War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Matt Reeves)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: It’s 15 years since the events of the series reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). So therefore we’re a few years into the ape/human conflict that started in its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – let’s say it’s now the late 2020s. The events take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. Under threat from the approaching human forces, the apes decide to relocate to a desert. But when a US Army colonel infiltrates the camp and kills the wife and son of the ape leader Caesar, Caesar heads off to seek revenge…

Humans: There are remarkably few human characters in the story. The unnamed US Army colonel is played by Woody Harrelson, who’s clearly taking a lot of inspiration from Marlon Brando’s similar character in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. Also, on their trek to hunt down the colonel, Caesar and co encounter a young, mute girl (Amiah Miller). They look after her and call her Nova; the name is a reference to the 1968 Apes movie.

Apes: As with the previous films, the CGI apes are an absolute marvel. You soon forget that they’re anything other than physical, textured, *alive* characters. After the opening scene, we cut to Caesar (again played via mo-cap technology by Andy Serkis) and from now on, we see events through ape eyes. It’s a brave decision, especially as few apes can talk and even fewer speak in proper sentences. (You get very used to reading subtitles.) Caesar has a command staff, including the soulful Maurice (Karin Konoval), and a family who are soon killed by the colonel. There are also apes who are working for the humans, acting as scouts and spies, who are disparagingly referred to as donkeys (a pun on Donkey Kong?). But the simian who makes the biggest impact in this film is a chimp called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Caesar and co find him hiding out in an abandoned zoo. He’s mostly a comic-relief character, but a comic-relief character with plenty of heart and childlike innocence. It’s a tremendously watchable performance.

Review: We start in the point of view of human survivors as a troop of soldier stealthily creep through woodland. One has ‘Monkey killer’ graffitied on his helmet, another ‘Endangered species’. To the sound of Michael Giacchino’s droning score and woodland noises, we follow them handheld as they approach a group of apes. It’s a marvellously atmospheric sequence, which then explodes into an intense battle scene. But after this opening, the movie takes a number of surprising turns. For a start, as mentioned, this is the apes’ story and we’re experiencing events with them. The humans are the aggressive, unreasonable bad guys, which is a switch from the more measured storytelling in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Another surprise is how sedate the film is: after the initial bursts of action and crisis, we’re into lengthy travelogue sequences in some remarkably beautiful landscapes. There are forests, waterfalls, beaches, scrubland; the weather ranges from sun to blizzards. In fact, this ‘war’ movie often feels more like an old-school Western as Caesar and others ride their horses across country on a heartfelt mission. Significantly, the locations all feel real and big and vivid. They suit the story, which is soulful and engaging – and also not afraid to take its time and soak up the atmosphere. This narrative debt need to be paid off in the second half of the movie, but sadly War for the Planet of the Apes starts to drag once the characters reach the colonel’s compound.

Seven eyes (almost human) out of 10

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Matt Reeves)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: Despite its title (shouldn’t dawn come first?), this is a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). An opening montage tells us what’s happened since that movie’s pandemic – basically, lots of people died, society collapsed and intelligent apes have formed a colony in some redwood forests. It’s been ’10 winters’ since the pandemic, so we’re probably in the 2020s, and the events take place in and around San Francisco. Although not a remake, this story shares some similarities with 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

Humans: The plot kicks off after a hotheaded man called Carver (Kirk Acevedo) shoots an ape when they come face to face in a forest. It’s the first human/ape encounter in a decade so maybe we can excuse his nerviness. Carver used to work for the water company so he knows the local dam can be used for power. But he later fucks up a temporary truce with the apes by smuggling a gun into their camp… The lead human character is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who is recceing the dam when Carver shoots the ape. Peacemaker Malcolm wants to parley with the apes and he soon forms a bond of trust with their leader, Caesar. Malcolm’s girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), used to work for the CDC so knows that the surviving humans are immune to the disease that wiped everyone else out. His son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), like to draw and it’s not entirely clear why Malcolm keeps taking him on dangerous missions. Back at the colony, the group’s leader is Dreyfus (a soulful Gary Oldman). He’s a man under pressure and has a reactionary instinct, yet thanks to some smart writing and acting he’s still a sympathetic character. He advocates killing the apes, but you kinda see his point of view. (Will Rodman from the previous film also appears in a briefly seen video clip.)

Apes: The film’s opening shot (once we’re past the montage, that is) is a mission statement. An extreme close-up of Caesar’s determined eyes slowly pulls out to reveal his full length… As in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, motion-caption technique has been used to imbue the CGI apes with believable emotions and movements. They’re astonishingly photorealistic, and you quickly forget that the apes are a) computer-generated, and b) not human – you just accept them as characters. Caesar (again played by Andy Serkis) is their leader and rules with power and compassion. He can speak fractured English and walks more upright than his followers. He forges a shaky pact with Malcolm, but is betrayed and shot by his friend Koba (Toby Kebbell) who advocates killing all the humans. An injured Caesar then hides in the house he grew up in (ie, the one from the previous film). Koba, meanwhile, is leading an attack on the human colony, having framed them for the shooting of Caesar. Other featured ape characters include Ash (Doc Shaw), who’s shot by Carver; wise old orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval); and Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), Caesar’s eldest son. The last shot of the movie, incidentally, is a bookend to the first: we again see Caesar’s eyes, but they’re now sorrowful and foreboding. A war with mankind is on the way and will hit in a sequel due out in 2017.

Review: This is a monster movie where the monsters are sympathetic characters, which is a really great trick to pull off. And it’s very well directed by Matt Reeves, who also made the stomach-churner Cloverfield (2008). There’s a heavy sense of foreboding hanging over the whole story, for example. Characters, situations and incidents feel well thought-out and textured, while the pace is not all go so the storytelling has to chance to breathe in between the action. In fact, while a simple plot, every scene is dusted with nice moments of humanity or poignancy. You feel for these characters. It helps that the film is shot with more solidity – long takes, tracking shots, naturalistic lighting – than Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was all about fluid camera moves and a softly lit sheen. This is generally a more dangerous and therefore more interesting world, and is full of post-apocalyptic production design that tells story very well. But it’s the characters where the film most succeeds. We’re shown two sides of the divide – human and ape – and there’s plenty of mirroring going on. Both have a determined and reasonable leader, a misguided member who thinks war is the answer, and innocents caught in the crossfire. The script switches and balances the two POVs very well. Add in some very good incidental music by Michael Giacchino and a few entertaining action scenes – even if a 36-second shot from the top of a tank is a bit show-off-y – and you have an entertaining couple of hours.

Eight petrol stations out of 10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: This is another reboot of the franchise, though the film does have some vague similarities to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The story is set in San Francisco in the modern day over a stretch of eight years.

Humans: The lead character is Dr Will Rodman (James Franco), a research scientist who works for biotech company Gen-Sys. His boss is the money-obsessed, moral-light Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) – the line “I run a business not a petting zoo!” tells you all you need to know about him. After five years of working with primates, Will finds a cure for Alzheimer’s, but the chimp from his study goes on a rampage and has to be killed. She’d recently had a son, so Will smuggles the young chimp out of the building, takes him home and names his Caesar. Will lives with the father, Charles (John Lithgow, very good), who suffers from Alzheimer’s… until Will tries the cure on him and it works. Five years later, however, Charles has a relapse. Meanwhile, Will starts a relationship with veterinarian Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto). Also, after Caesar is placed in a primate shelter we meet its manager – the no-nonsense, charmless John Landon (Brian Cox). His son Dodge (Tom Felton) is his assistant and also a vicious little shit.

Apes: In a first for this series, the ape characters are mostly computer-generated creations. But they’re still driven by actors’ performances using motion-capture technology (you know, that thing where they put golf-balls on a onesie and film the actor wearing it on a green-screen space). It’s really impressive stuff, not least because the apes’ emotions are so well conveyed, even if occasionally the creatures seem a bit lightweight against the real-life backgrounds. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis, the actor who pioneered the art of mo-cap with his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Caesar’s mother – nicknamed Bright Eyes by Will, a nod to the 1968 film – dies early on, so to save the infant Caesar from being put down Will takes him home and raises him. Because of a treatment of new wonder drug ALZ-112, Caesar has above-average intelligence. By the age of three, he’s using sign language and doing puzzles; five years later he can understand English. But he’s a volatile ape and attacks a neighbour when angry, so a court orders that he live in a primate sanctuary. It initially seems to be a friendly place, but Caesar is soon held in a dirty cage and mistreated by the staff. So he escapes, frees his fellow inmates and doses them with ALZ-112… The rebellion soon involves hundreds of primates from across the city, and their rampage climaxes (almost inevitably) on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Review: There are two films going on here, running side by side. When the story is being told from Caesar’s point of view, it’s a very watchable and engaging thriller. The combination of Andy Serkis’s talents and the CG wizardry create a character easy to sympathise with, and even without dialogue we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. However, the human side of the story is disappointingly thin and bland. James Franco’s Will is as uninteresting as a Hollywood lead can be; Freida Pinto’s Caroline is as tokenistic as they come (she has *nothing* to do all film long – seriously, she’s a totally pointless character); and the bad guys – Jacobs, Landon and Dodge – are stunningly one-dimensional. It’s a shame.

Six Towers of Hanoi out of 10

Planet of the Apes (2001, Tim Burton)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: This movie could be viewed as a second adaptation of the 1963 novel La Planète des Singe, a remake of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, or simply a waste of everyone’s time. The story starts aboard a United States Air Force space station called Oberon in the optimistically chosen year of 2029. But the bulk of the action is set on an alien planet in the far future. The end of the film then brings a surprise twist, though not the same one as in the 1968 film. The action moves to the Earth of 2029, but history has been changed. Apes now rule this world too. It’s never explained how. Or why. It’s a silly sequel-baiting coda that was never followed up.

Humans: Our lead character is Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg, who dropped out of Ocean’s Eleven to star in this sludge). He works with primates being trained for space missions. After one of them is sent out in a small pod and falls through a wormhole, Davidson follows and ends up on a planet where intelligent apes are in charge and humans are kept as slaves. It’s not all bad news, though: he soon meets a cute woman called Daena (Estella Warren; what she lacks in acting talent she makes up for in standing around looking confused in an adorable kind of way). Kris Kristofferson plays her dad and there are a few other featured people. In a change from the 1968 film, the humans of this world can talk – which makes the apes’ control of them seem even more cruel. We learn that the humans used to be the dominant species, and once Davidson tracks down his space ship he infers the planet’s backstory. The ship crashed here centuries before Leo did (somehow…) and populated the planet with intelligent apes.

Apes: The ape masks are well designed and more articulate than in the original movies. Also, more thought has gone into giving the characters non-human postures and movements. But little of that work was worth it… Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) is the most interesting of the apes. She’s sensitive, smart and opposes the harsh treatment of humans. She buys Davidson and Daena for her father, Senator Sandar (David Warner), then helps them escape. Meanwhile, General Thade (Tim Roth) is a warmongering chimpanzee; he also has a thing for Ari, but she’s not interested. In one scene, Thade’s father is played by – get ready to prevent your sides from splitting – Charlton Heston. He even has a jokey reference to the original movie: “Damn them all to hell!” he says before dying. Also worth mentioning is Limbo (Paul Giamatti), who’s a slaver and the comic relief – two things that don’t often go together.

Review: This film was a turning point for director Tim Burton. He was coming off a decade-plus run of wonderful movies – but this has none of the wit, style or creepiness of Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood or Sleepy Hollow. It feels like a studio film where creative decisions have been so flattened out by committee that nothing of any distinction remains. There’s cheesy dialogue, paper-thin characters, painfully weak comedy, a score that drones on, and a general absence of wonder. Wahlberg is a dreadful leading man, lacking charisma, while many exterior scenes are shot indoors and feel drab and lifeless. Rubbish.

Four skankiest, scabbiest, scuzziest humans out of 10

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973, J Lee Thompson)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: The film starts in ‘North America, 2670 AD’. It’s an ape-run future, even though we’re still 1,300 years before the setting of the first movie in this series. A wise leader called Lawgiver (John Huston, gamely agreeing to wear an orangutan mask) is telling a story. As he talks, we see clips from Escape From… and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes; we’re also told that after those events there was the vilest war in human history. We then cut to a flashback, which takes up most of the movie. It’s set in the early 21st century. The DVD box set’s packaging claims it’s 2001 but a human character refers to ‘12 years of peace’ since the war that began in 1991, which would put this film at no earlier than 2003.

Humans: Living in the ape community of the noughties is MacDonald (Austin Stoker), whose brother was in the previous film, and Abe (Noah Keen), who’s teaching young apes about language and ethics. However, Abe causes tension when he says “No!” to a student: that’s a forbidden word because of its association with the apes’ slavery past. Later in the story we meet the human survivors of the war, who now live under the ruined remains of a major city and are riddled with ennui. Governor Kolp (Severn Darden) is angered when an ape scout party breaks into his domain so vows to wage war. We also learn that the governor we saw in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes has been killed.

Apes: Rather oddly, in the decade or so since rebelling against mankind, apes have developed speech, human-level intelligence and an entire culture. Darwin didn’t see that coming! Caesar is back from the previous film, again played by Roddy McDowall. (This was McDowall’s final Apes movie. He’s been terrific, playing two characters and conveying so much through his eyes, posture and voice.) Caesar leads a mission into the radioactive city of the humans to find film footage of his long-dead parents. Caesar’s wife Lisa (Natalie Trundy) and son Cornelius (Bobby Porter) get a subplot. The shit-stirrer of the group is the militaristic, pigheaded and easily riled General Aldo (Claude Atkins), who wants to take over as leader. Meanwhile, Virgil (Paul Williams) is the community’s wise old man – he spouts elaborate metaphors when trying to explain time paradoxes.

Review: While not being anything spectacular, this film nevertheless has a few things to commend it. It’s nicely structured, with a story that builds effectively and various plot strands that are weaved together nicely. Also, the two competing groups are interesting. The apes like to think they’re idealistic and liberal, but it’s an uneasy alliance with the humans who live among them and tension is never far from the surface – it’s far from an equal society. Meanwhile, over in the post-apocalyptic ruins, the listless humans are even more interesting. Sadly we don’t spend much time with them, but the writing, acting and production design are working well to sell a community well past the edge of coping. (Also, when they later drive across the desert to attack the apes, their convey is a fun precursor of Mad Max.) But the movie fails on a number of levels, not least the hackneyed dialogue. And while the battle itself is well staged – extras running everywhere! Explosions! – the director can’t disguise the fact the human force is about three people and a bus. It’s also unfortunate that two characters are clearly replacements: the story would pack more punch if the Governor and MacDonald were the same men as their equivalents in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Six negative imperatives out of 10

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, J Lee Thompson)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: Eighteen years have passed since Escape From the Planet of the Apes – ie, it’s now a 1970s vision of what 1991 might be like – but we’re still in the United States. The action mostly takes place in an unidentified city with Brutalist architecture and big blue skies. It seems to be a police state, with Tannoy announcements about potential crimes and fascist cops prowling the concrete city centre. Its military control rooms, meanwhile, look like the Death Star from Star Wars. We’re told that, in 1983, a disease killed off all the world’s cats and dogs. Because humanity couldn’t cope without domestic pets, apes were kept instead. However, people then started giving them chores to perform…

Humans: Armando the circus owner (Ricardo Montalbán) is back from the previous film and is still secretly looking after Caesar, the child of intelligent apes from the future. After being intimidated and tortured by the suspicious authorities, Armando is killed while trying to flee… Meanwhile, the city is being run by the cruel and arrogant Governor Breck (Don Murray), who desperately wants to prevent any ape uprising. His advisor MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) is a kinder, more levelheaded man. Tasked with finding Caeser, he actually helps the ape escape, then counsels peace once a revolution begins.

Apes: Milo, the ape born at the end of the previous movie, is now 18 years old – and has been renamed Caesar. (He’s played by Roddy McDowall, who of course played the character’s father in earlier films.) When he and Armando arrive in the nameless city, Caesar is told the backstory about the cats and dogs: it seems the news of the devastating worldwide epidemic didn’t reach the circus. However, seeing an ape being mistreated by the police, Caesar can’t resist shouting out in protest and revealing that he can talk. With the cops now looking for him, he hides in a cage with other apes but ends up a facility where the authorities carry out bizarre tortures and experiments on primates. Caesar is then auctioned off like a slave – Breck, who suspects Caesar is the ape they’re all looking for, bids $1,500 and wins. Caesar soon begins a rebellion by inciting the other apes to disobey their masters and generally cause chaos. Eventually, the rebels square off against the military – both are armed and there’s a battle. Caesar’s side is victorious and he gives a rousing speech about the apes’ liberated future. (Then, in further dialogue added during post-production, concedes that not all humans are evil so maybe we should all just try to get along, okay?) They only other ape character of note is Lisa, who catches Caesar’s eye then is later the first ape other than Caesar to speak. She shouts, “No!” during the rebellion. Lisa is played by Natalie Trundy, who was married to the producer and played other roles in this series.

Review: This film builds its world better than it tells a story. The opening sequences, for example, have some great visual moments and little vignettes to explain the society of 1991. But things soon get quite boring. It doesn’t help that lead character Caesar has to pretend to be mute for so long – and then mostly hangs out with non-speaking apes. The actual moment where he begins his rabble-rousing is actually skipped over, presumably because it would be an odd thing to dramatise. (How does he convey his revolutionary ideas to apes who don’t understand English?) The last half hour is then action-heavy and has little to do with character or storytelling. Also, the film is generally more heavy-handed than the earlier entries in the series. The obvious analogy with slavery, for example, is made explicit a couple of times: we’re told that black character MacDonald “above all others” should understand that the apes are being mistreated. Not awful but not great.

Five lousy human bastards out of 10

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971, Don Taylor)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: In the opening sequence, a spaceship has crashed on a beach in southern California. It contains three intelligent apes: series regulars Dr Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall, back after a film off) and new character Dr Milo (Sal Mineo). They fled the Earth when it was destroyed at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Travelling backwards through the time distortion that brought 20th-century astronauts to their world, they now find themselves in 1973. The date is mentioned a couple of times – even though it contradicts the first two films. In those movies, the missions took place no earlier than January 1972 but are now said to be ‘over two years ago’. While drunk, Zira says her era was ‘3950-something’ by the human calendar, which tallies with Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Humans: Two animal psychologists are called in to assess the three apes after they’re detained by the military. Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) are decent, caring and clever people, and are taking the ‘open-minded scientists’ role that Zira and Cornelius played in the first film. Dixon and Branton soon learn that the apes can talk and are intelligent. So Zira and Cornelius are paraded in front of a stuffy presidential enquiry, during which they charm the audience but stoke the paranoia of a mandarin called Dr Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden). A bit of an all-round shit, he advocates killing pregnant Zira’s unborn child and neutering the apes in order to prevent the ape-dominated future. After 70 minutes, circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalbán) is introduced. He’s willing to hide Zira and Cornelius from the authorities, and their son is born in the circus. It’s not the most naturalistic plotting you’ll ever see (conveniently helpful character shows up near the end!), but it’s a fun performance.

Apes: Zira and Cornelius’s friend Milo wasn’t in the previous films. He’s been added to explain how – in the midst of a nuclear holocaust – two mild-mannered scientists retrieved a spaceship from the bottom of a lake, launched it into space and piloted it 2,000 years into the past. His purpose over, Milo is killed soon after they reach 1973. When subjected to tests by the naïve humans, Zira and Cornelius initially act dumb. But Zira can’t resist answering back and reveals her intelligence to Dixon and Branton. Once they’ve been outed to the world, Zira and Cornelius then become celebrities. They stay in a posh hotel, get makeovers, give talks and appear on TV – the film just *sings* around this point. But Zira faints during a trip to a museum because she’s pregnant. The couple are then moved to the CIA’s Camp Eleven for interrogation (Lord knows what the public gets told about the apes’ disappearance). There they explain the franchise backstory. The world encountered by Taylor in the first film came about because of a plague that killed off all the cats and dogs; humans started using apes as pets, then two centuries later as servants. Three hundred years after that, an ape called Aldo rebelled and uttered the first ape word: “No.” Distressingly – genuinely upsettingly – Zira and Cornelius are killed while trying to escape the authorities. At first you also think that Zira’s baby son is dead. But then we learn that Zira had hidden him in the circus for safety (and sequel storylines).

Review: This is a movie that deserves to be much more famous than it is. At its heart is a bonkers idea: talking apes from a post-apocalyptic future are dropped into modern-day LA. But it works, largely because the silliness is played straight. The role reversal of a role reversal motors the story along, keeps the interest, and provides plenty of fun. The film has a dry sense of humour, while the smart satire – of the media, of celebrity culture, of racial prejudice, of political paranoia, even looking forward to reality TV – is fantastic. That’s not to say the film is frivolous or smug. There’s darkness and tension, especially in the second half. But everything is directed with an impressive light touch. Telling character moments are allowed to breathe, jokes land perfectly, themes bubble under the story rather than swamping it… On the downside, the movie is more televisual than the first two, largely being talky scenes in small sets, while the human characters are either wet or one-dimensional. But it’s still got lots of heart. What a film. A real treat.

Nine ape-onauts out of 10

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, Ted Post)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: We begin with a recap of the first film’s final few minutes, so Taylor (Charlton Heston) has just found the half-buried Statue of Liberty. Soon, another spaceship from Earth’s past crash-lands (off-screen for budgetary reasons). This one contains the Taylor-like Brent played by the Heston-like James Franciscus. He claims the year is 3955 – contradicting the first film, which had Taylor landing in 3979.

Humans: At the start of the story, Taylor and his native friend Nova (Linda Harrison) ride off into an area of desert called the Forbidden Zone and Taylor vanishes. (Charlton Heston was reluctant to return for a sequel and agreed only if his contribution was little more than a cameo.) So the lead character this time round is Brent, an astronaut sent to find out what happened to Taylor when he didn’t return to Earth. This is a plot hole: Taylor’s mission was to travel so far and so fast that he knew thousands of years would have passed before his return. After some ape-related escapades, Brent eventually stumbles across the buried remains of New York City’s Queenboro Plaza subway station. Living there is a cult of psychic weirdos. They’re descendants of the human survivors of a nuclear war and they idolise a 20th-century atomic bomb. They sing hymns about it and everything. Initially they look normal, but then remove their fake skin to reveal radiation-scared bodies. Brent also finds someone else in the underground world: after an hour of absent screen time, Taylor returns. Handily he knows Brent from before their respective missions. Together they team up to resist the cult, while the now-militaristic apes attack the city. A dying Taylor sets off the bomb, which destroys the entire planet.

Apes: Dr Zira and Cornelius return from Planet of the Apes. They’re now married, though sadly they don’t feature in the story much. Kim Hunter is back to play Zira, but Roddy McDowall was busy on another project so Cornelius has been recast with David Watson. (Of course, McDowall still plays the character in the clips reused from the first film!) Meanwhile, other apes are debating what to do with the savage humans who live nearby – and whether to conquer the Forbidden Zone, which they know holds host to another culture. The plans for military action are countered by some hippy-type protests, placards and all.

Review: For its first half, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a rehash of the original movie. But because of viewer familiarity, the story beats – the deaths of the astronauts’ crewmates, an encounter with native humans, the realisation that apes are in charge – are rattled off more swiftly. It’s enjoyable and engaging stuff, if shallower than the first film. Then, after 40 minutes, the plot heads into new territory. Sadly, the long sequence in the subway station sees the pace sag significantly and the film becomes a sub-Star Trek morality play. An anti-nuclear message is really hammered home, but the bomb subplot has little to do with either the apes or Brent. The latter stumbles across it and does little to affect the story. The second half of the film limps to a climax.

Six bloody nightmares out of 10

Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J Schaffner)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: The story begins in space. Four astronauts are six months out of Cape Kennedy and know it’s a one-way journey. The date from the crew’s perspective is 14 July 1972, but because of the time displacement caused by travelling at such high speeds, back on Earth it’ll now be March 2673. The astronauts go into hibernation, but a year later the ship crash-lands on a planet. According to the ship’s controls, ‘Earth time’ is now 25 November 3978. From this point, the film makes big efforts to disguise the planet’s identity. Not only does lead astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) assert that they’re 320 light years from home, but the world has no moon and abnormal weather patterns (a storm in a desert, for example). Famously, the story’s climax confirms that Taylor is actually on Earth – within a horse ride of New York City, in fact.

Humans: Taylor is the point-of-view character and is in virtually every scene. Rugged, hirsute, very often near or actually naked, and sometimes seen smoking a cigar, he’s masculinity squared – and Charlton Heston is decent casting. When the character finds himself in Ape City, however, he’s locked up, can’t speak due to a throat injury, and his captors even threaten to geld him. At first, Taylor has three crewmates. One is killed in the crash; another dies when they encounter the apes; and the third, Landon (Robert Gunner), goes missing. He later returns to the story when we discover the apes have lobotomised him. The only other human character of note is Nova (Linda Harrison), a sexy, mute savage woman who attaches herself to Taylor in captivity.

Apes: They first appear after half an hour in an action scene – and they’re on horseback, which is a good way of immediately telling us they’re not normal apes. They have a medieval culture (well, mostly: they use modern guns and have cameras) and, notably, can talk. “Smile!” is the first word we hear, when a soldier takes a photo of some colleagues. All the apes are actors in masks, of course, and while they masks are not especially articulate the performances still pop through. The fact you can see the actors’ eyes is very important. The two chimpanzees we get to know best – scientist Zira (Kim Hunter) and her archaeologist fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) – are likeable and decent characters. They nickname Taylor ‘Bright Eyes’ and help him escape. Their superior Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) isn’t quite so liberal. There’s also talk of the Forbidden Zone, a nearby region of desert where relics from an age-old culture have been found.

Review: Based on the 1963 novel La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle, this film was co-written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. And like a lot of good science fiction, it’s deceptively full of meaning and subtext. The story of a human outsider encountering a society run by apes can be read as a number of different metaphors. It could be a satire of the class system, a discussion of science versus superstition, a look at feminism (the chimps represent women while the other apes are the male establishment), a parody of religion, war or the legal system… or simply a comedic role-reversal plot. But it never feels bogged down with dogma. This is an engaging movie that’s very often a lot of fun. And it’s solidly directed: well paced, inventively filmed, with good action and jokes that hit home. There’s also good use of wide-open, ‘alien’ locations and a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith, which is mysterious and dramatic. But it’s such a shame that the two biggest shocks are so famous. That the society is ruled by intelligent apes is kind of given away by the film’s title. The twist that the planet is actually Earth has been revealed so often over the years it’s one of cinema’s best-known endings. (The film’s spoilertastic final image is on both the DVD cover and menu screen of the copy I used for this review.) Excellent, nevertheless.

Nine stinking paws out of 10