Yesterday at the Ritz, the fancy new downtown home of the Alamo Drafthouse, I attended my first big screen showing of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes. Using a new 35mm print from the original negatives, the movie screening was flawless with bright colors and fantastic sound. The action and overblown dialog literally screamed delightfully off the the giant screen. Charlton Heston has never looked so dynamic or sounded so forceful. The 40+ year old makeup effects remain effective and vibrant. The viewing further reinforced my love for this very influential film.
Plant of the Apes spawned four sequels, a television series, an animated series, action figures, books, comic books, a subpar 2001 remake, and many Simpsons parodies. A dystopian reflection of American society in the 1960s, real strength is the brilliant Michael Wilson and Rod Serling script, which was loosely based on Pierre Boulle’s Swiftian satire La Planete des Signes (Monkey Planet). The most original shock-ending of all time cements this movie’s place in film history.
The actual making of the Planet of the Apes is a fascinating story unto itself with several books and even a documentary on the subject. When producer Arthur P. Jacobs acquired the book rights, no one would take him seriously until Warner Brothers decided to take a chance with Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame) directing. Edwards first task was contacting the legendary Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling about writing the screenplay. For the next two years, Serling toiled with the screenplay while Jacobs secured funding for the feature. Michael Wilson was brought in to work on the screenplay as well. Although the two men never met, they crafted one of the finest film adaptations of all time.
While Serling and Wilson polished the script, Jacobs searched for a lead actor. He interviewed Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, and Rock Hudson. They all turned him down. Charlton Heston, who was already famous for playing larger than life characters, did not. When Warner Brothers learned the proposed budget of the movie could top $7 million, they opted out of the film, taking Edwards with them. Richard Zanuck of Twentieth Century Fox stepped in but not without reservations. He was concerned about the believability of the intelligent apes. After viewing a five-minute test film of Edgar G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius, Zanuck decided to go ahead with the project. Ironically, it was during the test that Robinson determined he was reluctant to endure the long, rigorous transformations that the role required. He was replaced by Maurice Evans.
Planet of the Apes premiered in 1968 to rave reviews and was a huge box office success. John Chambers, Ben Nye, and Dan Striepeke won a special Oscar for the makeup. By the mid-seventies there were five Ape movies, a television show, an animated series, and a plethora of other merchandise available.
Planet of the Apes with its line of action figures, books, and comics was the template used to even greater success by George Lucas upon the release of Star Wars. That model has been used by nearly every major science fiction movie ever since.