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HD Digital Review: ‘Planet of the Apes 1968’ 50th Anniversary Edition

Note: no spoilers here

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

From 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, the Planet of the Apes 1968 50th Anniversary Edition version in digital HD (Blu-ray and DVD also available) is a wonder. Set in the year 3978, this science-fiction film was loosely based on the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle titled La Planète des Singes. Planet of the Apes was the first film in a series that was followed by four sequels (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes).

Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur) stars as Colonel George Taylor, the leader of an astronaut trio that crash lands on a strange planet after departing on their mission in 1972. Taylor and his colleagues Landon, played by Robert Gunner, and Dodge, played by Jeff Burton, look to explore then survive as director Franklin J. Schaffner covers the landscape well. Linda Harrison plays Taylor’s love interest Nova.

Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Rod Serling create a compelling story. The impactful (and marketable) ending broke new ground along with Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar® nominated classic musical score and John Chambers’ prostethetic makeup techniques. Chambers won an Oscar® for outstanding make-up achievement while Morton Haack was also nominated for best costume design.

Maurice Evans, plays orangutan Dr. Zaius, an important leader among the apes. He is not only the Minister of Science but also the Chief Defender of the Faith. In this unique society, the gorillas are the military police, hunters and workers; the orangutans oversee the affairs of government, science, and religion; and intellectual chimpanzees are mainly scientists. James Whitmore also stars as President of the Assembly, James Daly stars as prosecutor Dr. Honorious, and Wright King plays Dr. Galen, a surgeon.

Archaeologist Cornelius, played by Roddy McDowall, has a fiance Zira, played by Kim Hunter, who is a medical doctor specializing in humans. She’s basically a psychologist and studies the humans to understand the past. She nicknames the blue-eyed Taylor “Bright Eyes” and provides an important communication bridge and buffer to the questionable human experimentation projects. Cornelius and Zira help progress the film’s plot along with Lucius, Zira’s rebellious nephew, played by Lou Wagner.

This special version of the 112-minute classic sci-fi film also includes considerable bonus features on the Blu-ray version include audio commentary by Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Natalie Trundy as well as Chambers plus audio commentary from Goldsmith. These commentary tracks offer great insight thought would have been great to hear from more of the principal cast/filmmakers. Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth is featured on a text commentary.

Other special features include The Beyond the Forbidden Zone Adventure Game, outtakes, galleries, original makeup tests, a public service announcement (PSA) from ANSA as well as the featurettes “Evolution of the Apes” and “Impact of the Apes” while the 1998 documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes features a new and effective interactive mode.

Subtitle options are in English SDH, Spanish, and French with English SDH and Spanish language options plus a  2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The Blu-ray version features audio in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0, and French Dolby Digital 5.1.

The DVD version includes all three commentaries (two audio and one text) in the bonus features.

Planet of the Apes comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) for its engaging story, filmmaking, and overall appeal to audiences of all ages. It’s a quality experience even as a basic digital copy, but fans will definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray version.

This classic film was followed by a short-lived television series, the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes, a 2001 film Planet of the Apes remake directed by Tim Burton and the recent, high quality reboot film trilogy – Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

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