The Human Animal: “Planet of the Apes” (1968)

000planetapes1      If by its general definition which includes an elemental nihilism in both its thematic genetics and within the limited but evident visual aesthetic, film noir is certainly the most  formally pessimistic of the film genres. However, with the additional consideration of an elective element in the creative process, there surely is no film genre of greater voluntarily creative pessimism than science fiction. In serious examples of the form (this excludes the intellectual juvenilia mingling Flash Gordon comic strip fantasy with transplanted western shoot-’em-ups of the “Star Wars” brand of intergalactic buddy-buddy adventure variety), the realities of societal discord-  a useful backdrop on which to apply the story’s speculative insertions  -already feeding disturbing wrinkles which render false the typical utopian Hollywood model of community harmony. Curiously, the better examples of the genre seem to have a commonality in that regardless of their subject, they seem to draw an extra thematic sustenance from the times in which they were made: in the 1950’s, absorbing the combined paranoiac mindset of both the emergent Cold War tensions and the continued development of an Atomic technology that would assert an influence beyond the initial aggressive capabilities of weapons of war, the films were far more metaphorical in theme, with the almost ridiculous nature of enlarged beasts substituting for far more realistic and therefore discomforting human manifestations of these anxieties, whereas in the 1960’s, there was a marked evolution of critical anti-authority inherent in the philosophical bent of the genre,  producing works that were openly critical or disdaining of the continued folly of Man’s increasing blind path toward its own destruction (Who needed giant grasshoppers when there was us?). However, another commonality to the SF film is the chasm of priority between the scientific world which seems incapable of marching through its own internalized evolution without tripping over unforeseen tragic consequences evolving from an apparent institutional hubris, a further indication of a willingness to believe that those in charge are always in control (or at least are capable of pulling miraculous magician’s survival tricks out the scientific hat). Man’s intellectual capabilities were clearly outpacing its reason: a perfect stage for a pointed metaphorical arena in which the divisions of good and wrongheaded impulses are deeply explored in both literal and metaphorical terms; philosophic introspection being the hallmark of the SF genre sandwiched in between the hysterical 195o’s cautionary alarums against atomic energy and the undemanding popular fascination with spinning shiny objects that has intellectually retarded the genre since the introduction of Jedi lucre.

     Certainly in the area of the widening of the cinematic aesthetic, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 “2001: A Space Odyssey” holds a lofty position over all other candidates (including his own “Doctor Strangelove”) as the preeminent landmark SF achievement (in purely aesthetic terms) of the decade which indicated the greatest (though sadly unrealized) potential inherent in the genre, though for the closest representation of that was produced, one need look no further than the same year’s “Planet of the Apes”, a film which by it’s calendar association with the more aggressively cerebral clout of monoliths with the addition of Ligeti-flavored aural confection, would seem to be the less adventurous (intellectually) and poetic (metaphysically) and visionary (aesthetically) of the two offerings, yet there is something sneakily subversive in the way Franklin J.Schaffner’s film addresses the most heated points of social contention of the day (disguised in a satirical coating of animal fur) which accredits the film with two characteristics that the more ethereally inclined film is fated to fall short:  immediacy and topicality; thus an important aspect of SF-  a direct relationship in bridging the direct consequences and delicate symbiosis of scientific advancement and the core effect it has upon society by a thematically allusive representation of the climate under which such a work is born remains absent in Kubrick’s master opus (human representations are guided by a bitter intellectual cynicism defining a condition of universal emotional remoteness that becomes destructively central to the director’s oeuvre) but finds effortless expression in the myriad thematic threads of which the narrative subtly intertwines the surface adventure elements with a genuinely witty undercurrent of social satire- though with a happy absence of demonstrative editorial causticity  -that actually fuels the absurdity of the film’s topsy turvy view of civilization by punctuating the depiction of an alien culture with details of banal familiarity, thus making the ridiculous acceptable in a way in which a more serious approach might feel strained and untenable.

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in books, Charlton Heston, Film, Film Reviews, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, science fiction, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Human Animal: “Planet of the Apes” (1968)

  1. beetleypete says:

    Very good review Chandler. I remember how amazing it felt to witness the ‘reveal’. At the time I saw it in the cinema, I was 16, and had no idea what was going to happen. I’ve wised up a lot since!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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