I'm absolutely rabid when it comes to the Planet of the Apes franchise. Plunk me down in front of the big screen and see me drool in sweet abandon while watching any of the films -- yes, even Battle for The Planet of the Apes. Come to think of it, I might even go as far as to say they mean MORE to me than the Star Wars pictures. Insanity, you say!? Ask yourself: Princess Leia or Nova? Billy Dee Williams or Ricardo Montalban? Damn, dirty Ewoks or damn, dirty apes? Don't worry, there's no need to choose sides, but it's a quandary worth contemplating. There may even be some CineSchlockers out there who haven't fully come to terms with the true scope of their Apes fandom. For certain, these are folks who will have a copy of this two-disc Behind the Planet of the Apes (1998, 127 minutes) special edition right along side their well-worn POTA Evolution boxed set.
The Movie: This comprehensive documentary first aired on American Movie Classics as part of their "Hollywood Real to Reel" series on September 6, 1998. Fans were completely bowled over by the scope of the broadcast and it immediately became prime bootleg material -- a testament of its popularity. Host and franchise stalwart Roddy McDowall narrates the original movie's fascinating journey from novel, to script, to screen with a half-zillion stops in between. We hear the stories first-hand from star Charlton Heston, producer Richard Zanuck, actress Kim Hunter and many more. Among one of the more amusing anecdotes is from Zanuck who admits he always saw the project as an action picture. He never realized the script was boiling over with social commentary, which had been the whole point of Pierre Boulle's novel. From there, McDowall leads us through the trials, tribulations and box-office successes of each sequel, their mountainous merchandising and even the short-lived Back to the Planet of the Apes TV series (soon available on DVD). Tragically, McDowall succumbed to cancer just a month after the documentary's first airing. The CineSchlocker favorite was a regular face in B-pictures such as Laserblast, Legend of Hell House and both Fright Night pictures were he played vampire slayer Peter Vincent.
Audio/Video: Crisp, clean transfer in its original fullframe, made-for-TV format. Outtakes and clips are often in their proper ratios, but are sometimes in sketchy condition due to age. Robust Dolby Digital stereo track.
Extras: Both discs feature motion-video menus with audio and boast more than THREE HOURS of additional content ...
- Disc 1: The widescreen 1967 NATO presentation begins like a trailer but ends with a pitch by Chuck Heston in which he calls the picture "highly exploitable" (10 mins). Fullframe featurette from 1968 includes concept sketches and a hokey look at the makeup process (4.5 mins). The historic test reel that eventually sold the film to studio suits (9.5 mins). It begins with the concept sketches mentioned previously, basically telling the story, and concludes with a brief scene with Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Zaius. This digitally-restored scene was from Rod Sterling's screenplay. A fullframe 1972 "Look Behind The Planet of the Apes" (15 mins). Raw footage of Don Taylor directing Escape From The Planet of the Apes (2 mins). Raw footage of J. Lee Thompson directing Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1 min). Behind the Planet of the Apes promo (2 mins). Gallery of production stills. Theatrical trailers for each film.
Disc 2: It's merely listed as "Interview with Roddy McDowall," but what you get is almost two hours of a casual Q&A with the actor during the special's research phase. The discussion is so content-rich that it really could have been edited into a commentary track, but that would be at the cost of the actor's priceless facial expressions throughout. McDowall was quite proud of the franchise and his characterizations. He expresses a particular affection for Conquest and his role as Caesar, but can scarcely recall much of anything about Battle. The interview is certain to be a fan favorite. Finally, there's a 20-minute reel of outtakes and dailies with music from the Apes score.
Final thought: A must for POTA enthusiasts! Any of these features would have made terrific additions to the extras-anemic Evolution boxed set. A special thanks to Image Entertainment for delivering the bananas, er, goods. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.