetation, etc. In fact, there are already humans living on the planet, though they are mute, feral, and quite fetching in their little buckskin miniskirts.
Like all good Twilight Zone episodes (the first draft of Planet of the Apes was written by Rod Serling), this is a story where the hero is the same and everyone else is different. The hero is, of course, Charlton Heston, playing the part of the incompetent astronaut pilot who is immediately captured by great desert warriors. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but the humans are not the planet’s dominant species.
On this planet, it is the apes that enslave the humans, and they’re pretty mean about it, so shut your trap, Jane Goodall. The apes are quite surprised to find that one of their new captives can read and write, and even more surprised to find that he once went to flight school. They want to keep this smart human quiet so as not to disrupt the ape supremacy thing that they’ve got going. They have many methods for doing this, such as hitting him in the throat, locking him in a cage, and sentencing him to castration. But along the way, Charlton (whose character is named Taylor) befriends some orangutan scientists (as well as the pretty gal in the next cell) and sets off to discover the true history of the planet.
There is the obligatory chase scene, the showdown, the saving of the bad guy’s life, the return of the favor, and of course the discovery that humans were once dominant, but have fallen by the wayside, presumably because they did not scratch their armpits enough.
The big finale contains one final shock, in which we find out that Rosebud was actually the name of Bruce Willis’s ghost (just kidding! That ending would make no sense!). Everyone on Earth knows this spoiler by now, but just in case you’re a monkey who only recently crash landed on our planet, I’ll let you in on the big twist.
The planet of the apes is actually Earth. We know this because Charlton Heston stumbles onto the ruin of the Statue of Liberty lying on the beach (remember, it’s several thousand years in the future). First time audience members always gasp in shock, partly because we don’t like the idea of Bubbles the Chimp running for Congress, but also because Taylor is apparently such a bad pilot that instead of exploring new solar systems, he flew in a giant circle before crashing our tax dollars into the desert.
Next up, #93!