The five films in the Planet of the Apes
series are enjoyable as pure entertainment and yet substantial enough to have inspired academic studies about the film's broader political themes. Loosely adapted from the novel
by French author Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes
was released at the height of racial and political unrest in America, adding resonance to its story of a NASA astronaut (Charlton Heston) stranded on a planet where superior apes dominate inferior human slaves. The film's final image--in which a horrified Heston realises the fate of humankind--remains one of the most indelible in all of science-fiction cinema.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) continues the original's distant future scenario, pitting militant apes against mutant humans dwelling in the subterranean ruins of New York City. Its phenomenal success spawned Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), in which simian scientists Cornelius and Zira (Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, reprising their roles from Planet) travel backward in time, setting the stage for the ape supremacy of the first two films. McDowall returned in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) as Caesar, the son of Cornelius, leading an ape revolution that bridges the historical gap of the previous films. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) ended the five-film cycle with McDowall again playing the chimpanzee leader Caesar, defeating gorillas and human mutants to establish the hierarchy introduced in the original film.
The Apes films present a classic what-if scenario that hasn't lost a bit of its potency. As if to prove its cultural endurance, the cycle returned to its origins with director Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes in 2001. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
On the DVD: A glorious indulgence for diehard fans of the series, this handsomely packaged six-disc set contains all five original" Apes" movies, from the wonderful 1967 original to 1973's low-budget Battle. It all look as good as possible in widescreen anamorphic transfers, the first movie's starkly wonderful cinematography in particular is a treat to see on DVD. Planet has been remixed in vivid Dolby 5.1, highlighting the bold sound design and JerryGoldsmith's masterful avant-garde score. The others are good Dolby stereo, with the odd exception of Escape, which is mono. There are trailers on each disc, but no commentaries sadly. The sixth bonus disc consists of a relatively new two-hour documentary hosted by Roddy McDowall which takes us through the entire saga in detail, pointing out the series' daring social commentary and the increasing difficulties of working with progressively smaller budgets. Sensibly, the documentary spends about an hour on the first movie and then an hour discussing all the rest. Overall, this is a very attractive package. --Mark Walker