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Published: 2008-11-20 - 00:14:17
Blu-ray Disc and DVD : Blu-ray Disc Reviews

Planet of the Apes: 40-Year Evolution Blu-ray Collection Review

By Brandon A. DuHamel
The Films

The Planet of the Apes 40-Year Evolution set includes all five original Planet of the Apes films, from the groundbreaking 1968 original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston straight through to the fifth and final Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

Originally published in 1963, Planet of the Apes, or La Planète des singes, as it is known in its original language, was a novel by French writer Pierre Boulle, most famous for authoring Bridge on the River Kwai. The novel, La Planète des singes, was a dystopian commentary on contemporary society and easily won the interest of screenwriter Rod Serling who was brought in to adapt the book to the screen. Serling's adaptation would eventually go through many rewrites by Michael Wilson before eventually going into production, but the underlying commentaries on racism, classicism, violence, and nuclear proliferation are all still there.

In 1968, the idea of a profitable science fiction franchise was still a novelty, but 20th Century Fox, stinging from recent big budget films like Cleopatra and Hello Dolly was looking around for something, anything to help them turn a profit.  They took a chance on the science fiction film about a planet ruled by apes, where humans were the lesser species. With the aid of Charlton Heston, a true believer in the film and its themes, in the lead role and innovative makeup design, Planet of the Apes became a phenomenon, redefining the science fiction genre, which until then had been relegated to the world of B-movies.

With the success of the first film, producers wanted a sequel as quickly as possible. The second time out, however, things would not be as simple. Producers naturally wanted Heston back to reprise his role as Taylor, but Heston wanted no part of a sequel. Sequels were still only the stuff of B-movies at that point. There was no such thing as a major-film sequel. Heston, being reminded of how the producers and studio got behind him, taking a chance with the original film, finally relented and agreed to be in the first and last part of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and actor James James Franciscus was brought in to play Brent, an astronaut sent on a mission to search for the missing Taylor who himself discovers this strange world ruled by apes.

The second film in the franchise, although profitable, was nowhere near the level of quality of the first, and for much of it, it feels as if Franciscus is playing a poor man's Charlton Heston. It did seek to explain the revelation at the end of Planet of the Apes, however, which led to a problem for the rest of the films in the franchise.

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Overcoming the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes meant that the story had to be restarted, so to speak, from the beginning. Screenwriters had to come up with a way to explain what led to the events in the first two films. So, in effect, Escape from The Planet of The Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of The Apes are prequels to the original saga.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes brings two of the central ape characters from the first two films, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) back to present-day Earth, where they are detained and feared by the humans, and also give birth to an evolved ape child, Milo.

The films become increasingly low budget, but also increasingly darker. It is certainly difficult to imagine how or why this franchise got stretched out to five films. Kudos must go out to the writers and producers, however, for maintaining the central themes of social commentary even to the end, eventually tackling even slavery and the early-70's race riots all under the guise of science fiction, even when the films themselves had become quite stale and somewhat ridiculous.

The original 1968 Planet of the Apes film is still the best and strongest film of the entire collection and carries the franchise. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is an acceptable, yet weak attempt at a sequel. The remaining three films are completely unnecessary to anyone but the most ardent of Apes fans.

The Picture

All five films come in their original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in AVC/MPEG-4 encodings that look very good. There is some softness evident in each transfer that is most likely due to the original sources and film stock, but detail is good, flesh tones are natural, contrast never blooms and blacks are deep and stable. The film grain is present, but consistent, rendering a good film-like quality to the presentation. There are no signs of compression artifacts, and I did not notice any processing issues either.

The Sound

If ever there were films that were unnecessarily mixed into 5.1, then these are this films. Fox, as is typical for the studio on their Blu-ray releases, has provided DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes for each release as well as the original English Mono (Dolby 2.0) soundtracks. Each film also variably comes with French Dolby Surround, French Mono, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Mono.

I am all for providing lossless options on every Blu-ray release, so it is a good thing that DTS-HD Master Audio is in fact provided, but the question is, did it need to be 5.1? For these releases, the answer is a resounding, no. There is very little difference between the monaural mix and the 5.1 mix for these films. In fact, the 5.1 mix for the first three films sounds exactly like the monaural mix, but with additional reverberant effects added into the main channels and the surrounds for a slightly more ambient sounding mix. The last two films in the series finally add some stereo separation across the front channels, but discrete information in the surrounds is practically nonexistent.

The mixes do offer clear dialogue and subtle yet useful use of the LFE channel, but sound effects like explosions and gunfire still sound weak and less than believable, almost scratchy at times. These are not mixes that will give your sound system a work out anytime soon, to say the least.

The Extras

All five discs in the set come with a set of extras that delve into the film's place in the history of the franchise and should satiate fans of the series looking for more information on the Apes films. The most informative stops will be the high definition featurettes covering each specific film on each disc. For all of the folks out there who have the capability, each disc is also D-Box Motion Code enabled. One excellent extra is not on the discs at all, but is part of the entire package. The set comes in a beautiful fold out set that holds a 200-page hardcover coffee table book filled with production stills, makeup art, and information on the history of the franchise. It is a must-have item for fans of the franchise.

The extras available in this set are:

The Planet of the Apes:
  • Commentary by Actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Natalie Trundy and Makeup artist John Chambers
  • Commentary by Composer Jerry Goldsmith -- This commentary by the composer is so dull and filled with so many long pauses of silence, I actually thought it was not working at one point.
  • Text Commentary by Eric Greene, author of Planet of the Apes as American Myth -- Greene offers up many interesting facts and trivia about the film's production and
  • Science of the Apes BonusView -- Picture-in-picture interviews with producers, actors, behind-the-scenes looks at the filming, sketch art and more.
  • Beyond the Forbidden Zone Adventure Game -- BD-Java game where you must navigate your player, an astronaut, across the Planet of the Apes,  by answering questions that influence the outcome.
  • A Public Service Announcement from ANSA -- A faux public service announcement from the film's space agency.
  • Evolution of the Apes (1.78:1/high definition) -- This featurette tells of how Michael Wilson, the once black listed screenwriter whose work bringing Boulle's Bridge on the River Kwai was credited to Pierre Boulle. Wilson was brought in to adapt Planet of the Apes when Rod Serling was no longer available.
  • Impact of the Apes (1.78:1/high definition) -- This featurette explores the commercial and social impact of the film.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes:
  • From Alpha to Omega: Building a Sequel (1.78:1/high definition) -- The long and convoluted story of bringing Beneath the Planet of the Apes to the screen.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Galleries:
    • The Ape News
    • Interactive Pressbook
    • Advertising
    • Lobby Cards
    • Behind-the-Scenes
Escape from the Planet of the Apes:
  • The Secret Behind the Escape (1.78:1/high definition) -- This featurette tells how the screenwriters and producers overcame the ending of the previous film and brought Escape from the Planet of the Apes to fruition.
  • Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes (4:3/standard definition) -- Behind the scenes footage of the production of Escape from Planet of the Apes.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Advertising Gallery
  • Behind-the-scenes Gallery
Conquest of the Planet of The Apes:
  • Riots and Revolutions: Confronting the Times (1.78:1/high definition) -- This featurette explains how screenwriter Paul Dehn created a story mirroring the racial conflicts in the U.S. at the time the film was released.  One amusing segment shows Roddy McDowall's guest appearance on the Carol Burnet Show in his Ape makeup.
  • A Look Behind the Planet of The Apes (1972) (4:3) -- A 1973 documentary about the Planet of the Apes films; a look at the development of the makeup.
  • J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes -- Behind-the-scenes footage of the production.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Galleries:
    • Future News
    • Interactive Pressbook
    • Advertising
    • Lobby Cards
    • Behind-the-Scenes
Battle for the Planet of the Apes:
  • End of an Epic: The Final Battle (1.78:1/high definition) -- A look at the final film in the franchise. With dwindling box office returns, Battle for the Planet of the Apes suffered the lowest budget.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Galleries:
    • "Sam Simian Sentinel"
    • Interactive Pressbook
    • Advertising
    • Behind-the-Scenes
Final Thoughts

This is a set for the big fans of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise. Everyone else will be satisfied with the first, and still the most classic and innovative of the series. For those who want this set, it offers a true value, with classy packaging, an abundance of supplemental materials and strong video transfers.

Where to Buy
Product Details
  • Actors: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall
  • Language: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Mono (Dolby 2.0), French Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, French Mono, Spanish Mono
  • Subtitles: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish
  • Region: Region A
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Blu-ray Disc Release Date: November 4, 2008
  • Run Time: 493 minutes
  • List Price: $139.99
  • Extras:
    • Isolated Score Tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
    • BonusView (The Planet of the Apes)
    • Audio Commentaries
    • Featurettes & Galleries
    • D-Box Motion Code Enabled

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