3. Planet of the Apes (1968)
What an experience it must have been to be at an early screening of Planet of the Apes, seeing minds get blown. This sci-fi classic following an astronaut’s exploration of a planet where apes are the dominant species still packs a real punch.
The big ideas are still provocative and hard-hitting, mercilessly criticising religious fundamentalism; creationism; totalitarianism; war and prejudice. John Chambers’ superlative makeup holds up, still allowing the Ape casts’ masterful performances (particularly the depth brought by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall) to shine through, the aesthetic creativity and iconic imagery remaining impressive.
The twist at the end is astounding for first-time viewers, but the clues are all there for you on a re-watch, the film’s plotting deceptive in its intricacy and layers. Jerry Goldsmith’s instantly recognisable, eerie soundtrack keeps the story charged with energy and is among the best of his career. Ok, so Charlton Heston lights a cigar in his spacecraft at the beginning, but you can’t over-think everything!
2. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Charlton Heston’s wish that Beneath the Planet of the Apes would be the only Apes sequel fell on deaf ears – box office receipts confirmed that there was still an appetite for this sort of thing. Despite the seemingly definitive ending to Beneath, the story continued with Zira and Cornelius traveling back in time to 1973 and astounding the world with their advanced intellectual faculties.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a different beast to the two films that preceded it. They were both bleak dystopian adventures, while Escape is a witty satire taking merciless swipes at hot-button topics of the day – the Cold War; animal testing; celebrity culture (presented here in clever juxtaposition with a literal circus). The film is wisely built around the franchise’s two most compelling characters and their relationship, and Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall make Zira and Cornelius real, relatable and hilarious with their flawless animal body language marrying with dignified vocal work.
Much like the comparable Star Trek IV, other films in the series might work better as hard sci-fi, but this is the most fun entry in the series by far!
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
A lot of people forget how daring Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was.
After a brief opening action scene we get an extended stretch with the key ape characters talking in subtitled sign language, welcoming us as observers of their unique world.
The film’s central conflict is not between ape and man but between Caesar and Koba (Toby Kebbell), two apes who want to protect their race but profoundly differ in ideology. Caesar thinks man can change and both societies can develop in absence of each other, whereas Koba wants revenge and ape supremacy.
The ferocious debate scene between the two leaders of ape society boasts the finest and fiercest performance-capture performances to date, and Koba’s hijacking of a tank later in the film is the action highlight of the entire series. Director Matt Reeves’ world is immersive and layered – the technology took a revolutionary leap forward even from Rise three years earlier – and the film as a whole makes for thematically rich, visually compelling and emotionally operatic stuff.
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Was this Apes list “together, strong” or did we blow it up? What’s your favourite entry in the Planet of the Apes franchise, old or new? Reply in the comments or find The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter.