Planet of the Apes: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 14 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

The year 1968 is one of the most significant when it comes to science fiction cinema. For one thing, two landmark movies beared the wind of change with their unique vision and their unmistakable tales of evolution from two forms of the spectrum. On one hand was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that showed the evolution of man to space in the future and the subtle chess game of man versus machine. The other hand showed a world where three astronauts land in a world where the dominant species are apes. Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall lead the way as danger lurks about when 3 humans land on the Planet of the Apes.

It’s been six months since four astronauts have flown into a voyage into space, by their time. The planet that they launched has aged 700 years, while they’ve aged hardly at all. As the four passengers fall into hypersleep, their spacecraft lands on a large body of water. With one of them dead from an air leak, the remaining 3 make their way out of the craft and into this unknown environment where human occupants are mute. This seems like the three have an early advantage on these occupants until an unusual horn blows and some riders on horseback make their way towards them, but upon closer look the riders lead into an even bigger world where one species reigns superior over them…APES!

What seems to be a B movie idea on paper turns into one of the most legendary sci-fi movies of any decade that spawned four other sequels, a recent updating and two TV shows as well as one of the best musical parodies on a memorable episode of the Simpsons involving actor Troy McClure.

Aside from the result of this iconic status remains the original film, which has a simple three act structure that shows how a film can have a great buildup and execute at the right moments without going too far or not pushing far enough. Granted there are a few references to it’s time but the full package goes leaps and bounds beyond thanks to a great look and a great cast.

Both the cinematography by Leon Shamroy and the art direction of William Creber and Jack Martin Smith bring a world unlike any other where one viewer would have a bit of expectation and in the slightest of moments be given a different take that would last for the entire run. The movie is a pleasure to look at both with it’s great use of color and the scenery that goes along in this world. Kudos also goes to the makeup for the film done by John Chambers who uses great detail to the apes along with hardly recognizing the actors that we normally see in human form transformed into simian with hard work paying off to one of the best makeup jobs on any film.

The cast is led by Charlton Heston as astronaut Taylor, a man disallusioned for the hopes of humans and oddly hopes a better one and gets it but with that wish covers a heavy price to be paid. He plays it well as his periods of adjustment to this world as well as taking a stand on it are truly memorable and get ample support from Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall as husband and wife chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira along with the sinister but strict presence of Dr. Zaius played wonderfully by Maurice Evans.

One thing that can be said about this film without giving too much away is the fact that it’s a good example on how a great idea translates into a great film whereas these days, certain films have wonderful premises and great ideas but the overall result being a bit underwhelming and not fully realized with the same greatness. Planet of the Apes is a great exception to that and remains even today one of the best films to illustrate how well a film can last after all these years.

Video: How does it look?

This is the second release for Planet of the Apes on DVD, and in this 35th Anniversary edition, it’s given the anamorphic treatment in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and one of the best transfers to come for a film that has had it share of transfer problems in the past in different formats whether VHS or the days of widescreen Laserdisc. The print for this film is in one word gorgeous and corrects a lot of the flaws such as color drain and some speckle problems within the print in darker scenes. On this transfer you’d be lucky to find any kind of speck which might come once in a while but in its appearance is hardly noticable. The colors are not too soft and don’t overbleed and a beachside view along with the overall vision in scenery and art direction never looked better on DVD from this era as the film looks like it was made yesterday making it a far superior transfer to it’s previous DVD release. A superb job!

Audio: How does it sound?

As good as the anamorphic widescreen transfer is on this edition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track balances the effects and dialogue in a decent manner thanks to the source track from an era without much audible advances but what benefits from this track the most is the nominated score of Jerry Goldsmith that booms out all channels giving a nice surround experience upon viewing this film. It remains one of the best scores and this track certainly does it justice and more. There was more to appreciate on this track than on the previous track and the people at Fox and it’s collaborators on this title seemed fit to do a very nice cleaning job both visually and audibly. Very nicely done! This disc also has a DTS 5.1 track and a Spanish and French Dolby Surround track along with English and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Planet of the Apes has been extended to a 2 Disc edition and on disc one in addition to getting a beautiful treatment to the film itself along with well spirited menus with the great letter logo for the series, there are a few extras in addition starting off with two audio commentary tracks, one involving cast members including Kim Hunter, Natalie Trundy, Roddy McDowall and makeup artist John Chambers (who won an Oscar for his superlative makeup efforts), and the other with score-meister Jerry Goldsmith. Both tracks are edited together from interview pieces and even though they share a decent deal of information, the moments of comments are few and far between. There’s a lot of great material but one wishes that before their passing (three of them sadly), it would’ve been nice to get some viewing reactions than interview soundbites. Nevertheless, they are decent listens but not great ones.

There is also a text commentary by historian Eric Greene (who’s featured through part of disc 2) and that fares slightly better than the audio commentaries in that it is quite informative and much information is shared, although it might not be as well balanced as many text commentaries, it’s a worth view (didn’t know that Cousin It had a minor part in this film by the way)

With the bumps and bruises extrawise on Disc 1, there’s more to go around on Disc 2 starting with the EXPLORING THE APES section and the third release of the documentary Behind The Planet of the Apes and it’s one piece of work that never gets tiresome and sums up the phenomenon of the series very nicely (High recommendations for the 2 disc release a few years ago with an unedited interview with Roddy McDowall that is absent sadly from this release).

also included (as well as from the 2 disc) is the original makeup test with Edward G. Robinson and a few other notables in a tool to sell the idea for the feature film to be made. Interesting to see the literal route Rod Serling’s screenplay would’ve gone into as demonstrated in this but a very good extra overall. Other carryovers from the documentary 2 disc includes the NATO presentation, the Planet of the Apes Featurette, and Don Taylor and J. Lee Thompson doing their duty directing their sequels which more or less amount to a few minutes showing them at work rather than discussing for fluff or selling purposes their chapter.

In this section, new additions on any release are A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes featurette that goes more into the makeup tricks of the series as well as some clips. Along with that is some Planet of the Apes Dailies and Outtakes with no audio as well as (a great feature) Roddy McDowall’s Home Movies which shows in twenty minutes his evolution into ape makeup along with activities in between takes set to Jerry Goldsmith’s great score of the film (which many of these short but sweet sections on this DVD have accompanying the features).

In the PUBLICITY section we find trailers to all five including a never before seen teaser trailer for the original and a different trailer for Beneath that’s not included on the 2 disc documentary. In this section as well are film reviews of the time of this film along with the theatrical posters from all over the world

Next we have the GALLERIES section which show a still gallery along with sketches by nominated costume designer Morton Haack.

Along with extras of a timeline on the DVD-ROM option, Disc 2 concludes with the APE PHENOMENON section with Ape merchandise and the Ape Collection giving a brief look at some marketing products and collector’s items. Speaking of, if you go to the Main Menu option and option to the right you might encounter a mysterious figure that you click onto with a nice marketing “easter egg” surprise that fits in this section very nicely.

With an upcoming set that is certain to dazzle all Ape fans alike, the 35th anniversary 2 disc edition of Planet of the Apes does justice to a great movie thanks to it’s superb transfer and its great array of extras on Disc 2. If only the commentary part on Disc 1 would have a more accurate viewpoint from a viewing from the film, the extras rating would’ve been higher, but nevertheless, this is the superior release of this film on DVD (so far) and it comes well recommended.

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