Best Buy was running a deal (and I think they still are) where you can buy the “Planet of the Apes Legacy Edition” for something like $20, get the whole original series consisting of 5 films, as well as $8 off a movie ticket for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Naturally the only one I really wanted was the first film, but since it was such a good deal I figured to buy them all and do a marathon, and that is exactly what I did this week.
The original film, the best of the bunch, still holds up today. Good ol’ Charlton Heston is fantastic in his role. The whole first movie is just beautifully shot. The desert landscapes, the set-pieces, and that oh-so-famous final shot all look incredible on this blu-ray edition. Many people don’t realize this, but the film was based on a novel by a French writer by the name of Pierre Boulle (who also wrote Bridge on the River Kwai). This is also the smartest movie of the bunch (you’ll see why later), and its ending still is stunning even though it has been spoofed so many times. Of course, any movie that does as good as this did, it would earn a sequel with a bigger budget. This one didn’t, and the effects are very noticeable.
Despite having had its budget cut by half, originally being a $5 million film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes isn’t entirely awful. Sure some of the makeup was cut and masks were used, and most of the sets were recycled, but it was a decently subpar movie. Using pretty much the same plot: he gets captured, meets the same apes that Heston’s character met, Beneath finally takes quite a large turn for the weird when our hero finds himself in an underground city full of psychics. Yes, you heard me, psychics. The movie, which had been decent up until this point becomes something entirely different, especially considering the fact that they worship a nuclear missile. Heston, who was reluctant to reprise his role, wanted the film to end with the humans blowing up the nuke, destroying Earth and thus killing any chance for a sequel. That does happen, yes, we are even given an ominous voiceover talking about the destruction of earth, but there were 3 more sequels….
….Which means that with some “crafty” writing, it turns out that the good apes that befriended our human characters discovered the spacecraft that the most recent hero landed in, repaired it, and went back in time to the 1970s with just enough time to see the world explode. If you’re thinking the writers were desperate, you’re right. The third film, and most bizarre, is a “fish out of water” story of the apes being thrust into human civilization, in contrast to the first two films. It is filled with cheesy music, cheesy dialogue (“Grape Juice Plus”…Wine), and a dark ending that totally changes the tone of the film. In other ways it is pretty smart because it is actually the origin story in the series’ overarching plot, with Caesar being born at the end of the film.
The fourth and the fifth film are essentially one long story. The fourth is about the uprising of the apes, and the fifth is basically Dawn with a few different changes. Conquest is mainly an allegory for the racial movement. The humans hold all power over the apes, they are sent to prison, trained, and eventually Caesar just can’t stand it so he leads a revolt. The movie is actually graphically violent, with numerous bloody head-shots and beatings. The editing is absolutely horrendous in these scenes because someone did not know how to do special effects back then, so there would be a gun fired, a shot of an ape running, and then all of a sudden a cut to a bloody face. This was the 70s, I mean come on.
The fifth film (like Dawn) picks up ten years after the revolt, and the apes live apart from the humans. I could just paste the Dawn plot summary and what you get is just the same with some character name changes and different reasons for the separation. Yet, it is funny to think that a movie that was made 40 years ago failed, while what could be considered a remake completely fixed it and made it 1000x better. The only huge difference between the two is that Battle did not make room for anymore sequels, I think they had given up by then, whereas Dawn has room to grow.
In the end, even though the first two movies are really the only ones truly worth watching, it is a good deal to buy 5 movies plus get $8 off your ticket for Dawn for only $20. The movies, as bad as they may be, are actually quite entertaining to watch. You just can’t go into every one of them expecting it to be as powerful and impressive as the first film.