Surprisingly enough (to me, at least), I just now watched Planet of the Apes (the original 1968 version). Why do I think this is surprising? Well, I like sci-fi stuff in general, and Planet of the Apes is such a classic, but oh well. I’m not sure why I’ve never watched it.
My initial reaction was: Why did Charlton Heston choose to be in this movie? Maybe I am reading too much into/stereotyping his NRA activism, but I always figured he was a super conservative person — and i still do assume that. But if that is the case, why has he selected roles in movies like Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green which have fairly progressive social themes. My guess: He is oblivious.
(Side note: When I watched The Celluloid Closet there was a discussion of the homoerotic aspects of Ben-Hur [I cannot remember who discussed it which is why I wrote that statement passively — to conceal my ignorance which I just now admitted to] and how they intentionally had one of the actors act sort of “gay” toward Charlton but without telling Charlton so he wouldn’t freak out. So this little story also supports my theory that Charlton is oblivious to the social message of these sci-fi dystopic films.)
My second reaction was: Wow, this film could be presenting a pretty progressive message. I love the idea of doing a complete 180 on subjectivity and not-so-obliquely setup the apes to represent humans in order to question/critique the way “civilized” humans treat others (be it animals, apes, people of other skin color, etc.). Further, the film also does some pretty serious questioning of religion and faith and addresses scientific issues such as evolution (which still seems to be a hot topic).
At the end of the film, however, I didn’t feel that the story was overly preachy or advocated one philosophy over another. It showed the “danger” of scientific inquiry (i.e. do we really want to know about the past; are we really ready to believe the darker aspects of our history) as well as the “danger” of blind faith (i.e. why is questioning and presenting new ideas automatically called heresy; why does faith prevent us from acknowledging this “animal” as sentient).
I’m not sure I want to see the sequels to the film — from my brief research it sounds like they deviate from these social issues. But I am intrigued to check out the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes by Tim Burton (which is actually why I wanted to watch the original in the first place). I’ve heard that Burton’s has a different “twist” ending, so I am curious to see what that might be.