JULY 12, 2014 SCREENING: Planet of the Apes franchise (1968-2011)
Although it was not intentional at the time, I ended up taking a roughly two month “hiatus” from my blog and haven’t posted any movie reviews since then. I liked to do “themed” movie reviews (for example, pirate movie marathon) and its just been an awkward time where I was never able to write up the reviews I’d like, for example a retrospect on the X-Men in anticipation of X-Men: Days of Future Past).
This week marks the return of Planet of the Apes to the big screen, and I’ve finally come prepared for a new review. I saw the last film in theaters when it debuted in 2011, and I have all seven of the POTA movies on DVD and Blu-Ray (gee, this guy might be a fan!) so I’ll add my 2 cents on the franchise. I encourage people to check out all of the films, although 2 or 3 are them are painful. Here, at last, it my latest review. A look back at the first seven POTA movies:
Planet of the Apes (1968) – The original classic, this is a brilliant, landmark sci-fi movie. Rod Serling co-wrote it so it has the fun feeling of a 2 hour long, color, big budget Twilight Zone episode. Like the best sci-fi, it has political undertones and I can see why young earth creationists would hate it because it does a great job poking fun as their talking points. The makeup looks silly now but was stunningly realistic for 1968. Apparently the twist ending also shocked audiences in 1968, and they had no idea it was coming and left the theater stunned (though again, today’s audiences might wonder why all the Apes speak English on a different “planet”, but apparently this was a common device in 1960s sci-fi and audiences just accepted it). Began the tradition of all POTA movies having shocking, depressing, twist ending (except Battle, which sucks because of the “happy” ending)
**** out of ****
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – Strangely enough, the second film is one of the worst in the series and feels like it cheapens the first one. The first 40 minutes are actually fairly decent and watchable (though nowhere on par with the first film), but once they live up to the title and get “Beneath” the planet, it falls apart. You can see plenty of reviews online that discuss this in far more depth, but suffice it to say, I am not a fan of whatever “social commentary” they were trying to make with bomb-worshiping mutant people. Heston’s brief appearance is pointless aside from putting his name on the poster, and the ending is even more twisted and bleaker, ironically meant to end the series, but we got…
* out of ****
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) – Possibly the best of the cheesy 70s sequels. This film works very well because it inverts the premise of the first film (which itself was an invert of our own world), so it presents how “modern society” (at least, the 1970s version) would react if we discovered two intelligent talking Apes. There’s lots of comedy but aside from the ludicrous premise of them being able to “repair” Heston’s spacecraft and go back in time, the rest of the movie stays grounded and becomes increasingly realistic and dark. And it features yet another brilliant, dark, depressing twist ending (though not on par with the legendary ending of the original)
*** out of ****
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – Directly picks up where the last one left off, and its also one of the better 70s sequels. Surprisingly, Roddy McDowell carries the movie as Caesar. The “futuristic 1990s” city looks dated now, but its still well paced, entertaining, and took the franchise in a new direction. It also finally answers the nagging question of how Apes came to overthrow mankind, even if the scenario contradicts the explanation of the last movie a bit (which leads people to debate whether this film was an altered time or starting the cycle that lead to the original movie’s events) The premise that everyone now owns Apes because “all the cats and dogs in the world died off in some plague” didn’t work for me, though. Perhaps the most violent and creepy of the seven movies, even moreso than the 2011 version (which told a similar story)
*** out of ****
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) – End of the original Apes universe, and it died off with a whimper. This one sucks and is possibly worse than Beneath. Of course, it may be because of the low budget being used in movie that requires a much bigger scope with a future society of Apes. Still, a lot the script and actors suck too. The premise didn’t work at all for me – it’s only 20 years after Conquest but somehow all the Apes now have the same clothing and technology their descendants will have in the first movie, set thousands of years in the future! The ending is cringe-worthy It does have ONE excellent thing going for it though – John Huston plays the Ape “lawgiver” that we saw a statue of in the first two movies.
*½ out of ****
Planet of the Apes (2001) – Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” of the 1968 movie (which is Hollywood speak for “this is a remake except we got rid of all the stuff that made the original good“). Having Marky Mark play the Charlton Heston type astronaut character was an epic fail for me, and so was making all the female apes look like Michael Jackson in an attempt to give them human feminine beauty standards. Still, the REST of the cast was pretty solid and this movie is not as bad as people make it out to be. The first 2/3rds of the movie are actually watchable and fairly entertaining as a popcorn film (with none of the memorial lines or biting political satire in the original). The climax of the movie falls apart, and they tried to top the original’s twist ending by doing something “closer to the book”, but it makes zero sense and the only people who enjoyed it were neo-confederates (“Ape Lincoln memorial! Take that, tyrant!”) Sorry if I gave away the “surprise” but trust me, it sucks.
** out of ****
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Wonderful film. It blows away any of the 70s movies, and the only reason I won’t rank it #1 is because its impossible to top the iconic 1968 movie. It is NOT a sequel, prequel, or remake of any of the previous films. It basically takes the same premise as the fourth film, Conquest (intelligent Ape named Caesar overthrows humanity), and does it in a completely new light with a new spin. Like the 1968 movie, it has landmark special effects – in this case, the first film to have computer generated, stunningly realistic non-human characters interact with human actors. (sorry Avatar, you can’t hold a candle to this, although the blue people were decent looking) Has some subtle commentary about modern society but lacks the biting edge and blatant parody of the original. Still, the science aspect is probably the best of the 7 movies (aside from the obvious fact that even an “intelligent” mutated Ape couldn’t speak due to the way their vocal cords are designed), AND it has a jaw-dropping reveal in the middle of the film, and yes, an awesome “bleak twist ending” (this time as a mid credits sequence) that isn’t as good as the 1968 movie but suited this film perfectly and neatly tied up the one plot hole at the end (“so, now that the Apes wreaked havoc in san Francisco, how would they take over an entire planet of 6 billion humans? They’re far outnumbered…”) A must see movie.
***½ out of ****
Definitely looking forward to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), which will be direct sequel to Rise. It has high expectations to deliver on, so I pray they don’t screw it up. Amazingly, a lot of the reviews are claiming its even better than the 2011 film, which I find hard to believe since the only reason I didn’t rank the 2011 movie as #1 is because it was impossible for it to top an iconic 1968 sci-fi movie, despite the fact it did everything right. I guess I’ll find out in a week when I watch the latest film! For those who are curious, here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpSaTrW4leg