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ICARUS

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ith t1 preset OUR OWN HENNING SNELL CRASH-LANDED ON THE PLANET OF THE APES.
If you're like me and haven't seen Planet of the Apes ('68), watching it for the first time is sort of like re-watching one of those movies that you saw sophomore year in a boxed-wine brown-out.  It is so well known that, via parodies, discussions, remakes (haven't seen those, either), etc, we've all got a pretty good idea of the story and even most of the characters.  The kicker, in this case, is that this flick is built around a Shamalan-ian, twist at the end -- one that, at this point, we're all aware of.  I mean, the busted old Lady Liberty poking out the sand on the beach was literally on the cover of the DVD.
So, despite the fact that the paramount shocker is rendered sterile, the film's significance endures; enough to crank out a remake, prequel and a sequel, anyway.  The truth is, there are some real profound existential questions thrown around here, and when considered in context of the time and place (I'm talking about the US in the late 60's, not post-humanity earth), there's actually a solid repertoire of interesting themes you can bring up on a second date to sound extra smart.
The fellas who wrote the screenplay (turns out its loosely based on an early-60's sci-fi novel by a frog named Pierre) didn't waste any time -- the film opens in the cockpit of a long-distance space ship (aptly named Icarus), everyone suspended in 'hypersleep' except Captain George Taylor (Charleton Heston), who muses into the captain's log while puffing on an astronaut stogie. He's almost tickled by the vastness of space, and the insignificance of man. Quite literally, that "space is boundless" and "squashes the ego."  To be sure, he's a real crapehanger -- but in a self satisfied, smart-ass way.  "...those, if any, who [hear] this message are a different breed.  Hopefully a better one."
 After the Icarus' epic crash in an inland sea, the difference between him and his two surviving expeditionaries is hashed out.  Taylor gives John Landon a bunch of grief for placing a small American flag in the dirt -- chiding him for his struggle to come to terms with their seemingly terminal fate.  Its clear that Landon was on the journey for some sort of scientific honor or glory; a legacy in his past life.  Naturally, Taylor has a jackass comment about Landon's bronze statue back on earth turning green and nameplate faded by now.  As Dodge runs ahead, optimistically exploring and working to survive, Landon describes him as a "seeker;" that he'd "walk naked into a live volcano if he thought he could learn something no other man knew."  Taylor, on the other hand, is just kindof a dick.  Sick of the human race, not interested in civilization's approval, fed up with all the less-thans that he left behind, Taylor says he can't get over the inkling that there's a more advanced species out there... He won't settle for fellow man.  Did I mention they all woke up from hypersleep with amazing beards?

The meat and potatoes of this movie are great -- you meet Dr. Zira, the Chimpanzee scientist who studies Human Behavior, the Orangutang Dr. Zaius who's sort of a big fish bureaucrat with a hint of creepy Goebbels-style experimental brain surgery who then turns out to be more like Ape City's Men In Black (you know, he's trying to protect them from themselves) and Nova, the mute, indigenous, sexy human lady, to name a few.  The costumes, specifically the masks, are rad -- the level of expression the designers were able to reproduce was definitely interesting.   In the end and after much to-do, Taylor rides down the beach and sees his past - you know, the whole bit we're all super familiar with - the Statue of Liberty thing.  Its pretty heavy, actually; his last line (not actually in the script) is "We finally really did it... you maniacs! You blew it all up! ...Damn you all to hell!"   In context of the heated conflict in Vietnam along with the very recent Cuban Missile debacle, this is potent stuff.  I was talking to my old man about it, and he got all sorts of talkative - I mean in terms of "the twist" I mentioned earlier -  no one saw that coming when they watched the movie in '68.  The social commentary was deeply meaningful.   Planet of the Apes is a movie that goes to show: good science fiction isn't about being able to predict the future, its about knowing the present.  Someone once said that.

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