“You Damn Dirty Ape!”

Adam Zobel

Adam Zobel

“You maniacs; you blew it up. Damn you. God damn you all to hell.”

That lament from Charlton Heston’s Taylor accompanied one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history as the 1968 science fiction classic Planet of the Apes came to a close.

As the two-disc special edition of the Planet of the Apes was released on DVD this month, it’s important to ask why this movie gained a unique place in American movie history.

Planet of the Apes was a risky “A” budget sci-fi thriller. It became a surprise commercial success in an era where most sci-fi movies were low-budget ventures. It eventually spawned four sequels, two television series, comic books and a slew of merchandising. The movie also became spoofed in Spaceballs, Austin Powers, and the Simpsons, ensuring its place in modern American culture.

Tim Burton directed a highly-anticipated, but controversial, “re-imaging” of the film in 2001 after a decade of speculation that included James Cameron, Oliver Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The new film had mixed reviews, but still had international box office success.

The movie, which was based on the book “Monkey Planet” by French author Pierre Boulle, is greatly influenced by Rod Serling’s work on its screenplay. Serling, most famous for his creation of The Twilight Zone, was largely responsible for the shocking ending and for ensuring that Planet of the Apes focused on the state of the human condition, a prerequisite for any film to have enduring value.

The turbulence of the 1960s is well-represented in this film as the themes of racism, nuclear wa, and the “generation gap” figure quite prominently into the storyline. Even among the primates, segregation exists as the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans each occupy separate societal roles.

In addition, several themes of the movie still resonate strongly today. The debate over the separation of church and state is represented as the Minister of Science for Ape City is also responsible for “defending the faith.” Evolutionists are claimed to be heretics and the state eventually decides to destroy an archeological site in order to cover up evidence of the planet’s past. In many aspects, the primate culture is quite comparable to the Middle Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Franklin Schaffner, who later directed Patton, gave Planet of the Apes a solid direction; Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack established the dark tone of the film. Heston gave the film credibility with his commanding screen presence that overshadowed his tendency to overact.

Planet of the Apes is a classic science fiction film that properly examines the state of the human condition. Despite the outdated special effects from the ’60s and glaring gaps that typically frequent sci-fi works, this film still holds up extremely well after a third of a century.