We all know how it ends: on a beach with a loincloth-clad Charlton Heston bellowing to the heavens before a despoiled Lady Liberty. It's such a pop-culture touchstone---the most famous poke probably came from The Simpsons ("I hate every ape I see/From chimpan-A to chimpanzee")---that the rest of this seminal science-fiction feature tends to get overshadowed. Seen now, the film is no less of a mind-altering beast than Kubrick's similarly simian-featuring 2001, which was released only a few months after Apes' premiere.
The leisurely paced first half hour, in which Heston's light-years traversing astronaut hikes through the desolate Forbidden Zone, is practically avant-garde in its reliance on alienating wide shots and a percussively atonal Jerry Goldsmith score. When those damn, dirty apes show up, Planet gets even more oddball and incisive: The satirical jabs are either wittily on the nose ("Human see, human do") or disturbingly under the radar (a never explicitly acknowledged pecking order from light-skinned lawgiver orangutans to dark-skinned warrior gorillas). And Heston makes for a fascinatingly shifty onscreen surrogate, alternating his perspective---longing for the traditional with Linda Harrison's savage Nova, inciting a young ape to progressive teenage rebellion---as it suits his character's perceived evolutionary correctness. To ultimately see him so humbled is no cheap narrative twist (look to the mostly terrible sequels for that), but as illuminatingly bleak a statement on human hubris as a Hollywood superproduction has given us.
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