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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes, the 35th Anniversary Edition, on DVD

20th Century Fox has pulled out all the stops with its DVD re-release of "Planet of the Apes." It only includes the first of the five films, but that’s okay. The first was by far the best, and this new release has received the THX digital mastering treatment – and best of all it’s now presented in anamorphic widescreen so owners of 16x9 aspect ratio TV’s can finally enjoy it the way it should be seen.

Fox has also thrown in a very interesting two hour documentary that was previously available on a separate disc with the boxed set.

The movie was based on the book "Monkey Planet" by French author Pierre Boulle, though his book actually took place on a planet orbiting the star Betelgeuse and wasn’t on Earth at all – though he put in a terrific “gotcha” ending that was exploited in the remake.

" 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, the film used science fiction to not only spin a good yarn, but to make more than its share of social commentary.

Charlton Heston stars as astronaut Taylor who, with the surviving members of his crew, is thrown into a world turned upside down, yet one that had a lot of the same problems his/our world did at the time. The excellent cast also includes Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as the chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira, two compassionate apes who befriend Taylor and nearly lose everything because of it. Maurice Evans plays Dr. Zaius, their chief nemesis, and newcomer Linda Harrison, perfectly cast as the primitive human who gives Taylor a chance to show some of the humanity he lacked at the film’s opening.

It’s a good yarn, though 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? Maybe we missed something, but isn’t digging it up the worst thing they could do to celebrate a plant’s life?

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 about it.

Bad advice.

Anyway, the movie's a legitimate science fiction classic and it's nice to see a movie that has something to say and says it well whether you agree with it or not.

Too bad its new age liberal dogma hasn't stood the test of time.

The THX-certified DVD is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), and the audio is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1and dts surround. There isn’t a lot of surround use, but the soundtrack is actually pretty good for a film this age. Video quality is excellent, very sharp and colorful.

This two disc set also includes enough extras to choke a horse, including two commentaries. The first is by composer Jerry Goldsmith, with the second one featuring actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, and Kim Hunter, producer Richard Zanuck, and make-up artist John Chambers. A third, text-based commentary is by Eric Greene, author of “Planet of the Apes as American Myth.”

Then there’s a promo for the documentary “Behind the Planet of the Apes,” a makeup test with Edward G. Robinson from 1966, Roddy McDowall home movies, dailies and outtakes (with no audio, alas), and a 1967 NATO presentation on the film.

And that isn’t it. You also get a 1968 featurette, a 1972 “Look behind” and a whole bunch of other stuff including ape merchandise from the years when the series (movie and TV) was a phenomenon.

If you avoided buying the first DVD release, be glad. This one, for its use of anamorphic widescreen and additional soundtrack choices, is definitely the one to get. We hate the package, which makes it very difficult to put back together again once you’ve opened it, but the discs inside are worth it.

Planet of the Apes, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
112 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts surround audio
Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans
Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs
Written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner


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Updated May 13, 2006