Reviews

Planet of the Apes: The Legacy Collection (1968-1973)

Whitney Strub

Planet of the Apes: The Legacy Collection oscillates wildly between the delightful and the agonizing; but the rewards more than offset the pains.


Planet of the Apes: the Legacy Collection

Director: Various
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 1968-1973
US DVD Release Date: 2006-03-28
Amazon affiliate

If the test of a science fiction film's lasting relevance is its evolving applicability to sociopolitical circumstances, Planet of the Apes ranks among the best. When released in early 1968, its brutal gorilla law enforcers evoked memories of Bull Connor's Birmingham police as they sprayed Charlton Heston's dissent away with high-powered water hoses; by the end of that year their repressive behavior elsewhere in the film paralleled that of the Chicago police at the Democratic National Convention. Today, orangutan Dr. Zaius' position as Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith sounds like something the Bush administration has added to the FDA or CDC, and the film's theme of religion obstructing the scientific pursuit of knowledge has never seemed so relevant.

The other films in the Apes series bear their own messages, and the best way to unpack those themes is to watch the entire series in quick succession. Planet of the Apes: The Legacy Collection facilitates this process, collecting all five feature films and an accompanying documentary into one convenient package. Plowing through it can be exhausting — like the Star Trek movies, the Apes films oscillate wildly between the delightful and the agonizing — but the rewards more than offset the pains.

Best-known by far, the first entry needs little recounting. Astronaut Charlton Heston, catapulted two thousand years into the future, lands on a strange planet on which apes dominate humans. That the planet might be closer to home than he realizes is well known today, but the film's iconic final image nonetheless retains a potent visceral charge. Its political messages are overt but slyly clever; it's easy to find it tame compared to its contemporaries like Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, but in terms of social effects, I'd wager Planet of the Apes carried a greater impact. While Wexler's landmark film was seen mostly by critics and members of the decaying New Left, Apes surely instilled a subversively critical approach to authority in thousands of children out for a Saturday matinee.

Then, of course, there's Heston: less actor than sheer presence, he elevates the film's stature through his mere being. When he bellows, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape," the authority in his voice makes clear why the NRA wanted him for its public face even despite his earlier stance in support of gun control. To be sure, Heston and his character represent the apotheosis of pre-feminist male chauvinism, treating mute companion Linda Harrison as a lapdog plaything; when threatened with emasculation his eyes widen, but they need not: this guy is all phallus. The film never suffers for Heston's alpha-male machismo, though, perhaps because it so clearly invites queer readings -- even apart from extratextual thoughts of his earlier faux-hetero performances as Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, Heston spends nearly as much time naked here as Jane Fonda did the same year in Barbarella, and his sweaty, scantily-clad performance seems almost, almost aware of its camp component.

If the first Planet of the Apes is easily the best in the series, on any level — textual richness, narrative creativity, filmmaking quality (the realistic ape costuming, though since surpassed, was groundbreaking in its day) — other entries offer some competition. Unfortunately, one must slog through Beneath the Planet of the Apes to reach these contenders. The second film reeks of Roger-Cormanesque rush-production hackwork, cutting budget corners on everything from sets (it was filmed on sets still standing from the first film, as well as some from Hello, Dolly!) to time spent plotting (it's basically a tepid remake, minus the excitement) to casting (James Franciscus plays the poor man's Heston, another astronaut sent out after him). A vision of New York City as underground wreckage feebly attempts to recapture the thrill of the predecessor's closing image, while Heston himself appears bored to the point of catatonia in a cameo.

The box set's Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound is on regrettably piercing display in a scene of telepathic screeches, and Beneath is the type of movie where an underground cult of humans inform Franciscus that talking out loud is "a primitive accomplishment" that they "use when we must" . . . nine minutes before they engage in a spoken dialogue scene. Even a startlingly violent and apocalyptic conclusion (in a G-rated film -- the MPAA was a bit less protectionist in 1969!) can't save this turkey, which never should have surfaced.

After that fiasco, Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a welcome turn toward social parody, as two sympathetic chimp scientists travel back in time to early-'70s Los Angeles. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter (who won an Oscar for playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire) pull off surprisingly resonant performances, and scenes with him attending a boxing match and her speaking before a feminist group provide clever fun. Paul Dehn's script is full of sharp dialogue, a robust supporting cast (including Ricardo Montalban, Sal Mineo, and even M. Emmet Walsh in a brief early role) helps, and a scene with chimps on the lam through the oil fields of south LA makes for a bizarre parallel to similar scenes in Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song that same year (1971). Another grim conclusion adds emotional heft.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes continues the momentum, envisioning 1991 as an oppressive police state. A plague eradicated all dogs and cats, and after humans adopted apes as pets, the primates' role quickly became closer to slaves. McDowall stars as Caesar, the son of his earlier character, who leads an ape revolution. Journeyman director J. Lee Thompson too often jabs his camera at scenes, and the editing is equally hamfisted (Caesar's transition into revolutionary leader happens so fast it's incoherent), but not even an unintentionally offensive equating of the film's only significant black character with the apes ("You, above all people, should understand" their servitude, he's told; later he agrees, prefacing his soliloquy, "I, a descendant of slaves . . .") can halt the film's momentum.

Scenes with Caesar leading fellow apes in the planning of social disruptions may well have inspired quite similar scenes in Fight Club. The final ape revolt is jarringly captivating in its violence, and Caesar's closing speech, delivered before a backdrop of raging flames, is pure faux-Shakespearean grandiloquence. It's also a rousing call to arms, and in its own clumsy allegorical way Conquest is more sympathetic to the participants of the uprisings in Watts, Newark, or Attica than anything else coming out of Hollywood at the time.

Alas, Battle for the Planet of the Apes concludes things on a dismal note, with another dreary conflict between ape and man. A year before his dazzling turn as Noah Cross in Chinatown, John Huston was somehow roped into a pompous narrating role as the simian "Lawgiver", and McDowall sleepwalks through another turn as Caesar. The new DVD includes ten minutes of footage cut from the original 1973 theatrical version, but all it does is elongate the misery.

The films are largely devoid of extra features, aside from some mundane commentary tracks on the first one from composer Jerry Goldsmith, MacDowall, Hunter, and the makeup artists. Most of what they have to say is covered more effectively in Behind the Planet of the Apes, a 1998 documentary that rounds out the box set. With engaging anecdotes about producer Arthur P. Jacobs, the source novel by French writer Pierre Boulle, first screenwriter (and Twilight Zone creator) Rod Serling's adaptation, budgetary struggles, and various other facets of the series (which was continued by two short-lived television series), Behind is surprisingly enjoyable and informative -- how else would one know that Edward G. Robinson was slated to play Dr. Zaius in the first film but withdrew because the makeup sessions were too strenuous? Film scholar Eric Greene, who wrote the book Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture, shows up to help decode the series' thematic elements, such as the class structure of the orangutan/chimp/gorilla hierarchy.

It's not quite clear what prompted this box set now rather than, say, five years ago, when it could have cashed in on Tim Burton's remake (ignored here). Perhaps only when it's marketed as a unified entity will consumers bother with the minor entries in the series. At any rate, when the Apes quintet is on — which it is more often than not — it makes for thoughtful, compelling science fiction. When it's not, well, at least it's not Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

5

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image