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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Planet of the Apes 35th Anniversary Edition (1968)

"Man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supplies in the forest, then migrates to our greenbelts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It's a question of simian survival."
- Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 01, 2004

Stars: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans
Other Stars: James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: G for (brief nudity, mild language)
Run Time: 01h:51m:55s
Release Date: February 03, 2004
UPC: 024543107545
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Few sci-fi franchises were as successful in the late 1960s and 1970s as the Planet of the Apes films. Based on a short novel by writer Pierre Boulle, these five films (and a television series and a Saturday morning cartoon, not to mention numerous magazines and comic books) really struck a nerve in that socially-conscious epoch. I suspect a goodly number of forty-ish liberals learned important formative lessons about tolerance, racial discrimination, and religious hypocrisy from these pictures, thanks to their surprising G rating from the MPAA.

Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and three companions have been shot into space for an interstellar voyage in about 1972 (!) and as a result of time-space distortions wake up after 18 months have passed for them, but it's been nearly 2000 years back on Earth. Unfortunately for them, they woke up (except for one who died en route) as a result of their ship crashing into a lake on a mysterious planet. After some efforts to cross a bleak and forbidding desert, they eventually encounter some primitive humans. But before they can conquer them, the astronauts are shocked to learn that the humans are being hunted by gorillas on horseback. Taylor is captured, unable to speak due to a wound to his throat. Chimpanzee animal psychologist Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) finds some strange spark of intelligence there that may indicate that the humans are trainable. But Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), the orangutan Minister of Science and Defender of the Faith, orders that Taylor stand trial for blasphemy and that he be dissected promptly.

Though the film has elements of an old-time sci-fi adventure movie, the casting of heavyweights such as Heston, Hunter, and Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans should have been the first tip to period viewers that something else was going on here. The picture is an occasionally heavy-handed allegory on human race relations, nationalism, and religious dogmatism, taken to extremes. The combination of science and religion in one ministry certainly presages in startling manner the efforts to force creationism into the schools today.

But for all the social messages, the picture still manages to be entertaining, largely through the strong performances of the leads. While Heston has a tendency to chew the scenery a bit (especially in the last minutes), Hunter is terrific, as is Roddy McDowall as her somewhat skeptical husband. McDowall became indelibly connected with the series, and it's very difficult to imagine it without him; compare the weak performance of his replacement in the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the only one he missed, to see just how much McDowall added to the part. His quizzical, slightly off-kilter performance is one of the more memorable parts of the film. Perhaps most spectacular, though, is Evans, who combines the wisdom of age with the corruption of excessive power to make for an ape that projects well beyond the makeup.

The makeup itself is justly famous, having fairly well revolutionized the industry. The large-scale use of prosthetics and appliances was pioneered in this picture, winning it a special Oscar before there even was an award given in that category. Artist John Chambers, who had a background in medical prosthetics and facial reconstruction, used that knowledge to create ape makeups that not only are convincing but allowed the actors to emote through them. The results are a long, long step forward from the relatively simple and unconvincing makeup tests done in preparation for the making of the film (contained in the extras on Disc 2).

This picture is considered an undeniable classic, especially for its iconographic last moment. 20th Century Fox has wisely responded to criticism over its initial release of the film, which featured a prominent and horrific spoiler on the case cover and on the menu. Happily, that spoiler is gone here and the disc can be approached safely by those new to it who have somehow managed to avoid the many references in popular culture to that last shot.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original release of this film sported a nonanamorphic widescreen transfer that was among the better ones of that ilk. The anamorphic remastering here does improve upon it in several respects, however. Most importantly, the excessive edge enhancement and ringing seen on hard edges in the earlier disc is practically gone here. There's a moderate increase in detail and texture, though not quite as much as I was expecting. More film grain is visible, and black levels are somewhat better. Colors, especially sky, are more stable as well. There is, however, a bit more moiré' effect here, though that's most noticeable only in the spaceship scenes at the beginning as the frame includes grills and other difficult-to-render visuals. On the whole, a pleasing improvement. The source print either is flawless or has been thoroughly restored for video. Beware, however, for there is also a pan & scan edition available. That would be a travesty for a film that makes such good use of the wide Cinemascope canvas, and is definitely to be avoided.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Several audio choices are present. Both the DD 5.1 and DTS tracks sound quite good, although the DTS offers a wider soundstage and probably will be preferred by those equipped to decode it. Goldsmith's percussive and innovative soundtrack sounds terrific here, making one bemoan the lack of an isolated music score. Mild hiss is audible, however. The French 2.0 surround track is acceptable, but the Spanish mono track sounds quite poor indeed; Spanish speakers will probably prefer to use the subtitle option instead.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) composer Jerry Goldsmith and 2) makeup artist John Chambers, actors Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:25s (disc 1)

Extra Extras:
  1. Makeup test reel
  2. Home movies, dailies and outtakes
  3. NATO Presentation reel (1967)
  4. Galleries of stills, posters, costume designs, merchandising
  5. Reviews
Extras Review: Fox ladles on the extras heavily here, starting with a pair of audio commentaries on the feature. The first features composer Jerry Goldsmith discussing his techniques and the compositional process for the film. While he doesn't speak over the music cues, the dialogue is still there interfering with enjoyment of the music track. Since there's quite a bit of music here, his comments are fairly limited, though don't miss his discussion of the decision process relating to the last minutes and the end credits. Less happy is a "commentary" that is really just interview clips with makeup artist John Chambers, and actors Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Natalie Trundy. These clips are not scene specific, but there are enormous chunks of dead air between them. I found this approach to be highly annoying and I found myself fast-forwarding to try to find the next bit. If the comments are this thinly spaced, then there should be an onscreen icon directing you to the next bit, or even better sending you there without further ado. More informative than both of these put together is a text commentary by Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth. For the most part this contains plenty of interesting factoids, though it also contains some silly errors, such as labeling Alexander Pope (1688-1744) as a 19th-century writer.

The second disc contains yet another iteration of the full-frame documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes (2h:06m:37s), which most Apes fans will already own twice: both in the original boxed set, which is still the only way to get the other four movies, and in the standalone 2-disc documentary set that also was a repository for much of the additional material that's found here. Those who don't have that set will certainly welcome its inclusion here, however. The documentary is exceptionally well done and gives a broad overview of the series and its making.

One of the more interesting extras is the short test, narrated by Paul Frees, used to convince Fox that the makeup might work. Heston stars as Taylor, though one who's much more comfortable with the apes than in the final version, while Edward G. Robinson essays the Zaius role. This anticipation of their teaming in Soylent Green is interesting not least for the very crude and un-apelike makeup that is certainly not convincing at all in light of what Chambers managed to turn out!

Brief featurettes from 1968 (4m:36s), 1970 (7m:08s) and 1972 (1:07) take a look at the making of several of the films, with raw footage of Don Taylor directing Escape and J. Lee Thompson shooting Conquest. These are plundered for another featurette, 1972's A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes, which is pretty much just a waste of space. Likewise the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) promotion reel, which is just a condensed version of the film. McDowall's home movies (20m:20s), including his adventures in the makeup chair are interesting, as is a reel of dailies and outtakes (19m:42s).

All of the foregoing that are presented in widescreen are nonanamorphic. The trailers are, however, anamorphic, which is a plus. A variety of short galleries give a look at the posters around the world, costume designs, merchandising and collections of ape memorabilia. A still gallery disappointingly has the pictures in a tiny section of the screen using only about 1/6 of the acreage available. Finally, a DVD/ROM feature gives a chronology of the Apes films, the TV series and the 2001 "re-imagining." Almost all of this bonus material is present on the Image documentary set, but that collection is still valuable for its extensive interviews with McDowall, which are the only significant extras not replicated here.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Fox does a nice job of sprucing up the picture on this disc, and provides copious extras, though there's little that owners of the Behind the Planet of the Apes set don't already have.


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