Concise Reviews: The Planet of the Apes Series (1968-1973)

Planet of the Apes 

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The 1968 classic is an earnest science fiction film that is as concerned with its debates as much as the unravelling of its culture and society. The film is held together by a weighty central performance from Charlton Heston. His silent work is as compelling as his arrogant grumblings on the ills of man. These elements combined with some of the strangest fusions of image and sound, and you have some compelling imagery that startles the senses and sits alongside the ideas. It is a film that emphatically transcends the genre in a year where it unquestionably took a paradigm shift.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes 

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The 1970 follow-up is interesting in the layers that it adds to the original picture. This is evident with the addition of a third race. They are telepathic humans who reside in the Forbidden Zone and ultimately believe that they are peaceful, despite what they do with the power of suggestion. Their insertion creates an interesting conflict for the Apes, and the majesty of their kin is illustrated with great, elaborate production design. Furthermore, the film retains some of the exploration, horror and social commentary of the original 68 film. However, all these ideas ultimately lack cohesion in a movie that is frustrating with its maddening mix of inadequate film-making, rushed storytelling and engaging imagery and scope.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

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Conceptually, Escape feels like an interesting precursor to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well as a comedic take on alien invader pictures of the 1950s. But the film is much more than that, showcasing great science fiction ideas in its screenplay. These vary from the implications of the Metaphysics of time, animal rights to ethical questions about the preservation of the human race. Combined with great performances from McDowell and Hunter, Jerry Goldsmith’s amusing variation on his original score and sure-handed direction, this third instalment establishes Apes as a firm film series.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

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With a passion in its heart and revolution on its mind, Conquest rips the science fiction shackles that had previously held it. In its wake, we are left with a picture that is steadfast in its vision of cruelty and suppression. While the choice to shoot the film at the back lot of Fox seems cheap in conception. It provides the movie with a great claustrophobic feeling; that is paid off with the dizzying close-ups of Ceaser in the gripping finale. Coupled with gritty greys and blacks in the cinematography and excellent use of shadow and you have an Apes film that has entered the 70s, not only topically, but also in its film-making.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

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The Planet of the Apes franchise comes to a grinding halt with the last chapter that ends with a whimper. This is due in part to a lousy screenplay that has unforgivable contrivances, terrible dialogue and an unclear narrative thread. The direction feels uninspired, with bad set design, makeup and effects. Most disappointingly, the film lacks any intriguing ideas that permeated the prior pictures, which resonated even when they were occasionally going off the rails. The only saving graces prove to be Roddy McDowall as Ceaser and some of the restored footage. The most notable of which is the penultimate scene where we see the origin of the nuclear worshipping cult that was in “Beneath The Planet of the Apes.”

 

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