Viking Night: Planet of the Apes
By Bruce Hall
November 20, 2012
Don’t worry. I’m not going to go spoil the ending of this movie for you, even though you should already know it. Even people who’ve never seen Planet of the Apes can usually tell you about the ending. But for those of you who’ve literally been living in the jungle for decades, I'll just say that it begins and ends with Charlton Heston. Or more accurately, dashing astronaut George Taylor, played by Heston.
Taylor and his crew are aboard an experimental NASA spacecraft designed to test whether it's safe to smoke cigars in a pure oxygen environment at the speed of light (it is). In space they will age only six months while back on Earth, 700 years will pass. They awake to find themselves crashed on a desolate planet and find that one of the life pods has failed, taking a crew member with it. They're also over a thousand years off course. Also, they seem to be the worst prepared astronauts ever, lacking any apparent understanding of basic astronomy. You almost get the idea they weren’t all entirely clear on what they signed up for.
You also get the idea that their mission - give four clueless people cigars, strap them inside the most expensive thing ever built, send it on a one way trip into the distant future for no real reason - might be the dumbest setup ever.
Thankfully, there isn’t a lot of time to think about that. They encounter life, which seems be human - but none of them can speak, and they’re not the ones in charge on this planet anyway. That role belongs to the howling apes on horseback who appear to round up everyone like cattle. Taylor takes a wound to the throat, and is robbed of the ability to speak. He's mistaken for one of the locals and separated from his friends. He awakes in a kind of zoo, in a world where apes are the highest form of intelligent life. Humans are used medical experiments and even hunted for sport. All Taylor can do is watch in horror as it all unfolds around him.
He’s nursed to health by Zira (Kim Hunter), an animal psychologist who suspects that humans are intelligent, and worthy of respect. But she and her fiancée Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) are alone in their opinion and are treated with contempt, particularly by their boss, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). Still unable to speak, Taylor is eventually able to prove to his benefactors that he’s got marbles, writing them detailed notes describing his incredible journey. Unfortunately the very idea of human intelligence is heresy, enforceable by Zaius and his minions - who seem to know more about the issue than they're willing to say. Set to be placed on trial for his life, Taylor must regain his voice and find a way to escape or defend himself.
His presence has opened a long simmering ideological rift in ape society, one that threatens to tear it apart at the seams.