"We didn't want the audience to go up the aisle thinking anything other than they'd been entertained," claims Richard Zanuck, the Fox studio head responsible for green-lighting Planet Of The Apes, in one of the supplemental features included on the new Apes DVD. Either Zanuck is incredibly thick, or he's as good an actor as anyone he's ever cast in a film. Released in early 1968, Apes is the classic example of how science fiction can address terrestrial issues by setting them in a world far removed, and its famous twist ending almost literally brings it all back home. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling already knew a bit about twists and social commentary when he took on the assignment of adapting La Planète Des Singes, by French novelist Pierre Boulle. So did final screenwriter Michael Wilson, a blacklist veteran no doubt responsible for the viciousness of trial sequences that pit American astronaut Charlton Heston against a tribunal of intelligent apes, the dominant form of life on the planet where his interstellar expedition crash-lands. On that world, humans live like animals and serve their ape overlords, in a metaphor open-ended enough to apply to the issues of race, class, or, taken most literally, animal rights. Apes entertains all these possibilities and ultimately chooses none, remaining content to comment broadly on humanity's inability to see beyond itself. Heston begins the film having happily abandoned Earth's wars and injustices, but he lands in a place where history repeats itself as a farce in ape fur. Of course, this wouldn't count for much if the film didn't leave audiences entertained, and virtually every other element works toward that end: the makeup, Jerry Goldsmith's wildly experimental score, Franklin J. Schaffner's careful direction, restrained simian performances from Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, and Heston's unrestrained chest-beating. Like Halloween, Planet now seems destined to be one of those films reissued on DVD so often, and followed by so many sequels and remakes of variable worthiness, that the original's quality can get lost. The 35th-anniversary edition likely won't be the last version, but it's a good one that puts the original in sharp focus. The audio commentaries could be better, but the scholarly text commentary by Planet Of The Apes As American Myth author Eric Greene and the excellent 1998 making-of feature Behind The Planet Of The Apes (hosted by McDowall) help make the film worth another visit. It may be, in the words of Heston's character, a madhouse, but it's a madhouse that few will deny looks a bit like home.

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