The Planet of the Apes series started with the original 1968 movie, Planet of the Apes. This was prior to even Star Wars, before science fiction became truly as mainstream and notable as they are today. The original Star Trek had premiered on TV several years earlier and had met with success; could Planet of the Apes do the same on the silver screen?
Planet of the Apes stepped into new territory with its release, popularizing the speculative side of science fiction as opposed to just the technological side. Rather than Star Trek's focus on the dealings between multiple space-capable species, and the technology of each along with the interactions between each species' technology (i.e. phaser fights, starship battles), Planet of the Apes instead created a speculative atmosphere, where a significantly more advanced 1970s Earth sends a sleeper ship to the stars, resembling more of a Twilight Zone scenario than a science fiction typical scenario. No phasers, no warp drives. The ship arrives on Earth due to relatively unknown physical phenomena, the crew preserved by the suspended animation, and... crashes. The crew begin the movie thusly, with emergency packs not much more advanced than technology available to us. The movie then proceeds to create a civilization of apes in the medieval period, which remains the setting throughout. Science in this case is not used as a plot device throughout the film; it is the kickstarter, a portal allowing us to see 2000 years into the future.
As a film, Planet of the Apes was great. Even by today's standards, it is a great film. The opening scene has a great monologue, a serene scene, then suddenly, action! The film's habit of using the American Southwest to film desert scenes works great; they even press the advantage, including great works of geology which seem to extend the sojourn into a modern-day Oregon Trail to some kind of greenery. A few good monologues happen along the trail, giving an austere atmosphere, as though the movie were in actuality, a play. The scenery begins to progress into greenery, another small detail which heightens the reality of the movie. The movie continues to expound and slowly explain the conditions of the apes, of the humans' cells, of the use of humans and of the scientific environment. I couldn't help but feel an immense desire for a renaissance of ape culture and understanding. Ape culture and understanding! Even the fact that I am using this phrase much demonstrate the empathy I feel, that these apes are so much like the humans of our pre-Renaissance era as to be exactly them! Also, it is a nice touch that this state is reached in time surprisingly similar to our own (sacred scrolls written ~2673, making ape civilization 1300-1400 years old), not counting the BC years of course. The movie continues its play-like atmosphere throughout the hearing and trial with the scientific establishment of the apes, raising a debate which seems to rage on in the US despite it having been beat down several times due to the available evidence. It almost makes you wish there was some way to jump in with a fossil record and tell the apes to fornicate with themselves. The sympathetic apes soon aid an escape, and the play/movie comes to a close when they reach the archaeological site, realize that not only had Dr. Zaius known about humanity's early dominance and the site, but that the site is going to be closed by way of explosives, as Taylor rides off with Nova. At the very end of the movie, is one of the most famous, great, yet parodied shock twist scenes: Taylor realizes that the planet he was on had been Earth the whole time, this WAS the future of the species, and shouts into the air these immortal words: You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
The unlikely hit ended up making over five times its production cost, becoming a great seller and spawning several sequels (with varying degress of success), a topic to be covered next blog post.