PLANET OF THE APES: LEGACY COLLECTION: Blu-ray (2oth Century-Fox 1968-73) Fox Home Video
On May 21, 1968, producer, Arthur P. Jacobs prepared with giddy anticipation for principle photography to commence on Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes (1968). It was, indeed, a cause for celebration, as Jacobs had spent the better half of the decade persuasively chiseling away at the outright rejection of his dream project. In hindsight, it seems impossible, to downright criminal, Hollywood did not take immediate notice of the possibilities in adapting Pierre Boulle’s sci-fi novel, La Planète des Singes, first published in French in 1963. Alas, even Boulle considered the book one of his lesser existentialist works with absolutely zero potential to be transformed into a successful movie – much less, a movie franchise. And the studios’ reluctance to even entertain Jacobs’ ideas was, in hindsight, if not forgivable, then nevertheless, understandable. Previous ‘ape’ movies had all been played for comedy and with an over-sized man hopping around in some truly garish and unconvincing monkey fur and stiff rubber masks. No – conventional wisdom was against making Planet of the Apes; even more acrimonious towards its success and enduring legacy.
Jacobs put together an impressive ‘press kit’, hiring seven different artists to visualize Boulle’s novel and submitting the project to Richard Zanuck at 2oth Century-Fox. The younger Zanuck had recently inherited the vast movie-making dynasty from his aging father. But the transition had hardly been smooth; buffeted by changing times and tastes. Richard Zanuck was not about to invest heavily in a sci-fi adventure; particularly one where men dressed as apes were expected to carry the load of entertainment value. Jacobs, however, was not so easily dissuaded from his passion project. Alas, he had spent a goodly portion of his youth as a messenger, then a PR man over at MGM, and later, at Warner Brothers before establishing his own agency; quickly accruing a roster of the biggest A-list talents in the business.
One client was Marilyn Monroe, who encouraged Jacobs to transition from talent agent to producer with a movie project begun with her in mind. Alas, when Monroe unexpectedly died on Aug. 5, 1962, Jacobs was forced to recast this movie with Shirley MacLaine. What a Way to Go (1964) was light, frothy, glossy entertainment and surefire box office for Fox. It gave Jacobs the clout, though hardly the cache, to pursue Planet of the Apes as his follow-up. Informed by Zanuck there was no hope in pursuing the project, Jacobs returned to his roots as a talent scout, recruiting Edward G. Robinson and Charlton Heston to his cause. He also hired noted sci-fi writer/producer, Rod Serling to adapt Boulle’s novel into a screenplay. Serling went through thirty drafts, all of them adhering fairly strictly to the author’s concept of an advanced simian society.
With so much enthusiasm on tap, Richard Zanuck reluctantly agreed to green light a $5,000 screen test, featuring Heston, Robinson and a very young James Brolin; a chance for Jacobs to convince Fox’s executive brain trust the picture was not only possible, but had merit. The studio’s resident makeup artist, Ben Nye was brought in to create lightweight latex appliances that would allow the actors’ facial expressions to bleed through into their performance. The test, while crude, proved a hit with the executives and Zanuck now informed Jacobs he had exactly seven months to get his dream project off the ground; a daunting timeline for any movie, but particularly one as special effects laden and time-consuming as Planet of the Apes. To streamline the process, Jacobs hired John Chambers; a designer of WWII prosthetics who had since segued into doing ‘creature’ makeups for some of TV’s most fanciful shows, including The Munsters, Lost in Space and Star Trek. Chambers came to the project well versed, diving headstrong into the creation of 200 latex appliances on a relative miniscule budget of $1 million.
In the meantime, Jacobs – dissatisfied with Serling’s work, handed off the writing duties to noted screenwriter, Michael Wilson, who had already successfully adapted another Boulle novel – The Bridge on the River Kwai for the movies. Wilson used Serling’s original first draft as the basis for his rewrite. However, in the permutation, Wilson also managed to interject his own socio/political message about man’s inhumanity towards man; creating an ape hierarchy with uncanny parallels to the human world and its selfish and self-serving characteristics: orangutans as its intellectual class, chimpanzees - the scientists - and gorillas as the military. It all seemed to be moving along as planned, until Zanuck informed Jacobs he needed to cut the movie’s initial budget by nearly half; down to $5 million, thanks in part to a series of high profile flops, including Jacob’s own Doctor Doolittle (1967), Star! (1968) and Hello Dolly! (1969): big pictures that had miserably failed to perform as expected at the box office. In the interim, Jacobs was also to lose Edward G. Robinson, who had been hired after the screen test to play the part of the embittered and prejudiced simian academic, Dr. Zaius. Robinson’s deteriorating health, and his increasing lack of patience to sit in the makeup chair through the nearly six hours it took to transform him from man into beast had given the actor food for thought. He would not submit to this daily tedium again.
In the meantime, production designer, William Creber set to work creating the ape’s primitive habitat; a bizarre clay city inspired by the ruins of an ancient Turkish village and constructed out of pliable pencil-rod metal and cardboard, used for the skeletal structure, then sprayed and sculpted with a coating of urethane foam. Ape City was built on the Fox Ranch (now Malibu State Park), an isolated property owned by the studio, but later sold off, along with most of its back lot, to make way for other urban developments and raise badly needed capital to keep the ailing studio afloat. Reading an article in the Harvard Times one full year later, about how the university’s engineering department had successfully experimented ‘for the first time’ with the durability of urethane foam, made Creber smile; “We were doing that long before anybody!”
Jacobs now turned his attention to rounding out the cast. After Robinson’s departure, noted British stage actor, Maurice Evans assumed the role of Dr. Zaius. For the pivotal parts of scientists, Zira and Cornelius, the sole voices of reason in this otherwise topsy-turvy counter-universe, Jacobs chose two of Hollywood’s most respected actors: Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell. The part of Nova, the attractive human mute who escapes ape persecution along with Charlton Heston’s stranded astronaut, George Taylor, was given over to a bit of in-house nepotism; actress Linda Harrison, then dating Richard Zanuck. Finally, Taylor’s fellow astronauts were played by Robert Gunner (Landon) and Jeff Burton (Dodge); the latter fainting several times in the sweltering 120 degree heat during the shooting of the pivotal opening sequence in a barren wasteland with, otherwise, remarkably ‘earth-like’ conditions.
Planet of the Apes opens with an extended prologue; Taylor, the last astronaut to place himself in hyper-sleep before the return to earth, waxing philosophically about the world he has left behind; a bitter, sullen place where man indiscriminately made war on his fellow man. From here, we move into the movie’s first set piece, the rude awakening from hibernation after the spacecraft crash lands in a gully surrounded by towering rock formations (actually filmed in Arizona). Only three of the four astronauts have survived reentry; Dodge, Landon and Taylor now in great danger of drowning as their compromised ship begins to take on water. Escaping in an inflatable raft, the trio quietly observes as the remains of their vessel sinks to the bottom of the lake. To keep budgetary costs tight, only the protruding nosecone of this spaceship was actually built full scale, and out of cheap plywood redressed to resemble metal and glass.
Taylor, Landon and Dodge explore their new surroundings, discovering a green oasis beyond the rocks, but with foreboding and cryptic scarecrows erected near a glistening lagoon. Shedding their aeronautic suits for a skinny dip, Dodge, Taylor and Landon are appalled when some unseen beings abscond with their discarded clothing. The boys are forced to improvise their attire; eventually coming upon a small group of mute humans; throwbacks to a Neanderthalic society, presently feasting in a cornfield. Alas, the serenity of this moment is interrupted by a charge of apes on horseback, corralling the human mutes, along with Dodge, Taylor and Landon and carrying them off to Ape City. Taylor is wounded in the vocal cords and is temporarily unable to speak. He does, however, manage to scribble a message on a piece of paper, identifying himself as ‘Taylor’ to Dr. Zira who has taken an interest and nicknamed him ‘Bright Eyes’. Taylor attempts an escape; recaptured and carried into the city square where he is confronted by Dr. Zaius and the President of the Assembly (James Whitmore), the two doubting Taylor’s claims he is an articulate human. As proof, Taylor speaks for the very first time, and then tells the apes to question the other two like him; only too late discovering a crude lobotomy has been performed on Landon and finding Dodge stuffed as an exhibit in the ape museum. Interestingly, Heston was under the weather during the filming of this sequence, his hoarse voice complimenting his performance, particularly as he utters the line: “Take your dirty paws off me.”
Taylor convinces Zira to help him in his second escape. Taylor and Nova are pursued by Dr. Zaius, who also confronts Cornelius and Zira with treason as they have entered the forbidden zone; an archeological dig where human artifacts and remains are discovered, including a badly decomposed children’s doll that creepily mutters the word, ‘mama’ when shaken. Subduing Dr. Zaius, Taylor and Nova journey further into the forbidden zone, Taylor coming upon the crumbling remains of the Statue of Liberty half submerged in the sand: proof positive he has been on an earth apocalyptically destroyed by man’s callous disregard for human life and the looming threat of nuclear annihilation. This long shot of Taylor, bowing in defeat to this crippling reality, and before the imposing urban decay of the iconic statue, was a matte painting. But for the initial overhead reverse shot, looking down on Taylor and Nova as they stare up through the crumbling spires of Lady Liberty’s crown, Jacobs had an actual full scale model built; his camera hoisted atop a 70 ft. scaffolding. As aging cameraman, Leon Shamroy absolutely refused to ascend this rather rickety, towering edifice, Schaffner photographed this sequence instead.
Planet of the Apes was never intended to go beyond the first movie. In fact, plans to include a subplot where Nova becomes pregnant by Taylor were jettison from the final screenplay. No one, least of all Richard Zanuck was anticipating what came next; the film’s meteoric box office gross of $26 million sending shockwaves throughout the industry. Fox executives demanded a sequel and Arthur P. Jacobs, reluctant to comply, once more turned to Pierre Boulle and Rod Serling for inspiration. Alas, nothing produced by this pair impressed Jacobs, who then turned to screenwriter, Paul Dehn; an uncommonly prolific hit maker throughout the decade with films like The Spy Who Came in From The Cold (1965) and Goldfinger (1964, still considered the best Bond movie ever made) to his credit. In many ways, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) is a much darker film than its predecessor.
Alas, it also begins the rather disheartening template of investing less time and money on sequels in the franchise. Budgeted at $3 million (two million less than the original movie), ‘Beneath’ would find intriguing ways to keep tight reigns on its budget; using less cumbersome masks, instead of time-consuming, individually applied, latex appliances for the background apes and incorporating blowups of B&W stills taken of New York City as part of the matte paintings depicting a decimated Manhattan skyline; also, by redressing many of the sets from Hello Dolly! (1969) to create the subterranean halls where the surviving and bizarrely telepathic humanoid survivors reside.
Jacobs and Zanuck were immediately faced with reluctance from Charlton Heston, who absolutely did not want to have anything to do with a sequel. Heston eventually agreed to appear in this movie, but only if his character was almost immediately killed off. Zanuck agreed, but then partially reneged on the offer, having Heston’s Taylor disappear at the beginning of the movie, only to resurface and die at the end. As prior commitments precluded Roddy McDowell from participating in the sequel, the part of Cornelius went to David Watson with implicit instructions to mimic McDowell’s mannerisms and dialect in the hopes no one would notice the switch under all the makeup. Finally, Jacobs, who had briefly considered Burt Reynolds for the part of Brent, settled on TV actor, James Franciscus instead, chiefly because, in makeup and costume, he bore something of an uncanny physical resemblance (if somewhat smaller in stature) to Heston; thus, filling the void left by Taylor’s sudden and inexplicable disappearance at the start of the sequel.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes would also lose its original director; Franklin Schaffner already embroiled, along with the original film’s composer, Jerry Goldsmith, on shooting and scoring Patton (1970); thus, forcing Jacobs to hire director, Ted Post and composer, Leonard Rosenman in their stead. Beneath the Planet of the Apes begins with Taylor and Nova encountering various weather-related anomalies in the forbidden zone; a fire and sand storm and an earthquake, before Taylor suddenly vanishes into thin air – presumably, falling into some sort of time warp and/or black hole. From here, Nova stumbles across a burnt out shell of a spaceship (actually, the same plywood nosecone salvaged from the first movie), only now reporting to belong to astronaut, Brent, sent on an ill-fated reconnaissance mission to learn what became of Taylor. Nova takes Brent back to Ape City where he is introduced to Zira and Cornelius. The trio basically retrace Taylor’s journey, making their pilgrimage to the forbidden zone. Brent hides from the pursuing gorilla, General Ursus (James Gregory) who has declared that “the only good human is a dead human.” Discovering he is in the bowels of what was once the New York subway transit, Brent makes his way through some redressed sets from Hello Dolly!, sufficiently aged to reflect the city’s apocalyptic decay.
In what was once Grand Central Station, Brent discovers a group of mutant humans, including Albina (Natalie Trundy) and Ongaro (Don Pedro Colley) whose exposure to nuclear radiation has imbued them with telepathic powers. Arriving at what remains of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Brent and Nova witness the humanoids worship of the sole remaining atom bomb. Under duress from a psychic interrogation, Brent reveals to Albina and Ongaro the apes are marching on the forbidden zone. Captured, along with Nova, and thrown into a holding cell, Brent is reunited with Taylor; Ongaro, forcing the men to spar in a crude fight to the death, interrupted only after the ape armies, under Ursus’ command, have breached the security barriers leading into the city. Taylor, Brent and Nova escape, confronted by Dr. Zaius inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral as they are attempting to defuse the bomb. In creating a diversion for the apes, Taylor is mortally wounded; the apes opening fire and murdering Brent moments before Taylor’s weakened hand falls on the doomsday device, thus incinerating the entire world in a nuclear blast.
Certain the finale of Beneath the Planet of the Apes precluded the studio’s ability to make any more sequels, Arthur Jacobs was perplexed when Zanuck once more insisted he get busy concocting another installment for the franchise. After all, critical response to this sequel had been mixed at best; the critics torn over the movies bleak outlook, also mildly put off by its rather hideous makeups, particularly the mutant humanoids, who strip away their skin to reveal themselves as severely burned survivors of nuclear radiation. Alas, the public flocked to see Beneath the Planet of the Apes; its $14 million gross enough of an incentive to green light another installment. In some ways, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) remains the most lighthearted of the pictures; Paul Dehn’s screenplay reducing the ape cast to three; Zira, Cornelius and Milo (Sal Mineo), who – so it would seem - magically discovered Taylor’s spaceship moments before the nuclear Armageddon hit and were thus magically teleported back to the then present day world of 1971; rescued by the U.S. military.
Placed in solitary confinement, Milo is inadvertently strangled by an ape from the present (one of the obviously more bloodthirsty and inarticulate brethren). Zira and Cornelius reveal to the trio of human scientists, Dr. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman), Dr. Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy – nee, Mrs. Arthur P. Jacobs) and Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) they are able to speak. Armed with this discovery, the doctors and their protégées are placed before a congressional panel of skeptics who, upon realizing the truth, make Zira and Cornelius instant celebrities. They are treated like royalty and become ensconced in the pop culture. Alas, all this carefree fanfare is not to last. For upon learning of the not so distant future, where apes will rule the world, Dr. Hasslein insists Zira and Cornelius must be destroyed. Their termination is complicated by the fact Zira is pregnant. Escaping imprisonment, Zira and Cornelius are spared their fate by the more compassionate doctors. Branton and Dixon who hide with a benevolent circus owner, Armando (Ricardo Montalban).
A child is born to Zira and Cornelius; Armando exchanging the babe for another newborn chimp moments before the pair are discovered and pursued by Hasslein and the military. Cornered in an abandoned ship’s graveyard, Zira is gunned down by Dr. Hasslein; the child she is carrying in a swaddle and believes to be hers, also brutally slaughtered, before Cornelius puts an end to Dr. Hasslein, but alas, also dies in the process, toppling over the edge of the ship’s bridge onto its decks far below. Escape from the Planet of the Apes was hardly a feel good project. Alas, it too sent cash registers ringing around the world and, again, Fox could not resist toying with the formula for another sequel.
For 1972’s Conquest for The Planet of the Apes, Zanuck turned to noted director, J. Lee Thompson; an industry veteran whose credits included The Guns of Navarone (1961) and the original Cape Fear (1962). Thompson’s imprint on the series would give ‘Conquest’ its nail-biting edge. Once again, Paul Dehn contributed the screenplay, by far his most politically charged and cynical in the series; the outbreak of war and bludgeoning of Governor Breck (Don Murray) mirroring the race riots, then ever-present in the social consciousness of the entire nation. Indeed, the fissure between blacks and whites that had ignited civil unrest in America, coupled with the political assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; also, the inescapable quagmire of the Vietnam War, had all conspired to unsettle America’s faith in itself as the last hopeful bastion for freedom and democracy. ‘Conquest’ would tap into these anxieties with paralytic accuracy, stirring the fears of another despotic government on the rise. Regrettably, a sneak preview of the movie confirmed Richard Zanuck’s darkest fears; that the movie had alienated the family base: its primary target audience.
Reportedly, mothers were dragging their children from the theater during ‘Conquest’s’ penultimate triumph of the apes – led by Zira and Cornelius’ grown up son, Caesar (also played by Roddy McDowell), turned vigilante after the death of his beloved surrogate father, Armando (Ricardo Montalban, again), and inflicting bloody casualties against the human counterparts. In the original unrated version, the movie ends with Caesar’s sanctification of the disturbing murder of Governor Breck. This penultimate showdown was staged at Century City, the monolithic steel and concrete metropolitan center recently constructed over the ruins of the old 2oth Century-Fox back lot. Regrettably, in going for a more visceral approach to the material, director, J. Lee Thompson had staged one of the bloodiest palace coups in recent movie history; the mayhem very closely paralleling the race riots. Concerned the general release would tank the series, Zanuck ordered the film recut. Since there was no money in the budget for a reshoot, Zanuck and Thompson settled on a minor reedit of the already existing footage. Roddy McDowell was recalled to the studio to dub in a new speech, one in which Caesar pulls back from inciting his ape army to murder the governor and instead pursues a policy of peaceful domination (whatever, that means).
Paul Dehn was hardly pleased, and neither was Arthur Jacobs; both believing the studio had broken under pressure to secure the movie a ‘G’ rating. In so doing, each felt the mood and tenor of the franchise had been compromised; an animosity that would persist during pre-production on the final ape saga: 1973’s Battle For the Planet of the Apes. Dehn’s initial treatment, expounding on the darker themes already ever-present in the franchise, was rejected outright, as was his subsequent revision; Jacobs turning to the husband and wife screenwriting team of John William and Joyce Hooper Corrington. Even before production began, Richard Zanuck had already decided Battle for the Planet of the Apes would be the final installment in the franchise. Over the course of the Ape movie’s evolution, the budgets had steadily decreased. At just a little under two million dollars, ‘Battle’ would be the most economically made movie in the franchise; also, regrettably, the most ‘family friendly’ of the lot; its penultimate scenario of apes and humans working together to build a better co-habitating society, betraying the apocalyptic vision first spawned by Pierre Boulle and later brought to fruition in the other movies based on his novel.
Nevertheless, just as Fox was putting the proverbial ‘final nail’ in the ape saga’s coffin, Fox’s marketing department was gearing up for the biggest media blitz of press and promotion in its history, licensing ‘ape’ memorabilia and various sundry collectibles aimed at the kiddie sect. In all, some 300 items from 60 companies, ranging from key chains, mugs and T-shirts, to Halloween costumes, board games and action figures, were created for the debut of Battle of the Planet of the Apes. It made money. But for the first time, the cost-cutting efforts were glaringly obvious on the screen; the photographing of a single explosion from a multitude of angles, interminably reedited to suggest multiple charges going off, belied the overall arc of the storytelling.
As early as 1971, Arthur P. Jacobs had toyed with the idea of transforming the franchise into a weekly television series. After ‘Battle’s’ successful release, Jacobs had every intention of revisiting the idea for the small screen. Unfortunately, he would not live to see the 1974 debut of the TV series, suffering a massive fatal heart attack on June 27, 1973. He was only 51 years old. As a scaled down series, more heavily predicated on a routine ‘chase’ action/adventure styled drama, Planet of the Apes on TV would not last even one full season, brought back two years later in syndication, then transformed into an even more lugubrious Saturday morning cartoon that quickly faded into obscurity.
Today, the Planet of the Apes franchise survives mostly as a testament to Arthur Jacobs’ persistent belief. The early movies are undeniably the better for his dedication to the material; also for his zeal to pursue some top-flight talent to see his dream project through. The first movie remains ahead of its time; the perfect storm of Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter’s participation, coupled with Franklin J. Schaffner’s superior direction and the clever use of limited resources, all conspiring to will into existence a superb and thought-provoking sci-fi masterpiece, surely to endure long into the future. The movies that followed it are somewhat more unevenly paced and decidedly hampered by Zanuck’s chronic insistence to repeatedly slash their budgets; his misguided belief that in doing so he could maximize profits while trimming the fat, resulting in a sort of pared down adventurism, instead of super-colossuses in the sci-fi milieu. Only in retrospect does Zanuck’s miserly approach to the franchise begin to show; particularly in the wake of Star Wars (1977) and the blockbuster mentality its overwhelming success wrought. Not everything is affixed to a dollar amount; certainly not artistic creativity for which the Apes franchise remains justly known and famous.
Arthur Jacobs proved he could do wonders on a shoestring; and indeed, and despite their restrictive budgets, the first three pictures are marvelously realized. The last two, however, are more problematic; particularly the general release of Conquest for the Planet of the Apes, with its’ tacked on pseudo-happy ending. The unrated version is a far more sinister and effective piece of film-making, thanks mostly to J. Lee Thompson’s overriding vision for the end of the human world and his unrelenting realism to make a far more adult-orientated picture along the lines of The Omega Man (1971) or even Soylent Green (1973). This is, undeniably, where the franchise was headed ever since the first film’s shocking big reveal of the half submerged Statue of Liberty. Pierre Boulle’s novel, and indeed, the Apes movies were never intended as family friendly fodder. That the audience attending these pictures gradually and inexplicably migrated away from the adult and twenty-something crowd, embraced by the pre-teenage sect is a curiosity and arguably, the franchise’s damnation.
Alas, to maintain the allure for these younger fans, Zanuck was inevitably forced to make the last two movies more gentile, restricting their violence and thus demoting their potency as apocalyptic and allegorical tales of man’s own innate ability to self-destruct. Changing these variables may have preserved the popularity of the franchise as a whole back then, but in retrospect, it also decimated the purposeful message Jacobs and his screenwriters, from Rod Serling to Paul Dehn, had begun to instill, beginning with the original movie. Viewed today, at least in their theatrical cuts, neither ‘Conquest’ nor ‘Battle’ seem to fit into the ‘Ape’ movie culture. Thankfully, the rough ‘unrated’ cut of ‘Conquest’ still exists and, in viewing it, we are spared Zanuck’s hasty saccharine; director J. Lee Thompson’s bleak vision of the future given its full and ominous flourish in the finale.
But ‘Battle’ is a lost cause – a movie begun with the warm fuzzy feel good already on board and doomed to bright-eyed optimism where the absolute destruction of mankind, replaced by a simian race, ought to have been the order of the day; thus bringing the franchise cyclically back to the first movie’s premise. Instead, we get an altered future forecast; a world where articulate ape culture and humanity will coexist in perpetuity without further strife or friction between beast and man. Imperfectly begun, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is the franchise’s one irrefutable misfire; a complete betrayal of Pierre Boulle’s concept and the marketable movie franchise it spawned.
Fox Home Video has done a spectacular job amassing the entire Ape franchise on Blu-ray for reconsideration. The original Planet of the Apes was given a superb remastering in 1080p some years ago. Personally, I still have issues with the penultimate shot in the movie (the big reveal of the Statue of Liberty). This continues to suffer from an ever so slight image flicker and underexposure of the matte painting elements. I mean, Lady Liberty registers mostly as a grayish, nondescript blob, looking quite obviously added in after the fact, rather than effectively integrated seamlessly into the visuals. I think a little bit more digital tinkering on Fox’s part could have cleaned up this shocking finale. Otherwise, the transfer quality on all of these discs is fairly consistent. The DeLuxe color is generally eye-popping and contrast levels appear naturally realized.
Occasionally, film grain adopts a slightly digitized look; most negligible – if sporadic – in the last three installments. Flesh tones are naturally reproduced. Again, these films were shot on very tight budgets; but I still think fine detail is just a tad wanting. Of the batch, ‘Beneath’ and ‘Battle’ waffle the most, between razor-sharp and some very hazily focused imagery. Age-related artifacts have been eradicated from the original feature. Alas, the other installments in the franchise have not been given the same consideration. While none of the features are sourced from dirty prints, movies 2 through 5 do contain sporadic amounts of dirt, scratches and other time-borne anomalies. Fox really ought to be commended for giving us seamless branching. We get unrated and theatrical cuts of ‘Beneath’, ‘Conquest’ and ‘Battle’; really good stuff – especially, in the case of ‘Conquest’ (it really is a different movie with the original ending left intact).
The audio on all these movies gets a 5.1 DTS upgrade. Extras are plentiful on this set. We get the original ‘Behind the Planet of the Apes’ documentary – feature-length and produced by Van Ness for Fox TV’s movie channel. Hosted by Roddy McDowell and containing vintage interviews with a host of then surviving cast members, here is the most comprehensive bio on the franchise ever likely to be made and well worth the price of admission alone. But Fox has also provided us with stellar ‘making of’ featurettes on all of the subsequent Apes’ pictures; quelling information from noted historians and biographers, and including a wealth of archival/backstage materials unseen in the original documentary. Add to this, the original theatrical trailers, a litany of informative audio commentaries, and, a formidable array of galleries with images for each movie that include behind-the-scenes and marketing publicity and The Planet of the Apes Legacy Collection is decidedly the definitive look everyone will want to add to their growing hi-def library. This is an outstanding achievement from Fox Home Video and one we highly recommend to the ape aficionado and novice alike. As Fox marketing declared back in 1973, we would also encourage you to ‘go ape!’
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Planet of the Apes - 4
Beneath the Planet of the Apes – 3.5
Escape from the Planet of the Apes – 3.5
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (unrated version) – 4
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (theatrical) - 3
Battle for the Planet of the Apes - 2
Planet of the Apes - 4
Beneath the Planet of the Apes - 4
Escape from the Planet of the Apes – 3.5
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes – 3.5
Battle for the Planet of the Apes – 3