“Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” …The year, 3978 AD.
When I think of brilliant surprise endings, 1968’s Franklin J. Schaffner directed PLANET OF THE APES is usually at the top of the list. Why you ask? Because the film’s iconic, bone-chilling surprise payoff comes out of nowhere, knocking the audience on their asses. Ingeniously executed, deservedly securing itself as one of the most unique threads in Cinema’s extensive tapestry. Seminal simian Science Fiction at its best!
The scene plays out as follows: Taylor & Nova, having escaped enslavement by brutal, talking apes, ride on horseback down a stretch of shoreline in the ‘Forbidden Zone.’ Our hero suddenly halts as his eyes meet something terrifying in the distance, dismounts to blankly stare upwards; as the camera pans forward, toward Taylor, through a spiked object, the stranded spaceman exclaims: “Oh, my God! I’m back, I’m home. All the time, it was…” dropping to his knees: “We finally really did it.” He pounds his fist into the sand & rails against Earth’s generations nearly two-thousand years earlier that had decimated his home planet’s civilization with a devastating atomic war: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!” The monumental object now comes into view as the camera pans backward, fully revealing the spiked crown of a battered & chard Statue of Liberty submerged waist-deep in a colossal sand-dune; thus disseminating that this distant, exotic world, that once harbored a rag-tag Human band, is actually post-apocalyptic EARTH herself…BOOM…now THAT’s an ending for the ages! Satisfying to the very end. This closing, highly-acclaimed scene was filmed on a long stretch of beach between Malibu & Oxnard in Southern California. Not far from where I call home.
A taste of backstory: In 1963 French novelist Pierre Boulle published a science fiction novel entitled La Planète des Singes. Boulle’s novel revealed a dystopic future environment governed by highly-evolved, talking apes. Humans were considered second class citizens. By 1968, 20th Century Fox & producer Arthur P. Jacobs adapted Boulle’s captivating tale for the big screen. Screenwriters Michael Wilson & Rod Serling (Mr. TWILIGHT ZONE himself) altered several key elements of the original story; greatly benefitting celluloid tastes & trends of the time. Serling’s stylized twist-ending (a celebrated trademark from his ‘Twilight Zone’ days) was retained, elevating production-value, permitting it to be reclassified as grand spectacle over simple, mindless entertainment. The exact location & state-of-decay of the Statue of Liberty evolved over several storyboards, however. One version depicted ‘Liberty’ buried up to her nose at the heart of a thick, savage jungle patch while another showcased the Statue smashed to bits by atomic decay.
With a budget of $5.8 million, the film was released to American audiences on April 6th & eventual went on to gross $32,589,624 in its initial run; a healthy, if not seismic profit. This prototype was followed by four sequels: 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes & 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Then tailed by two short-lived television series: Planet of the Apes (1974) & Return to the Planet of the Apes (animated, 1975). Years later, the remakes & reboots began to unfurl: The re-imagined, lackluster Tim Burton executed Planet of the Apes (2001) & Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011); a franchise reboot, directed by Rupert Wyatt, which was released to staggering critical & commercial success. ‘Dawn’ surpassed all expectations; a massive hit commercially & critically. One of my top 5 films of 2014. An incredible moviegoing experience!
Before the original ‘Planet of the Apes,’ Science-fiction features had a poor reputation established by a string of droll B-movies such as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians & the Ed Wood ‘passion’ projects. It was a genre aimed at rowdy, popcorn-throwing, cat-calling audiences rather than those who wanted to be emotionally wrung, intellectually challenged OR scared witless. The overall success of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ & 2001: A Space Odyssey, however, prompted the major Studios to consider other generous-budget fare. It’s no coincidence that it was 20th Century Fox, the Studio behind ‘Apes,’ who later backed STAR WARS Episode IV: A New Hope & Ridley Scott’s horror classic ALIEN. ‘Planet’ also laid the foundations for ‘modern’ Cinema merchandising. It’s blitzkrieg of toys, T-shirts & posters only really took off at the end of the movie series, BUT it whetted the appetite for George Lucas’s Galactic Opus a number of years later. It’s debatable to suggest that without ‘Apes,’ the STAR WARS stampede & Cinema’s Fantasy BOOM might never of occurred.
With its finely balanced blend of social commentary & thrilling adventure, Planet of the Apes was well received by critics and is widely regarded as a classic & one of the best films of 1968. The film holds an 89% ‘Certified Fresh’ rating on the review aggregate website ROTTEN TOMATOES. In 2008, the film was selected by EMPIRE magazine as one of ‘The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.’ ‘Apes’ has my vote!
One last thing, the ‘ape village’ sets used throughout the majority of the picture were built on the Fox Ranch in Malibu Creek State Park (Las Virgenes Road off Mulholland Highway, south from Route 101, northwest of Los Angeles). I’ve been visiting the State Park for years; hiking, mountain biking & rock climbing at its best. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend you start EXPLORING…luscious, gorgeous green rolling hills & pastures. Your own little slice of heaven.