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Monday, November 28, 2022

Planet of the Apes 1968 Movie Review with Spoilers - Deep Dive

From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.

Today I'll be reviewing the movie Planet of the Apes released in 1968.

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by:
Franklin J. Schaffner

Adventure, Sci-Fi

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:

$5,800,000 (estimated)

Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:

The Synopsis is:
An astronaut from the future travels to a planet where apes have evolved to become the dominant species and humans are primitive creatures.

The story originated from the 1963 science fiction novel (La Planète des singes), translated as The Planet of Monkeys, but known in English as Planet of the Apes published by French author Pierre Boulle (sounds like Bule like rule).

Film Producer Arthur P. Jacobs bought the rights before the book was published for the English language from Pierre who was reluctant to do it and rumor has it that he thought that the novel was his own worst work.

Jacobs set up "Planet of the Apes" with Warner Brothers Studios in 1965 who first assigned Rod Serling, best known for the television series The Twilight Zone (1959).  Rod spent over a year and nearly forty drafts translating the novel.

The project landed the interest of one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Charlton Heston, but it wasn’t enough.

Warner Brothers passed on the film and the project was in a whirlwind of rejections for almost all of the studios except for 20th Century Fox.  

J. Lee Thompson and Blake Edwards were considered direct, but ultimately Arthur P. Jacobs chose Franklin J. Schaffner for the job on the recommendation of Charlton Heston, who worked with Schaffner prior. 

When Franklin J. Schaffner first saw the script, the apes in the story lived in a future world but it was clear to him that the budget would be a problem to try to create that, so he thought that the world should be more primitive and that helped reduce costs.

However the studio was not convinced that a movie about talking apes would go over well on screen even with the reduced cost.   Someone coughed up $5,000 for a test scene with Charlton Heston playing alongside the made-up Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius and James Brolin as Cornelius and Linda Harris as Zira that really impressed the studio, but there was still some hesitation for about another six months. After seeing the success of Fantastic Voyage released in 1966, the studio began to see that there was an audience for science-fiction as a genre.  This was the typical process for Hollywood.  A breakout success must happen first before studios are willing to put their cash on the line.  It makes sense right? It's just business.

Finally after three years of struggling to start production, the film adaptation of Planet of the Apes was given the green light to move forward.

Michael Wilson was hired to rewrite Rod Serling's screenplay and was given the main credit in the film.  There was also another uncredited writer who worked on the script a bit more and restructured some of the dialogue and more levity.  

What we got was a ridiculous premise that could have been played for laughs, brought wonderfully to life cloaked in a terrifying yet thoughtful detailed story that keeps the viewer invested in characters you may or may not actually even like.  There was a realism that translated humanity throughout the tale, something we can all see, no matter where we come from or what we believe.

At an hour and 52 minutes, it’s long and you do feel the time in the beginning because the filmmakers want you to feel the weight of time and the isolation that the characters are feeling.  It’s brutal. After the first 30 minutes the story unfolds more details until the end.  It’s an awesome gradual crescendo of events.

The challenge in this story begins with the fact that 4 astronauts are traveling in space on a mission to start humanity over again in March 2673.  It’s very interesting because there's only one female to be shared among 3 males, but who’s judging? Originally there was an all male crew written and I suppose that would change the purpose for the mission to be strictly of an exploratory nature.

The film focuses on George Taylor as the main character or protagonist for us to follow during the film.  The crew members Dodge, Landon, and Stewart go into cryo-sleep and wake up after their ship crashes on a planet that looks a lot like Earth on November 25, 3978. 

First they encounter mute humans that are in a primitive mental state.   30 minutes into the film we discover that the planet is ruled by intelligent apes with more humanoid attributes than real life simians that we are used to seeing.  

This is an “upside down civilization” as Taylor aptly observes.  The humans behave like wild animals, hunted for sport, chained, herded, experimented on and displayed in museums and zoos.  The apes pretty much treat humans the way humans treat apes and other animals in the real world.

There is a mystery as to how humanity came to be in such a position after being the dominant species on the earth for thousands of years.  The problem is that Taylor estimates that he has arrived 320 light years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the Orion constellation, 2,000 years in the future.  So being that this planet is not earth, this really keeps the audience guessing whether apes evolved from humans on this world. 

The ape culture is quite unique with the citizens comprising of the upper crust law making Orangutans, the hippie middle class chimpanzees, and the brute warriors and laborers gorillas.  This class system displays a factor that naturally occurs in social dynamics.   I’ll be mentioning the class system again later in the review as it pertains to some of the protagonists. 

Among the main challenges in the film is one of the Orangutans in power is Dr. Zaius.  He knows that humans are intelligent and he knows that humans used to be the dominant species.  However, he diligently hides history from his community.  He uses any means necessary to suppress the possibility that humans can organize themselves so he makes it his business to be involved in the day to day events of newly captured humans from the wild.  If he sees any humans showing signs of intelligence, he neuters them, performs surgery to inhibit the language centers in the brain, or has them executed.

He fears humans because he knows that they once ruled civilization and eventually destroyed the world, leaving everything in a primitive state.  As long as he can keep the humans disenfranchised the apes can live in some manner of peace knowing that “evil” from his perspective is at bay.  His motivation is valid and he has the power within this society to do it.  He says, “It’s a matter of simian survival.”

He’s the hero from his perspective, protecting his world.   The harm he is doing to the many innocent humans is undoubtedly tremendous and his actions take away the agency of the other apes in his society to know the truth and decide how they want to proceed.  I think intelligent species crave agency in all matters and strive for it, so eventually in generations to come, Dr. Zaius’ methods will face resistance.  This is why he’s such a good challenge for the story. He’s a danger to humans and thinking apes.

The sacred scrolls of the apes document laws created by the Lawgiver.  Any creature that is not an ape has no rights.  The First Article of Faith states that the Almighty created the ape in his own image, that he gave him a soul and a mind. That he set him apart from the beasts of the jungle and made him the lord of the planet.  These sacred truths are self-evident.”  Sound familiar?  It sets a magnifying glass to old laws and how primitive they appear as humans evolve.

The film starts with George Taylor leaving a message for someone in the future to listen to his logs.  This is reminiscent of how the book starts with the descendants of apes in space that find a message detailing a story about intelligent humans that seems so ridiculous that they discard it.

This message is where we get a good sense of Taylor and his mental state.  I call him Taylor because the film refers to him as just Taylor throughout the story.  In a way it’s impersonal not ever using his first name, but it seems to be a result of the embedded training and efficiency he may have had as an astronaut.

Taylor’s personality in the beginning of the film is cynical as he mocks humans as a feeble breed.  He says that he is in search of finding something better than man.  In his message he says, “Tell me though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother, keep his neighbor’s children starving?”

That pretty much sums up his point of view in a nutshell.  But there is more. When interacting with his crewmen, he comes off as a total jerk. He enjoys  antagonizing his crewman Landon who laments the loss of their crewman Stewart and the world he lost.  

Landon plants a mini flag. The film doesn’t explain why.  Was it to claim this new world for the United States? Or was it a memorial for Stewart?  Either way Taylor laughs at Landon with abandon.  If it is because Landon is claiming the planet, the United States most likely doesn't exist anymore.  If it was a memorial to Stewart, Taylor is mocking Landon’s attachment to sentiment.  It’s a perplexing moment, but it shines a light on Taylor’s lack of sentiment for his own team.

Once the three surviving astronauts make it through what the apes call the Forbidden Zone, they encounter humans and then the apes hunting wild humans.  They are scattered during the raid. Taylor gets shot in the throat so he can’t speak and he has no knowledge of what happened to the other crew members.  He wakes up in a science pen and since he cannot speak, he continually tries to communicate with the apes using gestures.   He struggles with this for a while to no avail.  

Wouldn’t it be more intelligent to observe the climate of this society first and then plan a way of escape?  That would be my strategy.  Taylor immediately identifies Dr. Zaius and Zira as the two apes in charge of things that perhaps he can communicate with.  I think his thought process is that he can impress them enough that they’ll help him leave the village.  His motivation for freedom is clear, but his plans beyond that don't get solidified until the end and that is understandable because he’s a fish out of water who is riding on luck and chance to survive what he’s experiencing.

Luckily, Zira is especially fond of Taylor and calls him Bright Eyes.  And thank goodness for Zira or he would be filet and used as a biology diagram to be honest. He was so lucky!  Zira treats him like a lab animal showing signs of intelligence and it is interesting to see.  It’s ironic and amusing to see apes treating humans this way.
Zira gives Taylor a mate who he names Nova.  She is like the other humans, mute and primitive but she is enamored with Taylor.  At one point Taylor is trying to prove to Dr. Zaius that he is intelligent, but Nova erases the words he is trying to write and I think that this means something.  It’s totally possible that she saw something bad happen to humans that tried to write in front of apes. That is something to consider that adds another layer to the story about the relationship between the humans and the apes.  The humans may be intentionally playing dumb to survive.

After learning that Taylor might be intelligent, Dr. Zaius has him scheduled for gelding, which means castration and that sets him off to discover what has happened to Dodge.  Unfortunately Dodge has become a taxidermy prop in a museum.  It’s shocking and horrific.  The same thing that we do to animals.

Taylor’s throat has healed enough for him to finally speak and this is where the film gets its iconic line, “Get your hands off of me, you damned dirty ape!”

The courtroom scene is another well appreciated moment in the film that was written into the film by Michael Wilson, his own real life blacklisting after being accused of being a communist during the 1950s.  It’s a fantastic scene further showing us the inequality and unfairness of the Orangutan's bureaucracy and laws.  At some point the prosecutor asks Taylor a question referring to their sacred texts which he does not know, but not knowing it is an excuse they make for dismissing him.  To them he represents evil and so we have the moment where the court visually enacts “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

This in particular is referencing “the three wise monkeys” a Japanese pictorial maxim depicting the same scene.  One monkey who sees evil, covers his eyes, another monkey who hears evil, covers his ears, and the last wise monkey will speak no evil, covers his mouth.  The meaning was to promote being of good mind, speech and action.  However, it has also been used to refer to those who would rather turn a blind eye to truth.

This scene was actually completely ad-libbed.  It was kept in the film to bring some levity to the scene.

As proof of Taylor’s story that he’s an astronaut from another world, the court has rounded up all of the surviving humans from the last hunt.  There he finds Landon who has endured some kind of brain surgery to make him despondent and much like the other humans in this world.  It raises a lot of questions about the apes and the humans, in particular, Dr. Zaius’ role in the matter.  That perhaps generations of apes had assigned one within its ranks, a high level scientist to specifically scout out intelligent humans and either make sure they don't procreate, are given brain surgery, or executed based on their level of threat.  The incident with Nova erasing Taylor’s writing can be seen as evidence that she might have seen this first hand.

There is also a small commentary about the class system during the courtroom scene.  Dr Honorious asks Taylor "why are all apes created equal?" Taylor answers "some apes, it seems, are more equal than others".  I referred to it before when describing the ape society, but there is a rift in the system and we hear a little of it when Zira meets Taylor for the first time while a technician by the name of Dr. Galen is working on Taylor’s throat injury.  Galen is disgruntled working his way up the ranks of society and is pressuring Zira to help him.  It’s a small detail that I easily overlooked several times watching the film, but it is there; the tensions between the classes and the glass ceiling prevent hard working individuals from breaking through to the upper echelon.

I also wanted to mention that this is also in reference to George Orwell's novel "Animal Farm" in which farm animals take over a farm and the pigs eventually take over as the ruling class, oppressing their fellow animals implementing laws and one of the laws is "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

What I love about this class system the way it is presented in the story, is that the focus of the tale doesn’t stop to deal with it or uproot it, it just  presents it as one of the layers in this interesting society.  It leaves the audience to interpret how this applies to our real world.  It doesn’t preach to you how to feel about it.  What a wonderful way to bring depth to the story that keeps you thinking about it after the film is over.  I was genuinely concerned for the ape society by the end.

Zira’s fiance is an archeologist by the name of Cornelius who is very much afraid to go against the powers that be.  He has even been threatened to just do what the Orangutans deem is ok; things that don’t contradict the sacred scrolls.  Eventually he helps Taylor simply because he’s in love with Zira and will do anything that she asks.  He has found remains of a civilization that pre-dates the apes’ society so this interests Taylor in trying to figure out what happened to this world and why it’s so different from his own.

Cornelius shows Taylor and Dr. Zaius his findings of possible human remains.  One of the findings is a talking human doll which Dr. Zaius dismisses, until finally he confesses he knows about humans and their lost civilization.  

Even to the second to last scene, Taylor is not likable by most accounts but over time and watching his suffering through the film, empathy grows for the character as it should because he gets treated pretty awfully. 

However, as a character, he doesn’t change and he has no actual character arc.  He hates humans in the beginning and damns them to hell by the end.  No big change.

He still holds an air of superiority among humans and the apes.  So why would we want to watch his journey?  I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that we stay with his journey because he shares something common with the audience, which is a curiosity about what happened on this planet and how humans lost their humanity.

The story is outstanding and technical aspects were not only faithfully in service of it, they were groundbreaking for anything that was possible for 1968!  With a budget a little shy of only $6 million dollars, wow, this production made the very most of every single penny.

The production filmed from May to August 1967 in northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon.  The ape village was filmed on the Fox Ranch in Malibu Creek State Park, in Los Angeles.  The locations were perfect for giving the illusion of its own world, away from highly habitable areas.  With that, there were difficulties filming in these remote locations.  All of the equipment needed to be carried to and from the location by foot or mule daily.  Imagine doing that for 3 months!

Not only that the high temperatures during summer was so bad that many of the cast and crew fainted, especially during the desert scenes in arizona.

The apes' village is modeled on the Göreme Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey by the Spanish architect Antoni GaudĂ­ and it was also inspired by The Flintstones’ city of Bedrock.  This design really lent to the idea that this civilization was primitive, but also gaining some momentum as a species.  I would guess that the simian age in the film was comparable to our Middle Ages.  I thought that was fascinating and grounded the film in a real world we could believe.  It helped with the lore and I was trying to imagine daily life for these characters.

I was really blown away by the crash sequence and how dynamic it was filmed.  The camera swirls around the ship and gives an idea of how far out into the body of water the survivors are in scope of where they are on this strange new world. By the way, this was filmed at Lake Powell, which is formed by a dam on the Colorado River on the Utah-Arizona border.  The visuals there were simply gorgeous.

It looks like they took the footage in a helicopter, however, it was so smooth that it looked like it was on a crane.  It was well done.

The sound effects for the spaceship were recycled from the Batmobile from the Batman TV series that began in 1966, the engines of the "Jupiter 2" from Lost in Space (1965).  As well the water pool the astronauts find was recycled from Doctor Dolittle (1967).

One thing that helped to sell the story plot that the apes had their own rules and laws was the set by the Lawgiver.  The nine foot statue of the Lawgiver gives us a real sense of their organized beliefs.  They built two of them for the film that were also used in a few of the sequels.  The original ended up in Arthur P. Jacobs' backyard until it was auctioned to a "Planet of the Apes" collector. The other was given to Sammy Davis Jr. who was a huge fan of the movie and a friend of  Jacobs’.  Sammy kept it until his death and his wife used it to pay for his debt to the IRS.  It was auctioned to a friend of Roddy McDowall, the actor who plays Cornelius. 

The success of this movie in 1968 was heavily due to the amazing make-up effects by John Chambers based on a technique he used during World War II to help give disfigured veterans a normal appearance using molded masks. As well, Chambers spent several hours observing the facial expressions of apes at the Los Angeles Zoo to help him figure out what sections of the face would needed to have the most movement. 

The actors would have eyebrows and sideburns painted with a protective wax as early as 5am in the morning. John created appliances which were molded sections of a mask that had to be glued on the face along with hair and blended with makeup for each use.  The ears were a separate piece that had to be applied only to the actors playing chimpanzees and they complained that it was very difficult for them to hear out of. 

These actors really suffered for their craft because they also had to have their teeth painted black so that they could not be seen.  There were a few moments where the teeth could be seen that slipped the makeup process, but on the most part they were hidden pretty well.  Facial hair pieces were woven onto the appliances and a wig was attached to that.  Hair and makeup also had to be applied to the hands to complete the make up stage which all took about three hours to complete before putting on their costumes.  

To save time, extras that didn’t have close ups were in full face masks which were not very realistic.  But if they were only being seen from afar or with their backs turned from the camera, it worked.

All the ape actors had to stay in makeup during breaks and in between shots because it took so much time to make them up. Some even spent over 12 hours daily in the make up.  They couldn’t move their jaws too much or the makeup would dislodge so their meals were liquified and they drank through straws or ate their lunch in front of a mirror. 

The key to the performance of the apes really were the clear exposure of the eyes and how the actors used their eyes to convey emotions.  It was key to pulling this off and it was the one element that had to be human.  It helped the apes to appear relatable, in contrast to using contacts to make their eyes more realistically simian.

The film employed over 80 make-up artists that were trained by John Chambers at 20th Century Fox. The artists were from other current productions that were delayed to complete this film.  The make-up supplies were actually recycled for other shows like Lost in Space (1968). 

Chambers received an Honorary Oscar for make-up for his work on this movie.  Make-up was not an Oscar category until 1981. Wisely, the production invested 17% of the budget on just the make-up costing them $345,542.

An interesting thing that happened on the shoot was that during breaks actors naturally tended to hang out together based on their species of ape.  It was a sort of natural self-segregation, like with like.  This was the same with the human actors, they all hung out together too.

It’s not a scientific study or anything, but it’s just a noticeable yet fascinating thing that happened on set.  As actors, since they were supposed to endear similar characteristics, it may also be the reason why this happened from a creative standpoint.  It’s sort of a way of staying in character so they could be ready to perform when needed.  Again, this self-segregation was still fascinating, because they weren’t asked to do so.

One key visual piece was the last shot of the film, when Taylor discovers he has been on earth the whole time, revealing the mostly buried Statue of Liberty. This was a cool visual that was achieved by blending a matte painting of the deteriorated statue with existing cliffs. An additional shot was done from a 70-foot scaffold, angled over a 1/2-scale papier-mache model of the Statue.  There were a few inconsistencies between the papier-mache and the matte painting, but it worked pretty well for 1968.

There is a horror element in the film of frantic energy that is helping the audience to see things through Taylor’s point of view, which he sums up, “It’s a madhouse!”  I thought that was brilliantly depicted through the use of wild zoom-ins with audio stingers, hand-held shakey cam, and unique angles.  I loved all of these techniques to build the mood in this film!

Now let’s talk about the score.  This score is phenomenal, giving us a feeling of a wild primal thrill.
We can thank upcoming composer Jerry Goldsmith for this innovative musical score. He was highly recommended by head of production for Twentieth Century-Fox, Richard D. Zanuck.  Hilariously, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to "better get in touch with the movie." And the score feels as if he’s pouring his heart into it!  Piano keys make some random sounds that form a shadow of a melody.  Flutes flutter, drums pound like thunder. Horns come from nowhere.  At some moments you can even hear monkey sounds.   More orchestral beats emerge at the right time to suggest mystery, action, fear, and defeat when needed. Loved, loved, loved it!

So many Hollywood front men were considered for the lead character like, James Garner, Sean Connery, John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Steve McQueen, Rod Taylor, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, and George Peppard. 
Rod Taylor came the closest to getting the part because he was Rod Serling's personal favorite choice.  Charlton Heston was actually always Arthur P. Jacobs' first choice for the part of Taylor with the possibility of getting Marlon Brando if Heston wasn’t available.  

Jacobs sent him a copy of the novel which he felt lacked a cinematic quality, but he liked the premise.  He stayed attached through the three and a half years of rejections from studios and suggested the director for the film so he was highly instrumental in getting the film made.  He even participated in the test scene I mentioned earlier playing alongside Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius and James Brolin as Cornelius and Kim Hunter as Zira.

Unfortunately Charlton Heston was sick during a lot of this shoot with the flu.  The decision was made not to wait and allow him to get better, but use his fatigue and hoarse voice to add to his physical trauma.  Wow!  That is a bit cold, but adds a new layer to his performance.  Heston detailed in his diary that the fire hose scene in particular was pretty brutal on him.  His physicality during the film was clearly on the brink of torture because he was really bound in a painful device when he’s talking to Dr. Zaius in his office. A few reviewers ragged the film for a definite time during that scene where his hand position changed.  He probably had to change his hand position to maintain circulation.  He was definitely in a struggling situation and I could see that.

He was dragged, and pushed around during many of the scenes showing the way the apes would abuse humans.  There were some clearly used stunt doubles, but in many scenes he is clearly seen doing these physical parts himself.  As well there was one moment in the film I felt so terribly for him as an actor as he stood nearly naked in the courtroom for scenes that had to run for many hours or even days.  For most of the film he barely had much clothes in crowded rooms.  It was an example of his dedication to his craft even though remember, much of this he was sick.  At one point the simian village is throwing rocks at him and he said in his autobiography, "Even rubber rocks hurt".

The opening scene inside the cockpit was actually the very last scene to be filmed because Heston had to grow out his beard first and shaved off his beard during the end of the movie.  

The part of Zira was offered to Ingrid Bergman, which she admits was one of her biggest regrets.  Kim Hunter won the role, but she was overwhelmed by the make-up.  She didn’t let on to that on screen.  She seemed so naturally taken to it.  However, the make-up was too claustrophobic and had to take Valium each morning just to get through it.  At one point she requested that she be in make-up for no more than four days in a row because the make-up glue burned her skin and slept with Vaseline on her face. As well, she gave up eating while in make-up.

Her portrayal of Zira was the heart of the film, giving the character empathy and curiosity for science.  I applaud her ability to bring Zira out of the concept of being an ape being played by a human, but a character we cared about.

All the while they worked together, Charlton Heston didn’t actually know what she looked like until after the production.

Rock Hudson declined the role of Cornelius; he felt that he might overshadow Charlton Heston and the importance of Taylor in the film.  And that came about around the time the production decided to cast actors who were portraying apes shorter than Charles Heston who was 6’3” for impact. Roddy McDowall not only met the height requirement at 5’10” and took to playing Cornelius with enthusiasm.  He even suggested to the other actors playing apes, a few tips to add more realism to the performance. He told them to twitch their faces and odd ticks and blinks.  This worked brilliantly to help bring more life to the masks.  He was also keen on wearing his makeup while  driving home with his make-up on and pranking drivers on the freeway.   He has such a fun personality, so this movie was right in his wheelhouse.  He couldn’t make it for the direct sequel, but returned to play Cornelius in Escape from the Planet of the Apes 1971.  He was cast as the main character, Caesar in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes 1972 and Battle for the Planet of the Apes 1973.  Then he played Galen in the Planet of the Apes in the 1974 television series.  Roddy was already a very accomplished actor before this, but he will always be remembered for his fantastic performance in these films.

Linda Harrison was producer Richard D. Zanuck's mistress at the time and became his eventual wife.  She was a stand-in to play Zira in the test shots to get the film green lit.  Since she was already involved in the production, she was suitable to play Nova.  I thought she did well with her non-speaking role showing a large range of emotions. It was through her performance that I determined a lot about the world of the Planet of the Apes.  I also enjoyed the production made Nova a vital function of the story because she is the one who discovers that the human doll can speak.

The film ends with the alarming discovery that Taylor was on planet Earth the whole time.  It was hinted at along the way, but based on Taylor's assumption at the beginning of the film, we had no reason to believe that his assessment was wrong.  The ending gives us yet another assumption by Taylor, that mankind destroyed their own world with nuclear weapons.  It is a sad ending, but it leaves the viewer with a sense that Taylor and Nova can give the human race a new start wherever they decide to camp down.  It’s a bittersweet ending.
One thing that helped get the word out about the film were that several journalists were asked to play background apes. That had to be exciting for them to be a part of a big picture like this and being that it was such a good flick helped matters greatly. 

The film was a huge hit and became a phenomenon.

When we think of merchandising connected to a film, many people think of Star Wars, but being that Richard D. Zanuch was connected to both franchises, Planet of the Apes merchandise campaign was the stuff of legends!

There were over 300 licensed items like, toys, trading cards, action figures, coloring books, picture books, story books, board games, puzzles, stickers, novels, records, costumes, comics, and a series of graphic novels from Marvel Comics, worth about $100M.

The Motion Picture Academy awarded the film an award for best screenplay adaptation.  

The movie's line "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape." was voted as the #66 movie quote in 2005 by the American Film Institute (out of 100).

Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list "100 Years ... 100 Thrills" in American Movies.

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.In 2001, Planet of the Apes (1968) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.

It was so good that it inspired a series of films until 1973. The second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, released in 1970, was supposed to end the story, but Escape from the Planet of the Apes in 1971 brilliantly found a creative way to continue the story.  Then we had Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1972, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes in 1973 which may not have been the best of the series, but left the story off that you could watch the Planet of the Apes right after. 

When the original film aired on network television in 1973 there was a resurgence of interest and pop culture “went ape” or was asked to “GO APE” and that indeed they did. This was a brilliant way to remarket a recently finished franchise increasing the sales of products relating to the film series.  It was called the 'Apemania' craze.  What cool times!  Even Though we have this incredibly serious lineup of social commentaries in these films, this franchise managed to have fun with this unconventional concept.

Marvel Comics released a magazine based on the novel and film called Planet of the Apes in 1974.  Then in the same year, there was a TV show as I mentioned before starring Roddy McDowell as Galen.  Then an animated series came in 1975. 

Attempts at a remake began as far back as 1988  However in 2001 we got the much awaited remake directed by Tim Burton and Charlton Heston made an uncredited appearance as an Ape.  Although this movie didn’t get glowing critical success, it kicked off a new series of ape films that enjoyed a pretty good run. 

I wasn't born when this movie came out but I was able to catch it on late night TV as I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.  I do remember the go ape craze where everyone was dressed up as apes for Halloween. I remember catching it maybe once or twice on late night TV and really liking it but we didn't have the option back then to actually like to see it again or re-watch it to understand it.  In the late 90s when I was living with an ex-boyfriend of mine and we would really talk about movies a lot.  We watched the entire series and it was really awesome to reconnect with these movies again and especially this one.  Charlton Heston is incredible in this film, the way he was able to take a character like Taylor that is very very unlikable and make him charismatic and layered.  I was actually concerned about him and I wondered if he was going to make it out of this situation alive.  I've always been a big fan of his so this is another piece in his repertoire that was  very defining for his career.  He really carries this film on his back and not only that actors playing the apes are doing the most in those costumes and it's really coming through.  It is breathtaking to see this movie now and understand what goes into making a film like this in 1968.  One may want to compare this film to 2001: A Space Oddessy because it came out the same year, but I feel as if were talking about apples and oranges.  They are different in many ways including the budget.  2001 had twice the money to make.  That makes a big difference.   I'm extremely impressed by this film.  It was a film that is was way ahead of its time and paved the way for make up intensive movies like American Werewolf in London released in 1980 where there was that groundbreaking werewolf transformation scene.  It's just fascinating to me to see the history of that in the making and I am absolutely in love with the creativity and the innovation that inspired makeup artists all over the world that help to make the movies we love today. 

Planet of the Apes is a scary concept that asks, what if humans destroyed their world? Could another species replace them?  After observing this proposed possibility, it appears that the apes are adopting many of the same harmful methods of fear, oppression and violence as humans do.  This was a rather interesting concept that stays in your mind forever.  You can’t unsee this film, only bask in its premise and perhaps go down a rabbit hole of “what ifs”.  Can you imagine a civilization of intelligent Dinosaurs, sharks, giraffes or even cats?  It doesn’t matter because the film is about humans, holding a magnifying glass up to how we behave, how we treat each other and how we treat our world.

This is what makes this story so timeless.

Is mankind as doomed as the film and franchise predicts?  This is something to think about and is a great conversation for any modern age.

My Rating:

That sums up my review.  I hope you liked it.

This is Retro Nerd Girl signing off!

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Millennium 1989 Movie Review Deep Dive with Spoilers - Retro Nerd Girl

From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.

Today I'll be reviewing the movie Millennium released in 1989.

Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, and Daniel J. Travanti

Directed by:
Michael Anderson

Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:


Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:

The Synopsis is:
Air Raiders from the year 2989 travel into the past rescuing passengers from doomed airplanes to re-populate their sterile world.

Millennium is based on the 1977 short story "Air Raid" written by American science fiction writer John Varley. John thought that his idea would make a good movie, so he started to work on a screenplay of the story in 1979 for Hollywood and expanded the story into a novel in 1983 also titled, Millennium. 

MGM was interested in it with Douglas Trumbull as one of the early directors looking to cast Paul Newman and Jane Fonda. He was also making Brainstorm 1983 at the time however, after the shocking death of Natalie Wood, who starred in the film, Douglas decided to drop out. 
John Varley said of his experience beginning in 1979, “I ended up writing it six times. There were four different directors, and each time a new director came in I went over the whole thing with him and rewrote it. Each new director had his own ideas, and sometimes you'd gain something from that, but each time something's always lost in the process, so that by the time it went in front of the cameras, a lot of the vision was lost.”

And you can definitely see this effect on the story.  It’s one of the flaws, but it makes up for it in other ways, I’ll explain.

At the tail end of the 1980’s Oscar-winning director Michael Anderson became attached to the project.  Why should we get excited about this? Michael is responsible for such amazing films like. The Martian Chronicles TV Mini Series in 1980, Logan's Run in 1976, and Around the World in 80 Days in 1956.  If anyone could elevate this movie, it was Michael Anderson.

Before I talk about the story, I want to warn you that it might give you the creeps if you are a person who has a severe phobia of flying.  It could be a little triggering.  
As well, please forgive me if it seems I am telling the story from the beginning to the end.  There are just so many nerdy details that I want to get into about this film and calling the story complicated is an understatement.

The film starts out in 1989 where one plane is struck by another plane and it goes down, but before they crash, one of the pilots reports that all of the passengers are all burned and dead.  Whooh!  That’s spooky. I am mentioning this now, because this comes into play later.

The opening sequence was a little janky when it comes to some of the chroma key work, which is a product of 1989.  I don’t think anybody ever did this right at the time.  The technology wasn't quite there yet.  However, the practical explosions and destruction inside the plane, gave the audience a POV of what it would be like inside a real plane crash.  It  was both riveting and the stuff of nightmares. 

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Bill Smith was played by Kris Kristofferson most famous to modern audiences for playing Abraham Whistler in Blade 1998 and subsequent sequels. He was also famous for starring in the romantic drama A Star Is Born (1976) with Barbra Streisand.  Bill Smith is the central character that is investigating the very high profile and baffling case of two plane crashes.  One plane was the DC 10 carrying 276 people which went down 10 miles away from the TU-835 747 plane crash carrying 364 people.  The 747 crash site is where we are focused on for most of the film.  By the way, this crash site scene was impressive, so much so that real life pilots landing nearby were radioing in what they thought was a recent airplane crash.  We see this kind of thing throughout the film, where we have some surprisingly amazing set pieces for what seems to be a very low budget film and you guys know how much I just love that.

These crashes seem to be an obvious problem with the computers that the air traffic control was using.  It’s a pretty open and shut case with a few odd details.  One of them was the black box or the flight data recording of the spooky last words of the pilot as I mentioned and all of the digital watches are counting backward.  These are all clues to something strange being involved for Bill to uncover and I love the detective story here.

Bill isn’t the most exciting character or even slightly charismatic and I understand why.  He takes his job seriously.  In this case 640 people in total died in these crashes.  It’s horrible. He is dealing with the massive loss of life on a daily basis, so it’s often that he barely gets any sleep to go over every minute detail.  

He’s a hollow resemblance of a human being until he meets Louise Baltimore.

Who is Louise you may ask?  At first she appears as a sexy flight attendant that Bill has a one night stand with.   Louise, you naughty girl!  

Louise is actually a time-traveling Air Raider with an awesome eighties hairdo who rescues doomed plane crash passengers.  They replace the passengers with organic lookalikes so that the crashes have visible casualties and not empty planes. It also reminds us that in the beginning of the film when the pilot says he saw the passengers all burned, he was looking at these duplicates.  It’s a creepy sequence that I really enjoyed seeing because it shows the advancement in their technology and the limitations too.  They are able to create these unique biological forms, but they do not have consciousness.   

The future is a dystopian world or something of a nightmare-scape where most of the humans live in a dome called Coventry. Coventry is another pretty impressive set piece that is the star of the film.  It almost looks like the same plane hanger in which the investigation of the 747 takes place.  I might be wrong but it looks possible. The production designer, Gene Rudolf deserves a round of applause for his work on Coventry and how it gives us dystopian vibes with a healthy dose of dark green.

The time travel special effects are a little rudimentary to us now, but for 1989 it was not bad.  I originally thought that it was achieved with animation, but cinematographer Rene Ohashi filmed spinning metal wheels covered in Mylar.  They also used miniature models and full-size mock-ups planes combined with optical effects to make the planes look as if they were entering and exiting Coventry through the time travel gate.

I can see how creative this production was trying to get with this picture.

The future world has been stricken by pollution to the point they are all sterile and cannot populate.  Many of them are part robotic and sometimes just barely living body parts.  The council that runs this world is composed of future humans that resemble scary Frankenstein experiments that are being kept alive in glass tubes. There are very few “normal” humans in the future and these people are assigned the job of air raiders who are able to pass for humans of the past the best.  They are still damaged by pollution to the point they have to smoke to breathe and they too can not reproduce.  

Louise and her team of two other women are not just saving these people to be kind.  They are trying to reboot humanity by taking them to a future time even further than their own polluted one. 

Since Louise is the captain of her own team, she has her own personal robotic advisor by the name of Sherman.  We can assume that Sherman is a robot, but he displays many human attributes including emotions.  He is even able to shed tears.  So my assumption is that he may be a cyborg, composed of mostly robotic parts keeping him alive.

Louise is being played by Cheryl Ladd most famously known as the fourth Charlie’s Angel who joined in 1977 after Farrah Fawcett left the show.  I was a big fan of Cheryl and so that was the main reason I went to see this film in the theater and she didn’t disappoint. She’s mainly known for being a TV actress but also ended up doing a couple of mainstream movies like Lisa 1989 and Poison Ivy 1992.  

I enjoyed her portrayal of Louise, conflicted by what she has to do.  I was however a little disappointed that the production decided to use soft lenses on her to smooth out her wrinkles which was a common practice.  She was 38 at the time and she was still gorgeous.  It’s a little bit annoying as you are trying to see some clarity in the scene and it’s impaired by the blur. 

But back to the story, in 1989 Bill encounters a character that he pretty much discards and the film doesn’t spend much time on him either. However, later on he proves to be extremely important.  This is theoretical physicist and ecology professor Dr. Arnold Mayer who displays a disturbing curiosity about the crash in question and many other crashes.  He has closely followed Bill’s career, even reading many of his crash reports.  He is a Nobel prize winner, so perhaps this is the reason he has clearance to visit plane crash sites and perform his own investigations.  That is not fully explained.  However, Dr. Mayer’s theories involve the unhinged idea of time travelers. As we already know, he’s not wrong.

Dr. Mayer is being played wonderfully by Daniel J. Travanti who at that time was well known for playing Captain Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues from 1981 to 1987.  That was one amazing show I grew up on and I can’t believe it never got a remake.  

Daniel brings a creepy edge to the story that makes every scene he’s in way more exciting than it has any right to be.  He lends the character a dash of intellectual acumen and whimsy as if he knows something that no one else does and it’s true, the character does know something that the other characters don’t know.  He knows about time travel!

One of the movie plot points that I dislike with a passion is time travel because it is so messy.  Some of my favorite movies are about time travel though. But I suppose it is the way that it is used to tell a story.  My favorite movie is The Terminator so it’s interesting that when it is used properly it can be an amazing concept and the latest sequels in the franchise are examples of what happens when it is misused. 

What is so marvelous about this movie is that we get this amazing commentary about the ethics of time travel delivered by Dr. Mayer in his lecture. He says, “What would be the result of people traveling in time? For one thing, paradoxes become possible.  Say you build a time machine and murder father when he was ten years old.  It means you were never born and if you weren’t, how did you build the time machine?  It’s the possibility of paradoxes that make most people rule out time travel by human beings. Still why not.  If you were careful you could do it.  You would not go back to kill Adolf Hitler, much as you might like to because it would change history.  A time traveler would have to be careful but he could do a surprising number of things.”  He mentioned things like taking a cup of water from the ocean or a rock from the ground and that is true. Have you ever lost anything?  What if time travelers take small things in our world to help themselves in their own world.  Think of all those missing socks from the dryer.  Gather enough of them, you could make a sweater.  It’s stuff like this that endears me to these kinds of movies.

 This was the first time I ever learned about paradoxes, from watching this film and I think the subject matter is fascinating.

The film portrays paradoxes as something that resembles earthquakes and the movie even calls them time quakes.  It’s not explained, but I suppose, their reality is experiencing small changes in their timeline, which is creating this physical result.  I almost wished at some point it actually revealed some visuals like color, size and shapes of things changing. Character changes would be cool too. It’s a bit confusing and this also highlights one of the terrible problems with time travel as a concept because it is clear that what you do in the past will change the future.  Even if someone just sees you, you have now changed the future world you came from.  So it's a cool concept and also always a big problem.

So I have told you the main conflict of the story.  The secondary conflict in the story is the misplacement of two apparatuses from the future in the past.The air raiders create potential paradoxes on two missions.   While on them, the air raiders need to use stunners to put the passengers to sleep while they transfer them off the planes.  They lose a stunner at the beginning of the film in 1989, the “present day” the film is taking place and they lose one in 1963, which is a plane crash that Bill Smith is in and is a young boy.  He survives the crash and inspires him to become a crash investigator.  

These stunners are interesting.  They have two parts that need to work with one another; a base and the handle.  The handle is called the initiator.  They lost the base in 1963 and the handle in 1989. The other detail is that the stunners can also be lethal, that is the wildcard in all of this because Dr. Mayer discovered the base of the stunner in 1963 but he doesn’t have the initiator.  Because Bill finds the handle in 1989 (laugh) and meets up with Dr. Mayer, he is able to put together the stunner and it instantly kills the doctor.

Dr. Mayer was supposed to stay alive for another six years to continue his scientific work.   This creates a massive catastrophic PARADOX!

I’ve always been a little upset at this point because Dr. Mayer of all people knew how precious it was not to mess with time.  He gave a whole speech on it and yet he chose not to ask a time traveler that is standing right in front of him, who says, “I’ll answer all of your questions,” and he chose to mess with an object he didn’t know how to use from the future. It is a big flaw in the film, concerning the nature of the character, but Dr. Mayer's death creating the paradox makes sense.  It just does.  However, I would have preferred that he put the stunner together before Louise arrived to try to explain things.

The story and time literally falls apart as Bill and Louise go to the future to find it in chaos. 

In the beginning the time quakes were a minor inconvenience, but at the end the entire structure of Coventry is exploding and falling apart.  It is a spectacular scene bathed in an orgy of fire and a barrage of glorious practical explosions.  We have these big set pieces and pretty good practical work that looks cinematic.  It’s a true spectacle and again another amazing sequence with lots of practical pyrotechnics considering the small budget they had.

Another reason that the paradox took hold so intensely was also due to Bill’s disappearance in his timeline.  According to John Varley's original manuscript, Bill was critical to the National Transportation Safety Board’s future, eventually becoming the director, saving a lot of lives.  A quick explanation of that would have been a nice little tip off to the audience.  But that was something I found while researching the film.

Bill leaving his world to be with Louise after one night together is a bit of a stretch for his character.  I am not sure if that is realistic, but we did establish earlier that his life is miserable.  Nevertheless, I thought he had lost his integrity by walking away from his work.

One major complaint of the film by reviewers is that the film is told from Bill’s point of view and then at about the 34 minute mark it shifts to Louise’s point of view which is not the complaint, but at the 54 minute mark, we get about 20 minutes of the first 30 minutes of the film we just experienced from Bill’s point of view, now from Louise’s point of view.  

Many reviewers disliked it for good reason because it broke up the pacing.  Arguably, there is a lot of purpose for this part of the film, showing us a fish out of water side to Louise and explaining her side of their interaction.  Unfortunately, this part is when the film feels like a made for TV movie and loses a lot of its cinematic impact.

The filmmakers wanted to give us several levels of surprise when we see the future world, but we see all of this in the trailer and the poster.  I think starting the film at the hangar the night Bill found the stunner and telling all of the events from Louise’s point of view would have been more concise and powerful.  There are still plenty of surprises in the story if it were played out that way.  As well, it would have shaved off about 15 minutes, kept the pacing and continuity.  Easy fix.

A lot of reviewers also had a problem with the love scene or the chemistry between the two actors.  I totally understand, but I also felt as if there was a lot about Louise that is revealed in their interaction. Louise was going through a change.  She didn’t even know how to kiss, so all of this was new to her. At one point she had an apple in her hand that she dropped, sort of suggesting she was losing her virginity or her innocence.

One thing they reveal is that Louise is pregnant, which is not explained how.  There was a small hint to the fact that her body was changing by spending time in the past and she was smoking less cigarettes. 

Louise’s pregnancy leads me to talk about the end scene where she takes Bill to the future to face the Paradox.  During the crashes the passengers are stored in Coventry, but since the timeline is unraveling, all of the passengers, Bill and Louise, are sent into the far future beyond their time.  This is a time in the future where the earth has been healed from its damage referred to as New Eden in John Varley’ novel.

It’s interesting that we don’t see the new Eden, but we see the sunrise over the clouds as Sherman’s voice can be heard quoting Winston Churchill: "This is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning."  So the film is driving home that mankind is getting a second start some time in the distant future.

So it’s kinda nice to imagine that somewhere in the future Louise and Bill are together and having children in a new Eden, which takes us back to that apple Louise eats at the hotel.  Louise is the new Eve.

As proof that New Eden was their intention, there was a second ending, which was only released to international audiences.  In that version, Louise and Bill materialize in a Garden of Eden in the far future.

With all of this talk of pollution, there is also a mega huge commentary here about climate change. Again, Dr. Mayer says, “We are destroying the planet we live on by complacency.  He (future humans) will have to live with our legacy of pollution and acid rain.  Our negligence today is producing a world in which our children’s children will be barren and the human race heading towards extinction.”

Need I say more.

I just adore this film for all of the interesting concepts of the future and time travel.  My review is a little all over the place, because there were moments when the film nailed the visuals and on the other hand some of the editing, the color grading, and the written structure feels like a decent television production.  As well when looking into the budget for the movie, there is no indication on record.  That usually means that the budget was probably not substantial and there may have been a lot of borrowed assets from other productions.  There was virtually no promotion for the film either.  It’s the sure sign of a low budget movie.  And so knowing that I give this movie so much credit for delivering as much as it did.

Although it’s flawed, oh so flawed, there are so many amazing little nuggets in this film that I simply love including my fandom for Kris Kristophersen, Cheryl Ladd and Daniel J. Travanti.

This is a very, very guilty pleasure of mine!

My Rating:

That sums up my review.  I hope you liked it.

This is Retro Nerd Girl signing off!

Take care, movie lovers!  I'm off to the next review!

If you enjoy my content and want me to continue you can help at


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