Planet of the Apes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since the original DVD presented a non-anamorphic transfer, fans delighted at the prospect of a new version. Happily, this image worked very well and largely lived up to expectations.
Across the board, the movie offered a detailed and well-defined picture. Only a few modest instances of softness appeared, and these showed up infrequently. The vast majority of the flick looked sharp and concise. A smattering of examples of jagged edges and light shimmering occurred but also stayed exceedingly small. I noticed minor edge enhancement at times during the movie, though not enough to create a substantial impact. Despite the film’s age, print flaws were almost totally non-existent. The occasional speck cropped up, and I detected one brief streak, but otherwise, Apes came without any form of defect.
Given its setting, Apes didn’t present a very wide palette, but it demonstrated solid colors nonetheless. The tones were consistently detailed and distinctive. Greens and tans dominated and looked very positive. Black levels were nicely deep and dark but not overly thick, and shadow detail seemed adequately heavy without overwhelming the image. The latter was true even in the few "day for night" scenes we saw, though those often create very dim and bland imagery. The edge enhancement gave me a little concern and almost knocked down my grade to a “B+”, but so much of Apes looked terrific that I felt it merited the superior “A-“ mark.
Compared to the old DVD, the new one looked better in almost every way. Sharpness seemed tighter and more detailed, while jags and shimmering decreased. The 2004 version also demonstrated less edge enhancement and fewer source flaws. The other elements looked similar for both. As an unenhanced transfer, the original seemed pretty good, but it doesn’t match up to this terrific new transfer.
For this new edition of Planet of the Apes, we find both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Both seemed essentially identical. The DTS one offered slightly greater depth and range, but not enough to warrant a higher grade.
Overall, the mix seemed pretty positive for a movie of this vintage. The soundfield presented a decent sense of atmosphere. Jerry Goldsmith’s score benefited the most from this mix, as it demonstrated excellent stereo delineation. Most of the effects stayed rooted in the center, but when necessary, the track broadened out to the sides quite well. Elements popped up in appropriate spots and blended together with relative smoothness. The surrounds added only minor reinforcement, however, and played almost no role in the proceedings.
Audio quality showed its age but seemed more than acceptable. Speech occasionally appeared somewhat muffled and usually appeared slightly flat. Nonetheless, the lines consistently remained clear and intelligible; I discerned no problems understanding what participants said, and I heard no edginess or roughness. Effects also came across as somewhat dull, but they represented the information acceptably well and suffered from only a smidgen of distortion on a few occasions.
The music fared the best. The score lacked tremendous clarity in the reproduction of both highs and lows, but the music seemed adequately strong, with better-than-average crispness. The bass occasionally appeared pretty deep; it didn't rattle my walls but it was fairly impressive for an aging movie. A few effects – like explosions – woke up my subwoofer as well. Ultimately, Apes presented a flawed but generally satisfying piece of audio.
Although I expected this new Apes DVD to feature the same 5.1 audio from the 2000 release, to my surprise I found the mixes to sound quite different. The new tracks were better developed and cleaner. The old one sounded harsher and lacked the same level of localization. It also was less vibrant and lively. As with the picture, the new DVD’s audio offered a noticeable improvement over the prior one.
While the old Apes DVD came with almost no extras, this new 2-disc edition packs a lot of materials. The majority of these show up on DVD Two, but a few appear on the first platter. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from actors Roddy McDowall, Natalie Trundy and Kim Hunter plus make-up artist John Chambers. All four were recorded separately for this edited affair.
All ye who anticipate much information, despair! The participants pop up infrequently; all told, I estimate we only get about 38 minutes of commentary during this 112-minute film. For the most part, we get information about the make-up. The subjects go into detail about the way the ape make-up worked, how they used it and how it affected them. We also find some notes about the movie’s producers and director, but the make-up areas dominate. Some of the information seems useful, but the presentation becomes frustrating; we have to sit through many long gaps to get to the material, as the disc offers no option to quickly and conveniently skip through the piece.
The next commentary seems even more disappointing. We hear from composer Jerry Goldsmith, who provides a running, screen-specific track. Surprisingly, this doesn’t come with an isolated score. Goldsmith’s remarks pop up alongside the standard soundtrack, with all the usual effects and dialogue.
The composer speaks exceedingly infrequently in this very frustrating piece. When he talks, he offers some good information. Among other subjects, we learn of his approach to the film, his relationship – both working and personal – with director Franklin Schaffner, how he thinks he’d go at the material today, and his thoughts about remaking the flick.
All of this seems informative, but Goldsmith’s remarks appear with maddening infrequency. Exceedingly long stretches pass without information; I can’t imagine that he talks for more than 10 minutes total. The DVD offers no simple way to skip from statement to statement, so you’re forced to suffer through all the empty spots to hear what he has to say. Had the disc included an isolated score, that would be fine with me, but since it doesn’t, this very short commentary becomes a major annoyance and frustration.
In addition, DVD One presents a text commentary. Written by Planet of the Apes as American Myth author Eric Greene, this one goes over many subjects. Among other areas, we get information about the flick’s origins, differences between the script and the finished film, deleted scenes, locations and sets, and the story’s social and racial subtext. The text commentary easily offers the best one of the three on this disc, but it still comes with flaws. Long passages go without any material. These don’t seem as extended as those for the two audio tracks, but they nonetheless appear a lot more frequently than I’d like. The text piece is informative but still somewhat frustrating.
With that we head to DVD Two and its extras. In the domain called “Exploring the Apes”, we find nine pieces. One of the main components consists of a 1998 documentary called Behind the Planet of the Apes. Hosted by Roddy McDowall, this piece originally came as part of the Planet of the Apes Evolution boxed set; Image Entertainment also released a separate edition of the documentary.
I reviewed the Evolution version back in 2000, so for a very detailed discussion of the show, please consult that article, as I’ll offer a shorter summary here. The 126-minute “Behind” examines all five of the Apes films plus a few other facets of the film's legacy. It mixes movie shots, archival materials, and interviews with many of the participants.
Not surprisingly, the first Apes flick dominates the proceedings; the discussion of it fills almost half of the documentary. From there we learn more about the four sequels, the TV show, and other spin-offs. Since the 2001 remake didn’t come out until three years after this program’s completion, we get no mention of it. Nonetheless, “Behind” offers a terrific examination of the movie series and acts as a very solid documentary.
After a promo for “Behind” we move to a Planet of the Apes Make-up Test with Edward G. Robinson. Partially viewed during “Behind”, here we get all nine minutes and 27 seconds of this footage. It sets up the film’s story with narration and concept art before we watch Charlton Heston interact with Robinson. James Brolin and Linda Harrison also appear as Cornelius and Zira, respectively; they wear bizarrely minimal make-up that doesn’t work at all. The make-up makes Robinson look more like the Cowardly Lion than an orangutan, but it’s still a cool piece.
Roddy McDowall’s Home Movies last 20 minutes and 20 seconds. Shot without audio, these come accompanied by movie score here. We see McDowall go through stages of the make-up process as well as his helicopter trip to a location and shots from the beachfront set and other spots. Despite the lack of sound, these offer some fun glimpses behind the scenes.
An additional silent feature comes from the 19 minutes and 43 seconds of Planet of the Apes Dailies and Outtakes. We get raw footage of the initial human hunt sequence, Taylor’s escape from his cage and run through town, and a few other scenes. Nothing here seems tremendously compelling, but it makes for a decent addition to the set.
Next we get the Apes NATO Presentation. Here “NATO” represents the organization of theater-owners, and the 10-minute and 25-second piece acts as nothing more than a highly truncated version of the movie, at least through Taylor’s escape from jail. The clip ends with a special message from Heston. It’s an interesting historical artifact but nothing more than that.
The four-minute and 37-second Planet of the Apes Featurette doesn’t seem much more interesting, though it has its moments. Mostly the piece just promotes the flick, but it includes some nice examples of concept art and make-up tests. A clip in which they make up an actor fills much of the featurette. This seems moderately interesting but doesn’t offer much that we can’t get elsewhere.
A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes goes for 13 minutes and 37 seconds. It reiterates the material in the prior featurette and also includes parts of Heston’s message from the NATO piece. It then covers the sequels Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes. It goes through the former quickly but devotes more time to the latter, for which it gets into some decent shots from the set. It then gets into Conquest of the Planet of the Apes with similar materials. This seems like a serviceable featurette but nothing terribly rich.
Two movie-specific featurettes round out this domain. We get Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes (seven minutes, 30 seconds) and J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (66 seconds). The former mostly consists of footage from the set; we also get some quick interview comments from Taylor. The latter simply offers a few bits from the shoot. Parts of the Taylor piece show up elsewhere, but it’s good to get them on their own.
Now we go to “Publicity” with its various components. In the original theatrical trailers section we find ads for all five Apes flicks plus an additional “teaser” for the original Apes. Film Reviews includes two articles about the flick written back in 1968. Finally, theatrical posters offers a short running piece with seven ads. Unfortunately, it won’t allow you to pause them, so you’re at its mercy to watch them at its pace.
”Galleries” splits into two sections. Original Sketches by Morton Haack presents nine images, while the Still Gallery features a mix of 20 concept paintings, publicity stills, and shots from the set. Both are good but suffer from the non-interactive format of the “Posters” domain.
Two more pieces show up in “Ape Phenomenon”. This gives us Ape Merchandise, another running gallery that shows action figures and wind-up toys, and Ape Collections. The latter uses the same running format and depicts some original costumes and props from the movie.
While Apes includes a mix of good materials. The set loses points for its awkward interface. The still galleries don’t allow for pausing or interaction of any sort, and the commentaries include limited information with many empty spots. These flaws seem inexcusable for a DVD from 2004; disc producers should have learned these lessons years ago and stopped making it difficult for viewers to access material.
The disc ends with a DVD-ROM feature. “The Chronology of the Apes” presents an annotated timeline. It follows all five original Apes flicks plus the TV outings and the 2001 remake. It includes a number of good images and factoids. Nothing revelatory appears here, and it’s not terribly deep, but it’s a fun synopsis of the timeline.
Ultimately I found Planet of the Apes to offer a compelling and satisfying little science fiction experience. The film's not perfect, but it seems clever and well executed. This new disc presents improved picture and sound plus a slightly aggravating but generally useful set of supplements. Apes fans definitely will want to upgrade to this fine re-release.
To rate this film, visit the original review of PLANET OF THE APES