Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: Behind the Planet of the Apes 4 Stars

Any fan of the Planet of the Apes series will absolutely love this insightful documentary chronicling one of the most successful and revolutionary sci-fi series in film. But Behind the Planet of the Apes is also likely to make converts out of the uninitiated, sending fence-sitters back to revisit the films and introducing neophytes to the madhouse that is “a planet where apes evolved from man.”

Hosted by Roddy McDowell, who played Cornelius in Planet of the Apes and his son Caesar in Conquest of… and Battle for…, Behind the Planet of the Apes takes us from author Pierre Boule’s novel to producer Arthur P. Jacobs diligent struggle to bring the novel to screen. The film uses rare screen tests, production artwork, and talking head interviews to show the difficult journey Jacobs undertook to realize his dream. Hiring scribes Michael Wilson and the legendary Rod Serling, Jacobs humped around his original artwork and the script from studio to studio before attaching Charlton Heston and director Franklin Schaffner and finally getting a greenlight from Richard Zanuck at Fox.

From there, Behind the Planet of the Apes chronicles the amazing response Planet of the Apes garnered from both filmgoers and critics and the incredible franchise that the film spawned. In addition to the five feature films (Planet of the Apes, Beneath the…, Escape from…, Conquest of…, and Battle for…), the legacy of the first film includes a TV show, a cartoon, several television movies and hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandising.

Juxtaposing scenes from each film with talking head interviews from the actors, directors, producers, film artists and studio heads involved, Behind the Planet of the Apes explores the social satire of the films and the relevance they had to the incendiary era in which they were released. An insightful and entertaining documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes gives proper tribute to one of the most important and neglected sci-fi mythologies in film.

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