Saturday, 28 August 2010

Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

No 350 – Planet of the Apes
Director – Franklin J Schaffner

The 70’s had a really set view as to what spaceships looked like (with the exception of Alien) – white and clean. If you set a film in a clean white ship, it looks 70s. Check the last few scenes of Revenge of the Sith where George Lucas finally remembers that the film has to lead chronologically into A New Hope and starts creating a 70’s sci-fi vibe.

So we’re looking at Charlton Heston, smoking a cigar in space (as one does) as he finalises his preparations for an auto-pilot journey home. There is also some mumbo jumbo about how time on Earth has travelled much further than time on the ship.
So the crew are in 'hyper sleep' and time passes... But it goes wrong and the ship crashes – the only female astronaut dies (bye bye pesky woman, don’t think you’re getting a line, or even particularly mourned by the characters), and the three remaining men find themselves on a mysterious planet about 2,000 years in the future. Whoops.

The vast deserts of this mysterious planet are really impressive, and Jerry Goldsmith’s sparse plinky plonky score makes it all feel even more empty and alien. I’d love to know where they filmed it – I’m sure Google knows but I can’t be bothered to check…

So let's cut to the chase. First, there's some wandering around during which the two other astronauts come off as soulless cut-outs, and Charlton Heston comes off sounding like an egocentric bastard. But what we want is the Apes.

I love the Apes in this film, and I think I like them because they are so rubbish. They walk and behave like humans, and the masks are essentially static. Meaning we have an army of identical apes with their mouths slightly open, making them all look gormless.
Yes, Tim Burton’s remake is awful – but the apes in it are brilliant. They move like apes and the advances in make-up create some realistic ape-men.

We don’t have this luxury here though: we have humans with monkey heads. But the film is brilliant so all is forgiven.

This film is a culture clash story. It is about Charlton Heston’s clash with the mute and unintelligent human race and his clash with the dominant Ape race. In order to do this we have to dispatch of the rest of the crew.
This film seems to hate diversity, so if you’re not a white man you will be killed (and left as either a mummy or a museum exhibit) – otherwise, if you’re Landon (the poor man’s Sean Connery) you can be lobotomised and gormless. This is necessary (if untactfully done) as it means Charlton Heston is the only human character able to talk (and what a marvellous moment when he first talks “Take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty apes!”) and he can rail against the system which is totally against him.

You see the real culture clash is the clash of scientific progress VS the views of religion. Look at the film as a criticism of views which refuse to change when facing the evidence of science. It is played very well, with the chiefs of science (led by Dr Zaius – Defender of the Faith) being suitably belligerent and infuriating as they persecute Charlton Heston for being an abomination. His ‘mutation’, his ape like behaviour, shows that there might be a link between man and ape… and that would be heresy.
It is played brilliantly in the court scene where Heston tries to make his case and the three judges are locked in the classic ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ tableaux.
The main chunk of the film is the events leading up to the court case, and then Charlton Heston is rescued by his two ape ‘friends’, Cornelius and Dr Zira. Rescued alongside him is Nova, another human prisoner and Charlton Heston’s mate. Linda Harrison’s Nova is basically there to be pretty, wide eyed and innocent. The humans in this film are mute, so she gets no lines, and her actions do nothing to really move the plot along in any way. However, the relationship seems so weird to me - what with Heston looking quite ravaged and world weary (he was around 45 at this point, and the fact that he isn’t the young action hero is evident) whilst Harrison looks really quite young (she was only 23 after all) - that it makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable that the film doesn’t even question the age gap…
So, our ragtag band of apes and mismatched humans come to the beach, pursued by Zaius and a shocking twist is revealed.

I’m guessing you all know the twist. After all, nobody seems to think it is worth hiding any more – just look at the bloody artwork on the DVD – but it is a marvellous reveal.
Heston’s overacting in those final moments are funny more than anything else, but the twist itself is perfect. A massive step better than whatever the fuck was going on in Tim Burton’s parallel universe.

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