It’s Time To Shelve This So-Called “Classic”
Recently, Disney announced plans to finance a continuation of the Planet of the Apes movies. However, with our readership as young as it is, some at our studio believed that many who should be familiar with this franchise are not, and it was decided by those same individuals that our audience may benefit from a review of this classic 1968 work of science fiction.
Planet of the Apes depicts a manned space-flight which crash-lands on what appears to be an alien planet. There, they find a world where intelligent apes rule and humans are hunted animals. One by one, the astronauts are left dead by the apes’ actions, until the sole survivor escapes into the desert which surrounds the apes’ civilization, where he encounters the remains of the Statue of Liberty and discovers the classic secret: That this was Earth all along, with humanity being replaced by apes as the dominant species after a ruinous war.
While perhaps fair for its day, the film does not hold up to the scrutiny due to a modern science fiction work, whether practically, literally, or metaphorically. Practically, this was obviously a budget work, and its effects cannot raise it to the level it hopes for. The sets in particular are poor. The ape city is crudely fashioned and unadorned, and the ship used to travel through time is plain and unfanciful, looking not unlike something that could be built today. The costuming is also not up to standard. The apes are in actuality human performers in obvious masks. Little attempt to hide this has been made.
The apes in general are a badly considered part of the film’s worldbuilding. They do not act as apes do. They stand upright, wear clothing, speak human words without considering how simian lips would affect their speech. In all aspects, their society is ordered all-but-identically to a human one. This can only be considered a failure of imagination. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see apes, living and acting as apes do, if a little more intelligently, in the ruins of human civilization? And why does the film limit itself to gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees? Why does it not include such apes as gibbons, howler monkeys, or marmosets?
On the other hand, the idea of apes surviving a nuclear Armageddon seems far-fetched in the first place, when they’re as endangered as they are. Much of the setting and set-up are badly contrived in this manner to make its concept possible. Are we really to believe that the spaceship crashed onto the one habitable part of Earth? Or, for that matter, that they crashed on Earth at all? The ship’s destination was not Earth. It was an alien planet. This was clearly stated multiple times early in the movie. Someone clearly wasn’t paying attention.
A lack of any proper research is obvious throughout the film. For example, the titular apes are depicted as surviving in North America, when in actuality there are no apes on that continent. For another, the humans who’ve regressed to an animalistic state still wear loincloths. However, real animals do not wear clothing.
Planet of the Apes has been praised by many for its deep themes, and its message — the danger of animal lab testing causing an ape uprising — is made very clear. However, in this age of environmental crisis, is this message reasonable? Is demonizing the threatened lower-primates in this manner really productive, when that same effort could be put towards their protection? I say no, and more state with confidence that if this film had not been released, then real-life apes would not be in as dire straits as they are now.
In finishing, while Planet of the Apes was influential in its time, to today’s discerning viewers it will be nothing more than a poorly-considered, cheaply-made mess. While its attempt to elevate itself is admirable, the message it conveys is very questionable in our era. Planet of the Apes has long since been surpassed by the films that followed it, and I cannot find any non-academic reason to view it in a modern context.
Peter Tkaczyk is a third year writing major who worries that sentient ape actors are losing their jobs due to CGI advancements. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.