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Planet of the Apes (1968)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Planet of the Apes is the original 1968 sci-fi movie that yielded several sequels, one remake (that became its own franchise-launcher), two TV series, as well as toys and games; it was extremely popular in its day and still has many fans. It's one of those rare sci-fi movies that's based on thoughtful ideas but also contains fighting and action. Characters fire guns, a little blood is shown, and characters die. Humans are held prisoner and mistreated, and there's violent struggling. A decomposed corpse is shown in one shocking scene. Several male astronauts are naked (nothing sensitive shown) and sex is discussed. Language is mild, but contains uses of "God," "damn" and "hell." With the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and with the promise of new sequels coming, teen sci-fi fans may want to go back and watch this. Though the MPAA gave it a "G" when it was released, it would never receive that rating today.
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What's the story?
In PLANET OF THE APES, four astronauts travel at the speed of light, hoping to explore new galaxies. They suddenly wake up from stasis to find themselves crashing on a planet with a sustainable atmosphere. The only survivor, Taylor (Charlton Heston), discovers a race of intelligent apes and winds up their prisoner. With his throat wounded, he is unable to speak, but tries to catch the attention of a pair of ape scientists, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter). They wish to communicate with him, but unfortunately, ape leader Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) believes he's a threat and puts him on trial. Taylor escapes with the help of the scientists, seeking a cave full of artifacts that prove human intelligence. But can Taylor make his case in time?
Is it any good?
The direction by Franklin J. Schaffner -- who would win a Best Director Oscar two years later for Patton -- is impersonal and uninspired in this film. Charlton Heston's lead character is hard-headed and inflexible. But somehow Planet of the Apes' melding of clever science fiction ideas with old-fashioned popcorn thrills just clicked. Perhaps screenwriter Rod Serling, creator of the legendary Twilight Zone TV series, is part of the reason. Or perhaps it was the novelty of seeing apes riding horses and shooting guns.
Heston gets some memorable lines, but it's Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as the two ape scientists that anchor the movie, embracing communication and connection between two species. Their open-mindedness and open-heartedness are key. The question of science versus faith is still relevant, but perhaps even more so is: What happened to the humans? How could they wipe themselves out? If viewers don't feel like answering those questions, then there are the good chases and battles to focus on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Planet of the Apes' violence. In what ways are the humans mistreated? Do you notice any similarities to how humans treat animals? What is the reason for the mistreatment?
The movie seems to suggest that science is better than blind faith. Do you agree? Is there a way the two can go together?
The movie's twist ending has become fairly famous. Did you know about it before watching the movie? How did it affect the story?
Who is a better role model: the human astronaut, or the ape scientists? Why?
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