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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes posterSynopsis

The 1968 film of the Pierre Boule novel about astronauts stranded in the future when the world is ruled by apes who have taken over from self destructive humans.  Apes replicate the cruelty of humans by treating humans as mute slaves lower down the evolutionary ladder.  Astronaut Charlton Heston is captured and then escapes with the help of sympathetic simians who show him archaeological remains of hi-tech humanity.  Heston finds the Statue of Liberty on a deserted  beach, symbol of a post apocalyptic future.

Criticism

This is a gripping sci-fi film.   It has tensions between the cynical Heston and the more idealistic astronauts.  It has satirically inverted role play between simians and humans:  the apes replicate human vanity and cruelty vis a vis the rest of nature, this is down right Swiftian.  There are no special effects to get in the way, so we can follow Heston through this nightmarish dystopia in an austere setting like the Palaeolithic era.  The first sight of the apes on horseback is quite scary and novel, and it’s nice to see the tables turned on predatory humans.  There are good satirical points made at the expense of fear-induced taboo, racism, and self serving arguments for caste arrogance over a slave culture.  It makes us uneasy as it exposes the arbitrary  symbol mongering of our rituals.  The ape settlement appears to be a sort of visionary anthropological experiment.  The caged humans are like a stage set for do-it-yourself performance art..

The film could have tried to make the Simian world more alien.  At times it looks like a Western in fancy dress, and of course there has to be a love interest between hero Charlton Heston and one of the captives.  This film was made in the same year as 2001, by contrast it wants its astronauts to be old fashioned heroes rather than the cerebral astronauts of Kubrik’s film.  Interesting to see that humourless monument, Charlton Heston, playing a cynic who becomes a hero in spite of himself.

Planet of the Apes seems to have become something of a sci-fi template setter:  the horsemen in Zardoz wear masks and remind us of the apemen on horseback, there are naked plebs threatening a tyrannical social order, there is the clinching monument that symbolizes catastrophe and dystopia.  Here it’s the Statue of Liberty, in Logans’ Run it’s the Washington memorials.  Not a discarded supermarket trolley in sight!

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