Honestly, I get asked all the time about Science Fiction and Fantasy films by folks who want to know what are 'the best' of the best, and I've consistently pushed back, trying to explain that -- because SciFi and Fantasy are so, so, so broad in conception and execution -- it's hard to come up with any definitive list. For example, Blade Runner is arguably one of the best features commenting upon the human condition and its inevitable interaction with artificial intelligence, but how do you square up having it on a list alongside, say, 1953's The War Of The Worlds? Thematically, they're predicated on wildly different storytelling philosophies, and that's why I've always thought a series of lists and/or categories exploring specific subgenres of the broader discipline might be a better way to go. Yes, yes, yes, they're clearly both Science Fiction, but because they vary in so many elements I don't think it's fair to consider them part of the same 'list.'
In ways, Franklin J. Schaffner's Planet Of The Apes (1968) suffers the same fate in my mind. While being Science Fiction (and/or Fantasy), it has a lot to say about such topics as alternate history, human evolution, and dystopia that I have trouble putting it -- in a general sense -- alongside something like 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the same year) or even Silent Running (1972). Though they may somehow possess a similar aesthetic common to films of their days, they just travel in so many different directions that each deserves to be considered alongside features whose themes are synonymous or -- maybe a better term -- synchronous. Again, I only say this because I strive to protect the narrative complexity overall, instead of lumping this and that and the other into bullet points that feel disjointed.
What can I say? I tend to complicate things in my own humble manner.
Also, I do remember -- not all that long back -- getting into a kerfuffle with folks online about which incarnation of the Apes franchise was superior. (Mind you, I didn't enter into the debate trying to prove any position, per se, and I was only trying to point out that they were ignoring the fact that the original Apes movies are vastly different from one another thematically. Each film has a different mindset from what came before, whereas the modern trilogy all kinda/sorta followed in one expansive narrative arc, building upon each other in a different manner.) Frankly, these two halves of the same franchise don't quite mesh nor resemble the other all that well, so I (as you might guess) thought it was an unfair match-up. It all boiled down to the fact that these young Turks really weren't all that impressed with the 1960's/1970's films because -- cough cough -- they lacked CGI ... so I let them be.
Still, I wanted to pen a few words of reflection on the original's 55th anniversary because it's definitely one of the seminal films of my youth. I can still remember curling up on the living room floor to watch this thing when it aired on television. (I was way too young to see this one theatrically, being only two years old on its release.) As you can probably imagine, it was those damn dirty apes that I found so captivating -- and I still do -- and it remains one of those titles I'll argue 'til my dying day should be 'Essential' viewing for anyone interested in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror projects. It was groundbreaking storytelling. It was vivid on every conceivable level. And, yes, it had an ending that M. Night Shyamalan is likely jealous over.
For those unaware, Rod Serling -- of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery fame -- crafted the script with that massive reveal based on the Pierre Boulle novel. The feature starred Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, and Linda Harrison. Here's the plot summary as provided by IMDB.com:
"An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet where highly intelligent non-human ape species are dominant and humans are enslaved."
As Mission Commander George Taylor, Charlton Heston sits in the command chair of his capsule while the other astronauts are in some kind of cryogenic hibernation (or thereabouts). He's waxing on in the computer log, talking about the overall plight of man out loud (mostly for the benefit of the audience). And while he's doing this? Why, he's enjoying what I believe might be a great big ol' cigar! Here is Heston, delivering this highbrow poetry about man's place in the universe ... while dragging on a smoldering carcass of tobacco.
I'm not anti-tobacco. That's hardly my point.
It's just that knowing what we know about oxygen in sealed spaces and an open flame? This bit honestly plays out like bad comedy by today's standards.
I don't fault the film. It's just one of those sequences that doesn't translate well.
But on the 55th anniversary of such a highwater mark in SciFi film history?
I say "smoke 'em if you got 'em!"
As always, thanks for reading ... and live long and prosper!