of the Apes, The Evolution" on DVD
Classic Series Receives
Loving DVD Treatment
20th Century Fox
has pulled out all the stops with its boxed set of the "Planet of
series. Each of the five films has received the THX digital mastering
treatment - and it shows - and they've also thrown in a very interesting
two hour documentary on a separate disc.
Alas, while the films
are in widescreen, they haven't been "enhanced for 16x9 TV's," so owners
of that type of set will have to zoom the picture out to fill their
screen - at an unfortunate loss of resolution.
"Planet of the Apes
- the Evolution" is a very nice set. Each of the movies looks terrific
in all its widescreen glory and the audio is also good, though the surround
quality and surround channels are all over the map.
According to the documentary,
Fox severely cut the budget for each subsequent film, which is a shame.
However, it's a testament to the producers and directors that they managed
to pull off reasonably epic stories on virtually shoestring budgets.
The series is based
on the book "Monkey Planet" by French author Pierre Boulle, though his
book actually took place on a planet orbiting the star Betelgeuse.
"Planet of the Apes"
(112 minutes) caused a stir on its release in 1968, and not only for its
outstanding ape makeup and terrific twist ending. As did Star Trek, it
used science fiction to not only spin a good yarn, but to make more than
its share of social commentary. Starring Charlton Heston as astronaut
Taylor, it opened the series with a look at a world turned upside down,
yet one that had a lot of the same problems our world did at the time
- but in reverse. The excellent cast also includes Roddy McDowall and
Kim Hunter as the chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira, Maurice Evans as Dr.
Zaius, and newcomer Linda Harrison, who's perfectly cast as the primitive
human who gives Taylor a chance to show some humanity.
There's more than
its share of silliness, too. For example, when the three astronauts are
searching for life that can sustain them on their new home, they discover
a solitary plant growing in the middle of nowhere. Overcome with joy,
they come over to the plant and DIG IT UP in a kind of worshipful ceremony.
Huh? Later, during Taylor's trial, the ape tribunal resorts to the famous
"see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" pose. This, according to the
documentary "Behind the Planet of the Apes" (the sixth disc) was added
after director Franklin J. Shaffner asked his peers what they thought
Anyway, the movie's
a legitimate science fiction classic and it's nice to see a movie that
has something to say. Too bad its liberal dogma hasn't stood the test
of time. The DVD is in 2.35:1 widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, though you
won't notice a lot of surround. Disc quality is excellent, though Fox
has chosen a new type of packaging that holds the disc very securely (good!)
- so securely you have to nearly bend it in half to get it out (bad!).
Extras include a photo gallery and trailers for all the movies.
"Beneath the Planet
of the Apes" (1970 - 100 min) saw astronaut Brent (James Fransiscus) arrive
at the ape planet, searching for Taylor. He finds Nova, Taylor's primitive
main squeeze from the first film, and gets her to take him to Taylor.
Well, as it turns
out, Taylor has disappeared, so she takes Brent back to ape city, where
they get help from Cornelius and Zira (Kim Hunter, reprising her role)
in getting away. With an army of apes on his heels, on a mission to discover
what's going on in the forbidden zone, Brent retraces Taylor's journey
of discovery, stumbling into a mostly subterranean New York City.
The Big Apple is now
populated by a race of human mutants (played by Jeff Corey, Paul Richards,
Natalie Trundy, Victor Buono) who have superior mental powers but, other
than one nuclear weapon, no other armaments. When the apes attack, they
decide to unleash their weapon - which turns out to be a doomsday device
capable of destroying all life on Earth.
Taylor (Heston in
what's effectively a large cameo), manages to detonate the bomb and "Beneath"
ends on the happy note of the Earth being destroyed. The 2.35:1 widescreen
DVD looks great. The audio, which is billed as Dolby Surround, is okay.
Extras include a photo gallery and trailers.
With "Escape from
the Planet of the Apes" (1971, 98 min) the series took a big step backward
- and forward. This movie was where the budget cutting really started
to show, but fortunately it was also a kind of rebirth of the concept
and, while the first two movies stand well together, Escape is really
the first movie in a trilogy about the rise of ape culture.
Cornelius (Roddy McDowall
again) and Zira (Hunter), and Milo (Sal Mineo), arrive on "present day"
Earth in Taylor's space ship. Forget the leap of logic required to accept
that technologically immature apes can mount a salvage operation in a
distant lake and rebuild a space ship when they haven't even learned the
internal combustion engine, once you're past that "Escape's" story is
a good one that's full of wonderful "human" commentary.
Basically, the two
surviving apes (Milo dies early in the film) are treated about as badly
as the humans are treated by the ape civilization in the first two films.
Things really hit the fan when Zira announces she's pregnant, sparking
a wave of political panic that she'll give birth to a talking ape who
could be the forerunner of the civilization that supplants humanity.
It's a downbeat ending,
with a hopeful epilog, but on the whole it may be the most satisfying
of all the sequels.
The DVD is in 2.35:1
widescreen, with mono sound, and audio/video are very good. There are
really no extras besides the trailers and a web link.
It's a good thing
producer Arthur P. Jacobs decided to have Zira's kid live at the end of
"Escape," because he (played once again by Roddy McDowall), is the central
character of the final two films. In "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes'
(1972, 88 min.), all the world's cats and dogs have been wiped out by
some plague and humans have had apes take their place. Apes being capable
of so much more than just scratching the furniture or leaving messes on
the carpet, however, they're quickly trained to be a race of slave workers.
who has always been treated well in his sheltered existence in Armando's
(Ricardo Montalban) circus, revolts at the mistreatment of his race, eventually
freeing the slaves and beginning the revolution that will see apes replace
men as the dominant life form on planet Earth.
This is "War and Peace"
shot for $1.98 but, as with the final film, director J. Lee Thompson ("Guns
of Navarone") makes the most of his budget. The DVD is in 2.35:1 widescreen,
with Dolby Surround audio (though there isn't much surround). Audio and
video quality are very good. Extras are limited to the trailers and a
"Battle for the Planet
of the Apes" (1973, 86 min) is probably the most hopeful of the series,
but it's also the one in which it's obvious they're running out of steam.
Caesar (McDowall) and his colony of apes are establishing themselves in
what once was the California countryside, not too far from the remains
of nuclear war-ravaged Los Angeles
On the advice of one
of his human "advisors" (read "slave"), he takes a party of three to the
city to see if he can discover any information about his dead parents
in the city's archives. Unfortunately, the city's inhabited by the forerunners
of the mutants from movie 2, and they don't cotton to the apes being around.
Caesar and his companions
fight their way out of the city, but the mutant army follows them back
home and all hell breaks loose. Fortunately for the apes, and the "non-mutant"
humans, the apes prevail and a new age is begun in which ape and human
live side by side as equals, which ties things up in a nice and politically
correct way. It also ignores the time travel paradox that would see apes
from a future return to Earth and change the past, thereby wiping out
their future existence (and therefore making it impossible for them to
have come back to the past in the first place), but what's a time travel
The DVD is also in
2.35:1 widescreen, with Dolby Surround ("pidgin surround") and audio/video
quality are fine. The trailers and web link are the only extras.
The main extra for
the boxed set is the documentary, hosted by the ubiquitous Roddy McDowall,
which is a two hour look at the entire series, the TV series it spawned,
and the many other ape-related stuff that's happened since the first film.
The longest look is taken at the first movie, which is appropriate, and
the whole documentary is very interesting and well worth seeing. It details
everything from the selling of the concept, preproduction, the makeup
design, casting, etc. There's no mention of an upcoming remake of the
first film, but the documentary may have been made before the decision
to do it all again was made.
The DVD, being from
a TV show, is presented in full frame and Dolby Surround. Audio/video
quality are fine. Extras include the trailers and a TV commercial for
"Behind the Planet of the Apes."
This is really the
ultimate Planet of the Apes collection and, though the average person
will probably only really want the first movie in his collection, it's
nice to see the whole shebang offered in one collection. 20th Century
Fox has done a nice job with this set.
It's too bad they
insisted, 'way back when they were making the movies, on the monkey business
of cutting back the budgets each time. It really shows.
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