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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Planet Of The Apes Widescreen 35th Anniversary (Fox DTS DVD set

Planet of the Apes 35th Anniversary Widescreen DTS Set


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: A-



Between the recent, disastrous Tim Burton remake and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the same year in 1968), the original Planet of the Apes has become a bit more lost and trivialized than it should be.  Charlton Heston got attacked for his politics, making the politically correct crowd ignore all of his great films, and idiotic misinterpretations of what the original films were about have further damaged their reputation.


Fox has always taken the films seriously, first with a THX certified release on VHS and LaserDisc a few years back, than a DVD boxed set of all the film a few years ago from basically the same materials.  With the arrival of digital High Definition and need to rebuild the franchise’s credibility, this impressive new DVD set for the film’s 35th Anniversary is here and it is bound to bring new respect to one of the greatest film series ever made.


This is not to say it always stayed great, but it was aggressive all the way in effort and no franchise today that has reached five films can claim that.  As a matter of fact, only the new wave of Batman films are about to reach five, but that is after a big gap and huge changes.  Franchises these days burn out quickly, which speaks volumes about their shallowness.  If you think Planet of the Apes did not deserve a reissue, read on.


Of course, everyone knows that the story has three surviving astronauts crash landing on a planet that turns out to have oxygen.  Eventually, it turns out evolution turned out to be different, with upright apemen (who happen to all speak English) run things and the human species is grossly underdeveloped.  The only problems with this have been 1) that they happen to speak the exact same language as the astronauts and 2) the astronauts never consider that it is earth to begin with.  Michael Wilson and Rod Serling co-wrote the screenplay based on Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet (La Planete des Singes from 1963), but Serling made a similar mistake with astronauts in an episode of his classic TV series The Twilight Zone.  Getting past that, the screenplay took on social issues with a new boldness that cinematic Science Fiction was just starting to find with films like Francois Truffaut’s version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966).


This is the key factor that drove the original films, as well as the live action and animated TV series, yet totally absent in Burton’s supposedly thought out “rethinking” as it was touted.  I would laugh if it was not so tragic.  I will watch this set several times over just to hopefully weed out the damage watching that film caused.


Looking at it again, director Franklin J. Schaffner deserves more credit than he has received over the years.  Going directly on to handle the 70mm epic Patton right after this film, he was a strong journeyman director of exceptional skills and talent.  There would not be a franchise so great without his initial work here. 


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is the best the film has looked since the early years of its release.  You can compare this to the letterboxed image from the Behind the Planet of the Apes (1998) documentary and see the improvement in color, depth, gain in frame area and definition.  The Deluxe color has the warmer look it was famous for at the time to begin with, and this print is the cleanest in decades, though the color on the older DVD was not bad.  Video Black is about the same as that DVD.  This was a groundbreaking use of Panavision soon after the Bond films began using the superior anamorphic lenses for their epics.  This DVD has some detail limits, and the framing is sometimes not totally 2.35 X 1, but those moments are brief and nominal.  Leon Shamroy, A.S.C., creates some of the most memorable images in Science Fiction history and his exceptional camera work is the greatest beneficiary of this new DVD set.  The point-of-view shots that he and Schaffner get are often brilliant in putting the viewer in harm’s way, which is exactly what it takes to create the suspense and tension this film needed.  This is also a very good looking film, but even the previous print and transfer did not capture this as well as it should have.  This also makes the matte painting work look relatively more seamless, the way the visual effects department intended in the first place.  Does this look any worse than most of the mostly terrible digital effects we get now?  No, it looks decent, but the substantial film work by Shamroy soars above it all and can finally be appreciated by future generations.


The soundtrack has been greatly improved from the last DVD and LaserDisc releases.  The first 5.1 mix was a Dolby Digital AC-3 version introduced on the THX-certified 12” LaserDisc.  It was not bad for its time, but the PCM CD Stereo Pro Logic tracks from that same disc had some warmth and fullness the Dolby Digital lacked.  The 5.1 was recycled for the first DVD and it was not as good as either LaserDisc soundtrack.  With this new DVD set, a new 5.1 mix has been made.  The second Dolby Digital 5.1 mix here is better than the previous versions, but the DTS 5.1 mix is even more impressive.


The move to preserve and restore film music and sound has paid off.  In between the first Dolby 5.1 mix and this newer mix, the music label Varese Sarabande released a CD of the Jerry Goldsmith that went over exceptionally well with fans, taking the original music masters and remixing them into an impressive presentation.  The original 4-track-magnetic stereo master of Planet of the Apes has been missing for years, but this new mix does a great job of delivering Goldsmith’s amazing score and making dialogue and sound effects clearer than they have been in decades.  In some respects, this may be the best the film ever sounded.  Taking those presentation aspects together, digital High Definition and the D-VHS edition should be amazing too.


The extras are terrific, including a DVD-ROM-only feature that offers stills and facts that give a fine basic explanation of the first 35 years of Planet of the Apes.  DVD 1 has the two audio commentary tracks, and a set of text notes in one of the subtitle streams (ala the Star Trek DVD double sets) by Apes scholar Eric Greene.  The one with composer Jerry Goldsmith is sadly not non-stop, proving once again why it is so important to have interviewers on hand.  His comments are great, wise and informative, which is why it is a shame there is not much more.    It is also too bad his comments are not at least denoted by chapter stops, which is not on the menu or the paper foldout inside the cover.  The text subtitles are good, and even when they overlap with other supplements, know that the hearing impaired can find this especially useful.  For all viewers, it can pinpoint actors that items in a separate supplement cannot.  This is still uncommon, but is bound to become a more common feature in future DVDs.  The other audio commentary is of the non-stop nature and includes Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Natalie Trundy, and make-up innovator John Chambers


DVD 2 includes the 1998 documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes (2 hours, 6 minutes, 42 seconds), a 2:14 promo for it, 20 minutes of Roddy McDowall’s silent home movies from the set, 19:40 length of dailies and outtakes from the production, a 4:35 featurette of the film from 1968, some of which shows up in the 13:35 A Look Behind The Planet of the Apes, the great 9:26 make-up test/screen test from 1966 of the potential of the film with Edward G. Robinson to sell the film to Fox (Robinson bowed out of the film, but later worked with Heston on Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green, with both the CD soundtrack and DVD-Video reviewed elsewhere on this site), a 10:25 1967 presentation reel for the National Association of Theater Owners (N.A.T.O.), a 7:27 piece on Don Taylor directing Escape from the Planet of the Apes, a 1:27 piece on J. Lee Thompson directing Conquest of Planet of the Apes, the teaser trailer for this film joins the five main theatrical trailers for the five films not grouped together since the earliest letterboxed 12” LaserDiscs from years ago, a section of seven theatrical posters from worldwide release (the U.S. and Italy have 2 each, while France, Spain, and Belgium round out the selection), text reviews from Life and The Hollywood Reporter magazines at the time of the first release, 10 Morton Haack sketch designs and 17 other stills in the Image Gallery, and brief segments in the Apes Phenomenon section on Merchandise (consumer toys) and Collections (actual items from the set).


There is an Easter Egg (hidden extra) note here, because it goes back to previous wishes to see even more about the memorabilia bonanza that accompanied the popularity of the Apes franchise.  It seemed to me that the excellent DVD boxed set of the live action Planet of the Apes TV series would have been a great opportunity to show the still-impressive Mego toys and ads that were part of the mania for the films and TV shows in the 1970s.  Not thinking Planet of the Apes would be reissued on DVD again so soon, the one Apes title that has never been issued on DVD is the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes.  It is an impressive show and we can only hope Fox does this sometime soon.  Now with this re-release, Fox is addressing the remarkable action figures of the time.  There are at least six ads we know of from the now-defunct Mego Toys Company for their incredible Planet of the Apes toys line that we know of.  Sixty companies did Apes merchandise, but Mego topped them all.  In the menu for The Apes Phenomenon, you can go to the “Main Menu” text at the bottom of the screen, then use the right cursor and you will highlight a silhouette of what looks like Zira.  Press “Enter” and you will get a Mego ad (1:19) we’ll call The Beginning, which features the popular Village and Tree House playsets, plus the amusing Action Stallion.  It is one of those six ads from a famous VHS collection issued by a big Mego fan and collector of nothing but early ads from their groundbreaking TV campaigns.  They were really done for the advent of the TV series, but did everything to conjure the feature films.  The first ad was an initial launch ad before the series came out.  Then came a 1975 launch for tie-ins to the series, including the new astronaut figures from the live-action series.  After The Beginning, the three other ads had to do with playsets for the 8” action figures as follows:  The Fortress with Sun Reflector, The Forbidden Zone with secret trap, and the Catapult & Wagon set.  There were even more toys, like the U.K.-only Rock Launcher, Throne, stand-alone Jail, Battering Ram and Lost Continent set.  There were even six 5” Bend N’ Flex figures made of rubber, with wiring inside that allowed you to pose them, until the wire broke.  Whether we will see any additional ads uncovered is unknown, but the ad on this DVD comes from that same famous collector’s VHS tape, optical sound warping, flutter and all.  We can only hope Fox will put the other ads on future Apes DVDs, and uncover others, even for other toy companies.  How about some print ads?


That is a great set of extras, though there are more to see and ways Fox can go farther in the next sets.  This is a classic film that deserves to have all these extras and this is all both very archival and terrific.


We should also make a very special note about the late, great Roddy McDowall.  He a huge motion picture and still photography fan, his contribution to the legends of this franchise and the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are monumental.  He helped bring an intelligence and cache to the Apes and these genres they still did not have at the time.  Already a star of some previous Twilight Zone episodes and like shows, McDowall brought everything he appeared in to a higher level with more challenge than it would have had otherwise.  He was not afraid to be self-deprecating and had excellent taste in what he chose.  You can see how prominent he is in the extras in this set.  2001 had Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, but Planet of the Apes had Schaffner, Serling, Wilson, and McDowall for starters, so it really was of the same caliber.


So now you can see why this film deserved and needed a reissue.  Planet of the Apes is a classic that should have never been even passively remade.  Fox realizes this, but knows the Burton version will still have its fans.  This is far from the end of this franchise and this set can only inspire new interest and hopefully better storytelling.  If this set is as wildly successful as it deserves to be, Fox should and likely will give the next films the same treatment.  Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a most underrated sequel, which also has a great CD soundtrack out (see my review elsewhere on this site) and that would be very welcome indeed.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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