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Planet of the Apes Blu-ray Review

Planet of the Apes (1968) movie poster - click for larger view, other designs, and to buy Planet of the Apes

Theatrical Release: April 3, 1968 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner / Writers: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling (screenplay); Pierre Boulle (novel)

Cast: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge)

Buy Planet of the Apes from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray • 40-Year Evolution Blu-ray Collection • 1-Disc DVD • 2-Disc 35th Anniversary Widescreen Edition DVD • Legacy DVD Collection • Ultimate DVD Collection

By Kelvin Cedeno

Movie franchises have become all too common in modern society. As soon as a film becomes a smash hit, a sequel becomes inevitable. Should that sequel prove to be a success as well, the studio will likely continue to milk it for all it's worth.
It's difficult to escape marketing for a blockbuster series, as everything from fast food tie-ins to home decor can, and likely will, be run into at some point. While Star Wars is often thought of as the father of heavily-merchandised movie franchises, a significant series predates it: Planet of the Apes.

The first and most popular entry, 1968's Planet of the Apes tells the story of astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston). He volunteers for a special test mission regarding Aslan's Theory, a concept on how one can barely age in suspended animation throughout a lengthy period of time. Thousands of years after leaving Earth, Taylor's ship crash-lands on a barren planet run by apes. The few humans living here act and are treated like animals, while the apes have distinctly human characteristics, like the dominant intellect.

Taylor's ability to speak distinguishes him from the other more primitive humans and catches the interest of animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) and her archaeologist fiancιe Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). Other apes in the community find Taylor fascinating as well, but for much more sinister reasons. Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) is determined to find out where other intelligent humans might dwell in hopes of stamping them out. Come to Taylor's aid, Zira and Cornelius become outlaws while hoping to discover the truth about the planet's mysterious history.

The most striking thing about Planet of the Apes is how deep and multi-layered it is. The surface story seems relatively simple one, akin to the sort of sci-fi tales found in other fictional works of the time. Underneath, however, are some truly thought-provoking questions and ideas. Issues like animal rights and racial prejudice can be found within the film, and the story is broad enough to hang a plethora of other ethical dilemmas, too.

Of course, when discussing this picture, praise must go out towards the famous makeup done on the actors portraying the apes. It's something that should have been ridiculous and cringe-inducing. But enough care, quality, and creativity go into the designs to ensure they're both believable and distinctive. It helps to have accomplished actors in these roles. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter manage to express themselves effectively despite all the prosthetics, and they infuse enough cheek and vigor into their characters to prevent saccharine blandness. Even as a villainous ape, Maurice Evans approaches his role with subtlety and sophistication rather than cartoon buffoonery. Less subtle is Charlton Heston in the lead role. Most of his lines are loud and overwrought, and yet somehow this works. Perhaps it's due to the conditions the character has been put through or the contrasting normalcy of the apes' personalities, but Heston's memorably over-the-top performance feels appropriate.

Like virtually any film, Planet of the Apes isn't perfect. The first act, before Taylor is captured, drags quite a bit. Although this was done intentionally to show how isolated and distant both Taylor and this planet are, it's a rather risky way to open an action-packed picture. The ape make-up, as mentioned earlier, is fantastic except for one weak spot: the mouth.
The actors manage to convey their emotions vividly through the rest of their face, but their mouths show only the most minimal of movement and expression. It's clear some dubbing was involved as the mouths don't always seem to match with the dialogue heard.

Planet of the Apes does far more right than wrong, though. Some slight camp emerges, but on the whole, it takes itself quite seriously. It's easy to approve that when the story provides some real meat for the audience to chew on and the actors lend weight to their roles. Having spawned a pop culture phenomena through four sequels, a television series, an animated series, Tim Burton's 21st century remake, and an endless array of merchandise, the film that started it all holds up well on its today and deserves its status as a sci-fi classic.

Today's Blu-ray Disc may be the first time this Planet has been available in high definition, but it's no stranger to home video. It was previously released three times on DVD, not including the numerous box sets that reused one of those three releases. In traditional Apes fashion, this release -- called a 40th Anniversary Edition in press materials but not the cover -- is also available in an elaborate boxed set ("The 40-Year Evolution") containing all five movies in the series.

Buy Planet of the Apes on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
DTS HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital Mono (English, Spanish), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean
Release Date: November 4, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Slim-line Blue Keepcase
Also available in 40-Year Evolution Collection (5-Movie Set)


Planet of the Apes comes to Blu-ray in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, presented in 1080p. Not having owned the previous editions, it's difficult to say whether a new restoration was done for this release. The answer seems to be yes, as the general consensus appears to be that while great, the 35th Anniversary Edition was riddled with some source flaws. This 40th Anniversary Edition contains not a single print flaw. Fox's BD release of another Franklin J. Schaffner film, Patton, was met with some controversy when excessive Digital Noise Reduction was applied to the image to keep it grain-free. Grain debates aside, it can't be denied that too much DNR can be harmful as it'll remove fine details from the image, resulting in a waxy picture that misses the point of high-definition.

Thankfully, this does not seem to be an issue here. Intricate details from the hair on the apes to beads of sweat on Charlton Heston are finely rendered. The finest of grain is visible, which is good news to film purists. Those who enjoy their classic films to be spotless need not worry, as the grain is miniscule enough not to be any sort of distraction. In fact, it's startling how clean the image really is.
There's nary a speckle, scratch, or hair to be found, and no digital artifacting to speak of. Most of the film takes place in bright exteriors, and these are all the better to see the bold and vivid colors. This is certainly reference-quality material.

There's less to say about the 5.1 DTS HD track. It's a very clean mix, though it expectedly remains very front-heavy. Dialogue is always understandable, though it does sound slightly soft. The same goes for the sound effects, which rarely utilize the surrounds. Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score fares better and breathes life into the track. Keeping in mind the technology of the era, this is a pleasing mix. For audio purists, the original English mono track is also included.


Of the three individual Apes DVD releases, only the 35th Anniversary Edition came with substantial supplements. Most of those are ported over along with a few new pieces. First is an odd CG introduction (0:24) by the Lawgiver, a character who doesn't appear until later in the series. It serves as nothing more than a bizarre distraction.

Two audio commentaries from the 35th Anniversary DVD reappear here. The first features actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Natalie Trundy alongside makeup artist John Chambers. Their comments are edited together from sit-down interviews and are solid... when they are heard. Large portions of the track are completely silent, as the sound bites come in four or five bunches scattered through the feature, making this a disappointment.

More dissatisfaction stems from the second commentary featuring composer Jerry Goldsmith. While his track is obviously scene-specific, it runs into the exact same problem as the other one. When he speaks, he offers insightful looks as the scoring process, but those times only amount to a few scattered minutes of information. Both tracks should've been combined into one, though even then there'd still be quite a bit of dead air.

The text commentary by Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture fares a bit better. Interesting facts regarding both the production and the story's underlying meanings are showcased. Unfortunately, the presentation poses yet another problem. The speed of the text is much too fast. One has to speed-read before the factoid changes to something else, usually in about three seconds. Not only does this become a bit dizzying after a while, but it causes more empty space between trivia than there might've been had the pacing been more presentable.

The new supplements begin with "Science of the Apes" Bonus View (38:53). With this feature enabled, one can watch the film as relevant interview clips appear that look at the story from a scientific point of view. Among the topics discussed are how the human body can tolerate suspended animation and what similarities apes have with humans. Some of it is on the peculiar side, but the clips are interesting, nonetheless. In an excellent move, the segments are available to watch separately from the film for both easy access and for those without Profile 1.1 capabilities on their Blu-ray players.

"Beyond the Forbidden Zone" Adventure Game requires viewing of the "Science" feature in order to succeed. It's essentially a knowledge game, asking difficult scientific questions that most people wouldn’t know unless they paid close attention to the BonusView pieces. The layout for the game is quite awkward. It's done as a game board (complete with die-rolling), but in an effort to save space, this is seen as a pop-up menu overlapping the film itself. Not only is it less enjoyable playing a game that takes up half the screen, it's also challenging to concentrate with the feature playing in the background. Successful completion of the game results in the return of the CG Lawgiver and nothing else.

For an even less valuable addition to this disc, there's "A Public Service Announcement from ANSA" (6:06) (HD). Made to look like a vintage newsreel, it has an over-the-top host touting the wonders of ANSA (the film's version of NASA) and its astronauts. It's a cute idea, but the execution isn't very amusing

More substantial is "Evolution of the Apes" (23:37) (HD). This featurette goes into detail about author Pierre Boulle and the road that lead him to writing the novel this film is based on. Some of the troubled pre-production is also covered, making this a very upfront and satisfying featurette.

The final new feature is "Impact of the Apes" (11:39) (HD). Various Apes fans lend their views on the series, and the behemoth that is the merchandising campaign is explored. Marketing and memorabilia are aspects not often discussed in supplements, so it's interesting to see just how little has changed throughout the decades.

The main attraction among the supplements is the 1998 documentary produced for American Movie Classics titled "Behind The Planet of the Apes" (2:06:44). Hosted by Roddy McDowall, this special covers all five films in the franchise and interviews most of the key cast and crew members from each. The first hour or so is devoted to the original, and gives it as much attention as one could ask for. Everything from scripting and casting to filming and effects are detailed. The second hour is less sturdy, though, as the documentary spends more time summarizing the sequels' plots than delving into their productions. Still, it's a well-made piece that's refreshingly honest and entertaining.
An original promo (2:19) is also included and welcomed. Note that this edition has the option of watching the special with an interactive timeline. Unfortunately, the player used for this review did not have the application needed to access it.

An "Original Makeup Test with Edward G. Robinson" (9:34) follows. A synopsis of the original novel is presented first with concept art and is then followed by the test itself. Charlton Heston appears with his Ten Commandments co-star Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius. James Brolin also appears briefly as Cornelius, joined by Linda Harrison (who would end up playing Nova) as Zira. It's an interesting test to see, especially since the ape make-up is quite different from what's in the finished film.

"Roddy McDowall's On-Set Footage" (20:14) (HD) is exactly that. The first half shows McDowall being transformed into Cornelius in the make-up room while the second features some candid footage of the shoot. There's unfortunately no sound, so musical score is instead brought in to liven up the footage. It's all very fascinating, particularly the transformation process.

A bit less interesting, but still valuable, is a collection of "Dailies and Outtakes" (19:50) (HD). Silent alternate takes are presented, complete with production clipboards and actors breaking character. Because the takes themselves outweigh the behind-the-scenes footage that bookends each of them, it's a bit harder to sit through than the McDowall reel, though it's still an important inclusion. Musical accompaniment like the previous feature's would've been welcome here, as well.

"N.A.T.O. Presentation" (10:30) (HD) is a promotional featurette featuring an appearance by Heston. It's essentially a lengthy trailer, spoiling quite a bit of the first two thirds of the story. It's a good inclusion for completeness' sake, but it admittedly offers little for those who've seen the film.

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A "Vintage Planet of the Apes Featurette" (4:42) (HD) isn't quite what you'd expect. It doesn't recap the movie like the N.A.T.O. presentation does and it doesn't feature cast interviews like modern featurettes. Instead, it focuses mainly on the make-up crew as they get an actor ready for the day. As with the previous few features, it's not very compelling, but its historical significance validates its presence.

More interesting are the teaser trailer (2:18) (HD) and theatrical trailer (3:05) (HD), features that are becoming somewhat of a rarity as of late.

Finally, "Galleries of the Apes" contains various subsections. The first, "The Ape" is a four-page newspaper that was given out at the time of the film's release. In it are mock articles on the story's events written from an ape point-of-view. Both this and an Interactive Pressbook (13 stills) allow the user to zoom in on any page to read the text and see the photos more clearly. The rest of the galleries are more traditional and feature Advertising (9 stills), Lobby Cards (8 stills), Makeup (15), Costume Design Sketches (9), Props (9), and Behind-the-Scenes (25). The material is interesting,
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but the presentation is hindered by making the galleries running videos in which each piece is displayed for 2-3 seconds. Only "The Ape" and the Pressbook are untouched by this.

The 35th Anniversary Edition DVD had a few features that for whatever reason dealt with the sequels. Those supplements now appear on the Blu-ray discs of their respective films. The only feature pertaining to the original picture itself that didn't make it on this release was a merchandising gallery. It doesn't go completely missed, though, as the new "Impact of the Apes" featurette makes up for it. A missed opportunity arises from a lack of deleted scenes. Eric Greene's text commentary mentions several, and one of these is even talked about in the AMC documentary. That makes their absence all the more conspicuous.

The main menu shows off some of the different areas of the planet (including a spoilery one towards the end) through what seems to be the ANSA space ship window. There are no other full screen menus as the set up and bonus material listings come in the form of pop ups over the main menu montage. The exact same pop up menus can be accessed at any time during the feature presentation without interrupting playback.

The disc comes in a traditional slim Blu-ray case with Cornelius featured on the disc, front cover, and spine. No chapter listing is included, either on the reverse side of the artwork or an insert. A pamphlet advertising other Fox BD releases, however, is found inside the casing.


Planet of the Apes works as both entertainment and as an ethical statement.
The script and actors help sell potentially outlandish material as something relevant even today. Fox's Blu-ray release acts as the definitive version of the film, at least for now. The transfer is breathtaking, and while the sound doesn't hold up quite as well, it's still the best it's ever offered. Outside of a small gallery, all of the pertinent features from the previous editions make it here along with some new good ones. Together, they form a comprehensive look at the creation of this classic. Those who own either of the two single-disc DVDs are encouraged to pick this version up. For owners of the two-disc 35th Anniversary Edition, it all rests on how much they wish to see both the feature and most of its supplements in high definition. Fans of sci-fi who don't own this film in any format are recommended to add this to their library.

Buy Planet of the Apes from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Disc / 40-Year Evolution BD Collection / DVD / 35th Anniv. Ed. DVD / Legacy DVD Collection / Ultimate DVD Collection

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Reviewed November 4, 2008.

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