Planet of the Apes
Special Edition

Starring: Charlton Heston
20th Century Fox
RRP 19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 26 April 2004

After travelling for centuries in cryogenic suspension, three astronauts crash land on a mysterious planet. Searching for signs of life, they find themselves in a bizarre upside-down world in which speaking simians rule and mute humans are hunted, caged and used for experimentation...

As astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) might have put it: They finally, really did it... You maniacs! You brought out Planet of the Apes on a double-disc DVD with additional features, after releasing it as a single disc and in a movies box set. God damn you, Fox! God damn you all to hell!

However, if you don't already own this classic film on DVD, then this special edition is well worth adding to your collection. In the absence of a cinematic re-release, the stunning cinematography, under the supervision of director Franklin J Schaffner, is best viewed on as large a television screen as possible, while the 5.1 soundtrack does justice to Jerry Goldsmith's innovative and memorable musical score - listen out for instrumentation that mimics the sounds of the apes themselves.

John Chambers' special makeup effects, which won an honorary Oscar, have also stood the test of time. Having to get by without the benefits of modern gimmicks such as animatronics or CGI, Chambers created inventive chimp, gorilla and orang-utan masks that allowed the actors a high degree of expression and performance.

If the movie has a weakness, it is the hammy acting of its main star, but then I suppose this was necessary in order to divert the audience's attention from the scene-stealing apes. Heston chews the scenery as he yells out such borderline comical exclamations as, "It's a madhouse!" and "You cut out his brain, you bloody baboon!" But can we imagine any other actor pulling off that unforgettable line, "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

Heston is ably supported by Roddy McDowall as Cornelius, Kim Hunter as Zira and Maurice Evans as Dr Zaius, all under heavy ape makeup. Linda Harrison, as the mute human savage Nova, manages to convey a range of emotions and intentions without ever uttering a word.

The script, by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, is rich with biting and satirical commentary on racism, animal rights and vivisection.

And talking of commentaries, Disc 1 has three of them. In the first audio commentary, Jerry Goldsmith discusses his incidental music. The second is cobbled together from interviews with makeup artist Chambers and actors McDowall, Hunter and Natalie Trundy. Rather annoyingly, there are lengthy gaps in the second commentary, which makes you wonder why more interview material, perhaps from other personnel, could not have been spliced in as well. There is also a dense and insightful text commentary by Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth, which whizzes by so quickly that you may need to pause the movie to catch all the details.

Disc 2 is not as jam-packed with "never before seen" features as the publicity department would have us believe.

The best extra of all is the two-hour documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes, even though this has previously been seen on television and was included within the six-disc movies box set. Hosted by Roddy McDowall, this enlightening film takes us from the troubled genesis of the first movie, which had real difficulty finding a studio to back it, through its production, to the numerous sequels and television spin-offs. We learn some fascinating facts along the way, such as the social impact that the various ape makeups had on the interaction of the cast.

Some of the resources that are sourced as excerpts in Behind the Planet of the Apes are presented in full for the first time on this DVD. There is a ten-minute makeup test featuring Charlton Heston with Edward G Robinson as Dr Zaius, which was filmed in order to persuade reluctant backers that the movie would not look ridiculous. There are also 20 minutes of super-8 home movie material shot by Roddy McDowall, which includes an illuminating glimpse into the lengthy makeup process the actor had to undergo, and a further 20 minutes of silent "dailies".

In addition, there are various vintage promotional featurettes and trailers for the first five movies. The special features go a little bit off-topic with their behind-the-scenes looks at the making of Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The disc also includes galleries of stills, concept drawings, movie posters (which are rather too small to fully appreciate) and merchandise.

As I said earlier, this two-disc set is not as full to the brim as Fox would claim, but at the asking price, who's complaining? If you already own the six-disc movies set, then purchasing this product will probably not be worth your while. Otherwise, though, this is a prime opportunity to own a true landmark in cinematic history.

Richard McGinlay

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