Long before Star Wars (1977), this was the ultimate sci-fi movie. A world turned upside down where apes ruled the roost and humans were used for medical experiments.
The movie spawned four sequels, a TV series, a cartoon and hundreds of comics, magazines, toys and action figures.
As his spaceship enters the year 2673AD, Commander George Taylor sits at the control panel and pontificates about the world he has left behind.
Then he smokes a cigar and hits up a hypodermic full of something (ahem!) and asks the flight recorder, “Does Man, that marvel of the universe . . . still make war against his brother? keep his neighbour’s children starving?”. This is seriously deep stuff . . .
Then he checks on his fellow astronauts (Dodge, Landon and female astronaut, Lieutenant Stewart) to make sure they are sleeping soundly in suspended animation (especially the good-looking Stewart, who is to be their “new eve”) and then puts himself into suspended animation.
Shortly thereafter, the spacecraft plummets through a planet’s atmosphere, hurtling towards the ground at lightning speed – the autopilot has gone wacky! Luckily the craft crashes into a lake but only half submerges.
The Suspended Animation capsules slide open, and Taylor awakes. “You alright?” he asks the others.
Stewart doesn’t answer . . . Her capsule had an air leak, and she’s snuffed it in her sleep!
Dodge. Landon and Taylor leave the sinking craft quick sharp, taking to the lake in their standard-issue yellow, inflatable life-raft, taking what supplies they can carry.
They are relieved to note that the air on this planet is ok and they can breathe – otherwise, it would be a very short film!
As they exit the spaceship, Taylor quickly looks at the Earth Time read-out on the control panel. It reads 3978.
The spacecraft sinks, and Taylor states the obvious; “OK, we’re here to stay”.
He explains where they are; “we’re some 320 light-years from Earth on an unnamed planet in orbit around a star in the constellation of Orion. Is that close enough for you?”
Landon cannot accept that two thousand years have passed since they left Earth. He has no faith in Hasslein’s Theory, and although Taylor maintains that the ship’s Earth clock substantiates the theory, Landon maintains, “It’s still just a theory”.
The three astronauts walk for miles across the desert through “thunder and lightning with no rain” and avalanches of huge boulders. Taylor and Landon do not get on at all well.
Landon is an idealist all-American boy (“the golden boy of the class of ’72”), and Taylor is a gritty realist who revels in rubbing Landon’s face in the truth.
At one stage, Landon declares that he’s prepared to die.
Taylor replies (laughing), “well doesn’t that make you misty?” and follows with “, there’s a life-size bronze statue of you standing out there somewhere – sure it’s probably turned green by now, and nobody can read the nameplate, but never let it be said we forget our heroes”.
The trio takes heart when they find a solitary plant in the middle of the desert. With their supplies running low, they are naturally more than a little interested in finding water. But the landscape is pure Arizona, and the discovery of the plant is a monumental occasion.
Trekking onwards, they are oblivious to the unidentified figures scurrying along the top of the ridge, following their progress. They still believe they are completely alone until . . . rounding a corner in the desert (are there any corners in the desert ??), the three Earthlings see a line of scarecrows along the top of the ridge. They are a warning of some kind, but of what?
The trio waste no time finding out (such inquiring minds) because in the distance, they hear running water, and Taylor says, “To Hell with the scarecrows!”
They run as men possessed to the water and dive in butt-naked. Following some gratuitous shots of Charlton Heston’s bum, Landon discovers a footprint on the shore.
Shortly thereafter, they also discover their clothes have been pinched! They give chase and find all their scientific supplies have been destroyed and their clothes shredded, prompting the observant comment, “They didn’t leave much, did they?”
But who has done this?
In a field of tall maize, the trio discovers the culprits are a group of mute, feral humans. Taylor takes particular notice of one particular female (who we are later to discover is called “Nova”).
When Landon comments that the three “got off at the wrong stop”, Taylor replies, “look on the bright side. If this is the best they’ve got around here, in six months, we’ll be running this planet”.
In a classic case of speaking too soon, suddenly, the feral humans take flight, running in a panic-stricken state. The astronauts have no idea why but feel it’s probably a good idea to follow them since their fear seems so great.
What follows is one of the classic moments in cinema history. The music, camera angles and high maize set a scene of total confusion and panic. Wooden poles appear above the maize, beating the tall plants flat.
Horses’ hoofs rumble across the fields, but still, we do not see who the hunters are.
Until a horn sounds, and the camera zooms in on a gorilla on horseback, dressed in military uniform and brandishing a rifle.
A frantic chase scene follows. Amid the panic-stricken and directionless ferals, the astronauts are separated and mingle with the primitive humans.
It seems that whichever way the humans turn, the gorillas are waiting, armed with beating poles, nets and rifles.
Taylor pauses to help Nova and eludes two mounted gorillas with a net. Landon is clubbed in the head and falls off a cliff into a very shallow river. Dodge, who is dressed in the bright yellow remnants of their life raft (which nobody seems to notice), is captured in a net along with some ferals, manages to escape and runs all of ten feet before being shot dead by a mounted gorilla.
Taylor fares a little better, but he, too, is eventually shot through the throat and lapses into unconsciousness.
The humans are taken back to the gorilla’s hunting camp, where they are strung up like trophies while the gorillas pose with piles of dead humans for photographs. The humans who are still alive (including Taylor and Nova) are thrown into cages on horse-drawn wagons and transported to Ape City.
Back at Ape City, Taylor is taken to the veterinary laboratory and given a blood transfusion by kindly chimpanzee vet Dr Zira and her staff.
Coming to, he is pleased to see Nova is on the operating table next to him but doesn’t seem taken aback at the fact the apes can talk.
He does seem slightly perturbed when he overhears Zira saying to one of her staff, “The foundations of scientific brain surgery are being laid right here”.
Taylor cannot speak due to his throat injury but does his utmost to communicate with Zira. She calls Taylor “Bright Eyes” and senses there is something different about him.
As an animal psychologist, she is intrigued by this “animal” who seems a cut above the average feral . . . The staff believe Taylor keeps pretending he can talk and that nothing more than mimicry is at play here; “You know what they say, ‘Human see – Human do'”
Taylor tries to steal Zira’s notepad just as Dr Zaius arrives. Zaius is an old orang-utan with the ominous title of “Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith”.
He is curious about the unusual human but is not impressed, saying, “yes, it’s amusing – a man acting like an ape”.
Zira wonders out loud how Taylor would score on a “Hopkins Manual Dexterity test”. Taylor understands and moves his hand in the correct manner.
Zaius refuses to be impressed by Zira’s behavioural studies and cautions her against suggesting that apes can learn anything from a study of man, adding, “The sooner man is exterminated, the better – It’s a question of simian survival”.
Zira gives “Bright Eyes” a present – She moves Nova into the cage with Taylor. Nova is uncomfortable with the strange man but follows him around dutifully anyway.
Later in the exercise yard, Zira is visited by her chimpanzee archaeologist fiancé Cornelius. Zira shows Taylor to Cornelius, hoping he will share her interest in his actions, but Cornelius, too, is unimpressed.
Taylor writes a message in the dirt, but Zira and Cornelius are distracted by the sudden arrival of Dr Zaius and do not see the writing.
Nova does see the writing, though and rubs it out with her hands. Taylor subsequently gets into a fight with a primitive man and is forcibly removed from the cage. He is injured when a gorilla burns him with a flaming torch while trying to restrain him.
Sending Cornelius and Zira away, Zaius walks past the cage, chatting to a gorilla soldier, and notices the remnants of Taylor’s message scrawled in the dirt – I CAN WRITE. Zaius pokes his walking cane through the cage’s bars and obliterates the writing. He is, after all, the Chief Defender of the Faith.
Back in the cages at the laboratory, Zira apologises to “bright eyes” for how he was treated. She is already developing a special bond with this unusual human. In desperation, Taylor grabs Zira through the bars of his cage and wrestles her notepad and pencil from her.
Julius, the sadistic gorilla jailer, rushes into Taylor’s cage and clubs him, retrieving the notepad . . . but Taylor has had time to scrawl a quick note:
Zira is dumbstruck. Eventually, she turns to Julius and instructs him, “get me a collar and leash. I’m taking him out of here”.
Once he is gone, Zira beckons Taylor over to her and says, “you wouldn’t hurt me, would you, Taylor?”. A momentous occasion for both of them . . .
Taylor is taken back to Cornelius’s house, where he writes his little heart out, filling page after page of notepaper with the tale of where he is from and how he arrived on the planet of the apes.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Cornelius maintains, “It’s a stunt – humans can’t write”. Cornelius also has trouble believing Taylor could have flown to their planet, denying the possibility of flight at all. Taylor proves his point with a simple demonstration. He folds a paper aeroplane and throws it. To the amazement of the chimps, it flies across the room. Cornelius and Zira are speechless.
Taylor points out on a map where his spacecraft crashed and the route that he, Dodge and Landon took until they were captured. Cornelius scoffs once more at the story; “no creature can survive in the Forbidden Zone. I know, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it”.
It transpires that Cornelius has a theory that apes evolved from a lower order of primates, possibly man. He has found evidence on earlier archaeological digs in the Forbidden Zone. Perhaps, Zira muses, Taylor may be the missing link.
Dr Zaius (always around when you don’t want him!) arrives unexpectedly once more, accompanied by Dr Maxwell (another Orang-utan), the Commissioner for Animal Affairs. Zaius and Maxwell chastise Zira for having Taylor in a house and order him returned immediately to the compound.
Zaius picks up the paper plane and asks what it is. Zira says it is a toy which “floats on the air”.
Zaius claims it to be nonsense and destroys it (which you would expect from the Minister of Science, right?!)
Taylor is returned to his cage at the laboratory. Later he overhears two gorilla soldiers telling Julius they will be taking Taylor to the vet later to have him gelded.
The order has come from Dr Zaius himself. When Julius enters the cage to put a leash on Taylor, he is overpowered, and Taylor escapes.
He runs wildly through the streets of Ape City, Scaring women and children chimpanzees and disrupting a gorilla funeral service in the church.
Several gorillas join the chase, but Taylor manages to evade them each time, eventually seeking refuge in the natural history museum, which is full of displays of stuffed and mounted humans! While running through the museum, Taylor is stunned to discover his colleague Dodge, stuffed and mounted (with artificial glass eyes).
Returning outside, Taylor is eventually captured in a net and suspended a few feet above the ground.
The gorillas move in to secure him, and it is at this precise moment (as Taylor surfs the net . . . sorry!) that he regains the use of his voice and utters the memorable line, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape”!
Now that Taylor can speak once more, he won’t shut up. Back at the laboratory, he talks at every opportunity, but since Nova is the only person in the cages with him, the conversation is not stimulating.
Nova is actually distressed that Taylor can talk and tries to get him to stop by putting her hand over his mouth. This prompts his comment of defeat; “Me Tarzan, you Jane”.
Julius arrives with the gorillas who take Nova away. Taylor fights them while Julius turns a water hose on him. He is finally able to abuse the sadistic jailer, who tells Taylor, “Shut up, you freak!”.
Taylor declares, “This is a madhouse! A madhouse!”.
Now he doesn’t even have Nova, who he says “may not be as smart as Stewart, but you’re the only girl in town”
The gorillas return and take Taylor away in a collar and leash. He is taken to a courtroom where he is met by Cornelius and Zira, who tell him to “be clever, be quiet”. There is to be a tribunal heard by three orangutans, including Dr Zaius and Dr Maximus. The state is represented by Dr Honorius, Deputy Minister of Justice, and Cornelius and Zira are to have the opportunity to present their case regarding Taylor.
Dr Zaius says, “It is scientific heresy which is on trial here”. Taylor tries to defend himself but is silenced. Dr Honorius claims that Zira performed experiments on Taylor and produced a speaking monster.
Taylor tells the hearing that he is an explorer in space from a different solar system. The Orang-utans believe it is a joke as the man’s claim that he had two intelligent companions when he arrived could not be verified.
The apes have re-assembled all the humans caught with Taylor and ask the astronaut to identify his companion. Taylor finds Landon but, seeing the scar on his temple, screams at Zaius, “you cut up his brain, you bloody baboon!”.
Returning to the courtroom, Zira and Cornelius assert their theories of evolution.
The Orang-utans assume the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” positions (a moment which was actually improvised on the set at the suggestion of Charlton Heston) and indict the chimps for contempt and scientific heresy. The hearing is over, and Taylor is taken to Dr Zaius’ chambers.
Zaius asks Taylor where he is really from in order to save himself. He believes the man to be a mutant from the Forbidden Zone. Zaius fears there are more like Taylor either in, or beyond, the Forbidden Zone.
Back at the lab, Julius is visited by a young chimp (Zira’s nephew, Lucius) who claims to have orders to transfer Taylor to the zoo as the “anti-vivisectionist society are up in arms” about the mistreatment of the human.
Together, Lucius and Taylor kill Julius and make good their escape. Against Zira’s instructions, Taylor also takes Nova.
Meeting up with Cornelius and Zira, the group venture to Cornelius’s old diggings in the Forbidden Zone to try and prove their theories and clear their name. Now they are all fugitives.
The Forbidden Zone is a prohibited desert. Throughout the 1200 years of ape history, the region has been out of bounds to all apes, according to the sacred scrolls of the supreme ape deity, the Law Giver.
Arriving at the old archaeological digs in a cave by the sea, the group of fugitives discover they have been followed by Zaius and a group of gorillas. Taylor trains his gun on Dr Zaius and forces the gorillas to withdraw.
Taylor takes Zaius into the cave to try and find something which will prove that intelligent humans once roamed this planet.
Cornelius shows them artefacts that prove the older remains show a more advanced culture with tools still unknown to the apes. They also find a human doll, but Zaius debunks the theory saying that even his granddaughter plays with human dolls.
Taylor finds many human artefacts, but Zaius offers alternate descriptions of each item. Suddenly, the doll (which Nova has been playing with) cries, “Mama . . . Mama”. They have their proof!
Unfortunately, at that very moment, gunshots sound from outside as the gorillas return. Taylor feigns injury in order to capture Dr Zaius and has him order the gorillas away.
Taylor ties Dr Zaius up and demands a horse, food, water and ammunition from the gorillas otherwise, he will kill the Minister of Science. Zira and Cornelius are upset at the treatment Taylor is showing Zaius, and Taylor reminds them that he had been treated this way by all of them.
The human claims that Zaius has always known about the history of humans on the planet. Zaius says that all he knows about man was written long ago, set down by the Law Giver.
He makes Cornelius read the 6th verse of the 29th scroll of the Law Giver’s writings:
Taylor says his farewells to everyone. He asks Zira and Cornelius to come with him, but they claim they will not go to jail now as they have proved they were not committing heresy.
Taylor asks Zira if he can kiss her goodbye. She consents, even though she finds him ugly. Zaius says he has awaited Taylor’s coming all his life and dreaded it.
Taylor and Nova leave. Dr Zaius orders the cave sealed and tells Zira and Cornelius they will still stand trial for heresy.
Lucius says, “Dr Zaius, this is inexcusable. Why must knowledge stand still? What about the future?”. Zaius says he may just have saved it for them.
Zira asks, “What will he find out there, Doctor?”. Zaius replies, “His destiny!”
Taylor and Nova ride along the shoreline, content and happy to be away from the apes and on their search for the truth.
Meanwhile, the gorillas seal Cornelius’s cave with a giant explosion.
Some distance down the beach, we observe Taylor and Nova from the viewpoint of a large structure.
Taylor dismounts and drops to his knees in the water. The camera pulls back to reveal the shattered remains of the Statue of Liberty.
Taylor is home. He has been home all along. “Damn you! God damn you all to Hell!”
As the screen fades to black, the credits roll to only the sound of crashing waves.
Planet Of The Apes was made for $5.8 million ($1 million of which was spent on makeup).
The first word ever spoken by an ape in the series of five movies (in the original film, Planet of the Apes) is “smile.”
The Statue of Liberty climax was shot at Point Dune, California, at a remote section of coast between Malibu and Oxnard.
Franklin J. Schaffner