Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of its release, Planet of the Apes (1968) makes its debut on Blu-ray alongside the four sequels it spawned. The original is a classic science fiction film that still has an impact on pop culture decades later.
Set in the year 3978, after having traveled for 2006 years, a trio of ANSA astronauts led by Taylor (Charlton Heston) crashes lands into a lake on an unknown planet. They make their way through a desert where nothing will grow, and after passing some scarecrow-like objects, they discover plants and water. As the men begin to explore this new world, they find it very different from the one they left behind. Humans here are the primitive species and, as the title hints, the planet is run by apes. This is revealed in a very exciting action sequence as gorillas on horseback round up the humans to take into Ape City. In the melee, Taylor is shot in the throat and loses the ability to speak. Later, he strives to make his intelligence known to two chimpanzee scientists: archaeologist Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter), a medical doctor specializing in humans.
Orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who is not only the Minister of Science but also the Chief Defender of the Faith, learns Taylor is not like the primitive humans and that he came from the Forbidden Zone, the desert the astronauts traveled through. Zaius questions Taylor who has no answers for him. This frustrates Zaius and he orders Taylor be sent off for experimentation. Taylor escapes, but is soon captured and utters the iconic line, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
After being put on trial, Cornelius and Zira help Taylor escape and they head to a cave in the Forbidden Zone where Cornelius had previously discovered the remains of an ancient society. Dr. Zaius and a team of gorillas go in pursuit. Co-screenwriter Rod Serling altered novelist Pierre Boulle’s ending and created one of the greatest story twists in film history, but it’s not just the twist that makes the film stand out as the story deals with a lot of compelling themes.
The quality of the video shows the film’s age and has a soft look throughout. During the opening scenes as the ship flies through space, bright white lights that streak across the viewscreen cause severe artifacting, but that’s the only time the issue occurs. The backgrounds aren’t sharp and the colors aren’t vibrant, but that’s likely due to cinematography choices. The color palette is mainly subdued earth tones. The human skin tones looked good, which is a great benefit considering Heston appeared in a loincloth for a majority of the film. The video is presented in Widescreen 2.35:1.
The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio but the soundtrack understandably doesn’t use it to the fullest. The front speakers got most of the use while the backs were mainly used for immersing the viewer amidst Jerry Goldsmith’s score. The main use of the subwoofer was when Taylor’s ship crashed and during a key point in the third act. Originalists will appreciate having access to the mono track.
The disc is loaded with special features, some of which include previous material from other Apes releases. Multiple commentary tracks feature McDowall, Hunter, Goldsmith, and makeup artist John Chambers, who was awarded an honorary Oscar for his work because makeup didn’t have a category at the time. There is also a text commentary by author Eric Greene. Material from stages of the film’s production include McDowall’s home movies from the set and makeup test footage Edward G. Robinson who almost played Zaius. The 1998 documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes looks at the whole series and now has an interactive feature that offers even more information. New features include “Evolution of the Apes,” which covers the transition from book to screen; “Science of the Apes,” only available to BONUSVIEW-enabled players, has different scientists discussing the film; and a Beyond the Forbidden Zone adventure game. There is even a pointless, fictitious public service announcement from ANSA that offers a mission report about the astronauts
Planet of the Apes is a Blu-ray made for fans who are committed to the film and want to learn all they can about it, yet no matter your level of devotion, it is a great science fiction film for the home library.