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Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science fiction film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner loosely based on the novel La planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. The film stars Charlton Heston and features Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, veteran Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly and Linda Harrison. The script was originally written by Rod Serling but had many rewrites before eventually being made. Changes included character names and a more primitive ape society, instead of the more expensive idea of having futuristic buildings and advanced technology.

The film was ground-breaking for its prosthetic makeup techniques by artist John Chambers, and was well received by critics and audiences, launching a film franchise, including four sequels, as well as a short lived television show, animated series, comic books, various merchandising, and eventually a remake in 2001. Roddy McDowall, in particular, had a long-running relationship with the Apes series, appearing in the original series of five films (one only via stock footage from an earlier film), and also in the television series.


Astronauts Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), Stewart (Dianne Stanley), and Dodge (Jeff Burton) are in deep hibernation when their spaceship crash-lands in a lake on an unknown planet in the year 3978 A.D. after a 2006-year voyage at near-light speed (during which the crew ages only 18 months due to time dilation). The planet has no moon and the clouds at night are luminous. The astronauts awaken to find that Stewart has died in space due to an air leak and her body in decomposition and that their ship is sinking. They use an inflatable raft to reach shore. Once there, Dodge performs a soil test and pronounces the soil incapable of sustaining life. Taylor suggests they are on a planet in the constellation of Orion some 320 light years from Earth but admits he is not sure.

The three astronauts set off through the desert, finding first a single plant and then others. They find an oasis at the edge of the desert where they decide to go skinny dipping, ignoring strange 'scarecrows'. While they are swimming, their clothes are stolen. Pursuing the thieves, the astronauts find their clothes in shreds and the perpetrators — a group of mute, primitive humans — contentedly raiding a cornfield. Suddenly, gorillas on horseback charge through the cornfield, brandishing firearms, snares, and nets, which they use to capture whatever humans they can and kill those they cannot. While fleeing, Dodge is killed, Landon is captured, and Taylor is shot in the throat. The gorillas take Taylor to "Ape City," where his life is saved by two chimpanzee scientists, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). Upon awakening, Taylor—now housed in a cage with a woman Nova (Linda Harrison), who was captured on the same hunt—discovers that his throat wound has rendered him temporarily mute.

Taylor discovers that the apes, who can talk, are in control and are divided into a strict class system: the gorillas as police, military, and hunters; the orangutans as administrators, politicians and lawyers; and the chimpanzees as intellectuals and scientists. Humans, who cannot talk, are considered feral vermin and are hunted and either killed outright, enslaved for manual labor or used for scientific experimentation.

Zira and her fiancé, Cornelius, an archaeologist, take an interest in Taylor after he tries to communicate by mouthing words. While Cornelius and Zira are talking to their boss, an orangutan named Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), Taylor writes in the dirt and attempts to call Cornelius and Zira's attention to it; only Zaius sees it, though, and realizing that Taylor is intelligent, he destroys the writing with his cane. Eventually, Taylor steals paper from Zira when she comes close to his cage and uses it to write messages to her. Zira and Cornelius are convinced that Taylor is intelligent; upon learning of this, Zaius orders that Taylor be "gelded" (castrated).

Taylor manages to escape before the procedure can be carried out and flees through Ape City, which he discovers to be an architecturally primitive version of 20th Century Earth. During his flight, he finds himself in a museum, where Dodge's corpse has been taxidermied and put on display. Shortly thereafter, Taylor is recaptured by gorillas; finding that his throat has healed, he angrily addresses them, shouting "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

When back in his cell, Nova is then transferred to a cell across from Taylor's cell as the warden Julius (Buck Kartalian) sprays Taylor with water. The shocked apes hold a tribunal to determine Taylor's origins (in a parody of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial) run by the President of the Assembly (James Whitmore), Dr. Zaius, and Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey) with Dr. Honorious (James Daly) as the prosecution. Taylor tells of his two comrades and explains that one was killed and the other lost. At this point the court produces Landon, who has been subjected to a primitive lobotomy that has rendered him catatonic.

After the tribunal, Dr. Zaius holds a private meeting with Taylor, where he threatens to lobotomize him if he doesn't lie about where he came from. With help from Lucius (Lou Wagner), Zira and Cornelius intervene early the next morning and "kidnap" Taylor and Nova, taking them to "The Forbidden Zone," a region outside of Ape City which has been ordered quarantined by Dr. Zaius and the other orangutans. Upon arriving, Cornelius shows Taylor the remnants of a technologically advanced human society, which he discovered a year earlier while on an archaeological expedition; the apes' world was, at one time, controlled by humans, but at some point in history, apes developed sentience and the roles of apes and humans were inverted, with apes becoming the dominant species and man becoming the apes' household pets, and later becoming animals living in the wild, incapable of speech.

Dr. Zaius arrives with a band of armed gorillas to capture or kill Taylor; Taylor presents Dr. Zaius with the ruins of the human society, which Zaius seems to already know about. He agrees to exile Taylor and Nova. When asked by Zira "What will he find out there, Doctor?", Zaius replies: "his destiny." Once Taylor and Nova have ridden away on horseback, Dr. Zaius has the gorillas lay explosives and destroy the evidence of the human society.

After an unspecified time spent following the shoreline, Taylor and Nova find something on the shore; Taylor stops the horse and dismounts, approaching the object before descending into a fit of rage, declaring that he has been home all along. Referring to the destroyed Statue and to his own civilization he says: "We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. God damn you all to hell." As the film ends, the picture zooms out to reveal the remnants of the Statue of Libertymarker, half-submerged in the shoreline, a symbol of mankind's ultimate demise.

Deviations from the novel

The film deviated from the original French novel in a number of ways:

  • The hero is not a Frenchmarker journalist named Ulysse Mérou, but an American astronaut named Colonel George Taylor.
  • The humans wear primitive clothing of animal skins. They were naked in the novel.
  • The technology and general settings of the apes' towns are more primitive than in Boulle's original concept. This was a deliberate decision to reduce design and construction costs. Architectural elements were based on observations of ancient cave cities.
  • The apes speak perfect 20th century English, while they spoke a wholly different language in the book. Ulysse has to learn it to get acquainted, while in the movie, Taylor has a throat wound which prevents him from speaking at first.
  • In the original novel, the Planet of the Apes is located in the solar system of Betelgeuse and is not Earth. However the twist ending of the novel has Ulysse Mérou arriving back to Earth after his space flight to find out that it has taken the exact same evolutionary path and that the Apes are now in control. Although it is a significantly different twist ending, it inspired Rod Serling's twist. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs contacted Pierre Boulle and asked him to take a look at the script to see if it could be improved, to which the author responded on April 29, 1965. He said that "he truly did not like the Statue of Liberty ending, feeling that it cheapened the story as a whole, and served as the 'temptation from the Devil'. In fact, if Boulle was to contribute anything at all to the screenplay he would, in his own words, 'have to dismiss it entirely from my mind'". In the film, Taylor suggests they may be on a planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion, where Betelgeuse is located. The astronauts initially speculate that the planet may be in orbit around Bellatrix, which is also in Orion.


In the late 1960s most studios were not convinced that this film was a feasible production. One script that came close to being made was written by Rod Serling, though it was finally rejected for a number of reasons. A prime concern was cost, as the technologically advanced ape society portrayed by Serling's script would have involved expensive sets, props and special effects. Serling's script was rewritten and the ape society made more primitive as a way of reducing costs. His ending was retained, however, leading to one of the most famous movie endings of all time. The exact location and state of decay of the Statue of Libertymarker (as seen in the 1998 documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes) changed over several storyboards. One version depicted the statue buried up to its nose in the middle of a jungle while another depicted the statue in pieces.

In order to convince the Fox Studio that a Planet of the Apes film could really be made, the producers shot a brief test scene using early versions of the ape makeup. Charlton Heston appeared as an early version of Taylor (named Thomas, as he was in Rod Serling-penned drafts of the script), Edward G. Robinson appeared as Zaius, while then-unknown actors James Brolin and Linda Harrison played Cornelius and Zira. Harrison, who was the girlfriend of the head of the studio at the time, would later play Nova in the 1968 film and its first sequel, and have a cameo in the Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes more than 30 years later (as did Heston). This test footage is included on several DVD releases of the film, as well as the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes. Dr. Zaius was originally to have been played by Robinson, but he backed out due to the heavy make-up, and long sessions to apply it, that were required. (Robinson later made his final film, Soylent Green (1973), opposite his one-time Ten Commandments (1956) co-star Heston).

John Chambers had actually tested the ape makeup some time earlier, in the TV series Lost in Space (1965-1968) (another 20th Century Fox production at the time). In one episode, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) and Major West are imprisoned along with an ape-like alien. Harris was offered a role in Planet of the Apes but, like Edward G. Robinson, turned it down due to the complexities of makeup.

Filming began on May 21, 1967, and ended on August 10, 1967. Most of the early scenes of a desert-like terrain were shot in northern Arizonamarker near the Grand Canyonmarker, the Colorado Rivermarker, Lake Powellmarker, Glen Canyon and other locations near Page, Arizonamarker Most scenes of the ape village, interiors and exteriors, were filmed on the Fox Ranch in Malibu Creek State Parkmarker, northwest of Los Angelesmarker, essentially the backlot of 20th Century Fox. The concluding beach scenes were filmed on a stretch of Californiamarker seacoast between Malibumarker and Oxnardmarker with cliffs that towered 130 feet above the shore. Reaching the beach on foot was virtually impossible, so cast, crew, film equipment, and even horses had to be lowered in by helicopter.Planet of the Apes Revisited, P. 79 The remains of the Statue of Liberty were shot in a secluded cove on the far eastern end of Westward Beach, between Zuma Beachmarker and Point Dumemarker in Malibu. As noted in the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, the special effect shot of the half-buried statue was achieved by seamlessly blending a matte painting with existing cliffs.

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

Award Person
Honorary Award for Outstanding Makeup Achievement John Chambers
Best Costume Design Morton Haack
Best Score Jerry Goldsmith

Planet of the Apes won an honorary Academy Award for John Chambers for his outstanding make-up achievement. It was nominated for Best Costume Design (Morton Haack) and Best Original Score for a Motion Picture . The score is known for its avant-garde compositional techniques, as well as the use of unusual percussion instruments and extended performance techniques. The film was eligible for nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1968, but failed to make the final list of five films.

Other awards

The movie is on several of the AFI lists but did not make the top 100 movies either time. However, the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith was picked as the 18th best film score in American Cinema according to AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. Also according to the American Film Institute, it contains the 66th best movie line: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" The film is also ranked at #59 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list.

In 2001, Planet of the Apes was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Planet of the Apes was followed by four sequels:

and two short-lived television series:

The movie was "reimagined" in 2001; see Planet of the Apes .

Marvel Comics produced full comic book adaptations of all the films, a number of original stories in the Apes universe, including Terror On The Planet Of The Apes, Future History Chronicles and others.Mailbu Comics would also produce several Planet of the Apes titles, including Planet of the Apes and Ape Nation.

Popular culture references

Planet of the Apes is often quoted or parodied in popular culture. Notable examples have been included in films (for example, Spaceballs, Madagascarmarker and Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla); episodes of TV shows (such as The Simpsons, Futurama and The X-Files); comic book series (including Jack Kirby's Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth); and computer games (Crash of the Titans).


External links

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