I have to admit this at the onset of this one: I first watched the film at least a decade ago, and revisiting it again for the purpose of this explainer, while maintaining the same mean shock at the end that was delivered the first time around, it made me wonder, and think long and hard. It is now going to be half a century since this film first came out. This sci-fi classic must have been uproariously praised for what it accomplished in the makeup and technical departments, but more so, for its ground-breaking story, back when it released.
Following four movie sequels, a television series, a remake and a reboot series comprising of three more ape films, the question begs to be asked: with all the appropriate technology at our disposal, when did our science fiction films cease to be great cinematic endeavours? With a twentieth of the budget, or at the most a fourth if you account for inflation even, ‘Planet of the Apes’ was able to accomplish so much more than modern sci-fi films have been able to do. In the decade separating my first viewing of this brave classic, and the one now, lamentably so, little remains unchanged. Unapologetically so, a return to viewing this seminal sci-fi work of the 60s was a delight, something I wish the rest of you indulge yourself in too, pronto.
Coming to its ending (talked about later in detail), that really should have served as a beacon of caution for humans, and sadly, nothing much seems to have changed. “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbour’s children starving?” logs a cynical George Taylor, as he prepares himself for cryosleep. Well, Mr. Taylor, it’s 2019, and the answer to all your questions is sadly yes. That ending, still as shocking as ever, left a bitter aftertaste not because it ended on a pessimistic note, much unlike a lot of sci-fi movies do today. It was because we knew back then, as we have known along the years that we are headed there, slowly if so. However, I save some social commentary for the end of this article, but for now, let’s move to processing that ending.
Partly based on the French novel, ‘La Planète des Singes’ by Pierre Boulle, ‘Planet of the Apes’ begins with a NASA astronaut crew aboard a space vessel, their project being commissioned to find a new home, as later revealed by the protagonist of the film, George Taylor, himself, played by the charismatic Charlton Heston. As the entire crew goes into hyper-sleep, their ship crash lands into a water body on a presumably different, strange and apparently deserted planet. It is revealed from the timer on the ship that close to two millennia have passed in earth time, and the gentlemen are later left with no option but to find and cope with the life they would have on the new planet. With their ship sinking, they ravage all the resources they can, some ammo and food and water to last them three days, and move on.