Saturday, November 8, 2008

PLANET OF THE APES (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968, USA) The modern family of Hominidae or Great Apes consists of orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees…and humans. From the nuclear ashes of the Forbidden Zone a new higher primate evolves, ruled by a Theocratic tyranny whose absolute power is contained in the sacred scrolls of an imaginary god. This Oxymoronic society condemns Scientific Heresy with imprisonment or the death sentence, punishment passed by the supreme Lawgiver Dr. Zaius without recourse to proper Due Process or Appeal. This religious government will hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil; this is faith at the cost of reason. This society is doomed without the appearance of the “Anti-Ape”, a talking human named Taylor, who ignites the fires of censorship and repression. Why not use his knowledge to create new vaccines, advance medicinal science, to prolong the quality of life, to be the architect of a new age of Enlightenment? This culture is already violent and askew, their technology used for better weaponry and mastery, the gorillas like a elite Nazi SS police force, with their jackboots and Billy clubs: Dr. Zaius is the Architect of Fear, he holds power by keeping other powerless; he is the true heir of the 21st Century. Taylor represents the bottom-rung of the topsy-turvy evolutionary ladder and in this madhouse discovers the inexorable Truth, the iconic image of a twisted and misshapen Lady Liberty, shackled forever in a rocky tomb, her torch doused by the atomic apocalypse: he is home. We must suspend our disbelief to enter the narrative’s vortex; for example, the apes speak English, evolution from Homo Sapiens’s common ancestry to would take millions of years and not the few thousand the story professes, and I can’t conceive of a scientific mission whose objective is to repopulate an alien world by sending three men and one woman. That aside, the film veers slightly towards camp with Heston’s square-jawed one-liners and classic overacting but is saved by its irreverent humor and subtext. Director Franklin Schaffner uses John Ford like vistas to shrink and dehumanize the stranded astronauts amid the bleak landscape creating a sense of physical isolation at war with their emotional claustrophobia. The first appearance of the apes on horseback, emerging from the tall cornstalks wielding rifles and nets is frightening: these images are punctuated by Jerry Goldsmith’s otherworldly music, a mixture of anxious percussion and strings, and this remains one of cinema’s most unusual scores. Taylor’s profound curse as he claws futilely at the sand is drowned out by the crashing surf and becomes a nihilistic crescendo of pathos. (A)

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