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A human space crew on an exploration mission awakens from a deep hibernation to find themselves crash-landed on a desolate planet. Upon investigation, head astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) and the surviving members of his crew, find out that the planet is much like Earth except the human population is considered a plague on this world, and the controlling force is a species of highly intelligent apes.

Review by Craig Miller
I don't remember much about seeing Planet of the Apes the first time when I was a young boy - drawn to the prospect of a fanciful tale of lost astronauts, dangerous worlds and talking monkeys - but what I do remember is pure enjoyment and a fondness for this classic sci/fi adventure that has never left me during my thus far 28 years.

I didn't understand the film's timely political annotations, or its observations on societal woes, I didn't even understand its shock ending (I was five and un-Americanised at the time) nor feel tight in the pants whenever Linda Harrison lit up the screen, all I knew was that talking ape movies were for me.

This classic 1968 sci/fi adventure became a world-wide phenomenon during the late 1960s (which continued to the 1980s thanks to four ordinary sequels and two short-lived television shows), and now it has a new chapter in its longtime saga, a special edition, two disc release that rivals any other double disc package released this year (that may be a little biased, but we all have our childhood favourites).

The film itself is a real gem, simple in its delivery but rich in everything that makes a good film so memorable. On the surface, it plays out like many science fiction adventure films of the time, lots of fun with no real interest in being taken more seriously than any other family orientated movie, but scratch the surface and the religious, social and political themes so prevalent in the US in the late 1960s end up dominating the film's landscapes.

Some say this movie is as much about the human predicament, with in-depth observations about human society, as it is about talking apes and while I can agree to a certain point, I think a great deal of this can be attributed to hindsight, rather than a real attempt at any type of social commentary. Either way, it's still very much a part of this film.

Heston is a powerful figure on screen, and he commands attention in all but a few of his scenes here. His portrayal of head-strong astronaut Taylor, a fundamentally unlikable man who heads into space to escape humanity and ends up fighting for the survival of his species, is delivered with everything he has and it's not until the film's final scenes that his character's real torture truly begins. It's incredible stuff.

All the actors do a fine job, especially the majority of the supporting cast which are forced to act under multiple layers of make-up, rubber masks and hair pieces - not a big deal by today's standards but a massive undertaking for the 1960s especially with make-up artists applying their craft to hundreds of extras. In fact the huge number of make-up artists working on Planet of the Apes created a massive shortage, causing many other films at the time to delay production.

Now, it may be one thing to release a typically classic movie on DVD, but what of the bonus material, I hear you say. Well, what special edition would be complete without a weekend's worth of non-stop goodies, all related to the film and the history of this massive franchise.

Included in this stop-traffic, two-disc release, is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a DVD package, a two hour epic feature entitled Behind the Planet of the Apes which charts everything from Arthur Jacobs' acquisition of the rights to French novelist Pierre Boulle's book, La Planete des Singes (The Monkey Planet) to its screen adaptation, budget restraints, shooting problems and its eventual release. It's an exhaustive feature, narrated by co-star Roddy McDowall, which for the second half explores the rest of this talking monkey franchise, and almost ends up stealing some thunder from the main feature.

There are also two very good yet gap-filled audio commentaries featuring a host of cast and crew members, an informative text commentary, some great behind the scenes footage with home videos from McDowall, a rarely seen make-up test which was filmed by Fox before the film was greenlit and a host of other original featurettes from the vaults including original reviews of the film, galleries and poster art. Everything and more for the budding talking monkey enthusiast.

Imaginative, intellectual and deserved of its classic status (there's that bias again), Planet of the Apes is still there for the kid in all of us to laugh at and enjoy, but for the adults in us there is so much more to experience with a lot to say about the world in which we live. Oh yeah, and then there's Linda Harrison.

Published June 17, 2004

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(US, 1968)

CAST: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, James Whitmore, James Daly

DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 widescreen, DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Commentary with composer Jerry Goldsmith, Commentary with actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy, Kim Hunter and make-up artist John Chambers, Text commentary.[BREAK]Disc Two: Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary, Make-up test, Roddy McDowall home videos, Dailies and outtakes, Two Planet of the Apes featurettes, A look behind the Planet of the Apes, Don Taylor directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes, J. Lee Thompson directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Film reviews, Poster art, Galleries, Trailers, Merchandise featurettes.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

DVD RELEASE: May 5, 2004

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