Planet of the Apes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A semi-early Blu-ray, this one came with some issues.
Sharpness became the most obvious concern, as significant portions of the movie looked soft and ill-defined. Plenty of exceptions occurred, and the softness appeared without much rhyme or reason; wide shots would be rock-solid but closer images could seem tentative and smeared. I suspect that some excessive use of digital noise reduction created problems here, as the movie seemed artificially smooth and lacked the consistent detail I’d expect.
No issues with jaggies or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained light. 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 fairly solid colors nonetheless. Greens and tans dominated and looked 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. This was an erratic presentation that lost points due to issues with definition.
Taken from the original monaural track – which also appears on the Blu-ray - the DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix 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.
How does this Blu-Ray compare with the 35th Anniversary DVD from 2004? Audio remained largely unchanged, as the lossless DTS track couldn’t do a lot with the decades -old source material. Visuals were an upgrade but not as much of an improvement as I’d like. The Blu-ray looked tighter but the softness on display here limited the growth and made the disc a disappointment.
The Blu-ray provides the same extras as the DVD plus a few new ones. I’ll mark the Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
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 would have approached the material later in his career, 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 disc 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, the disc 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.
For something new, we go to Science of the Apes BonusView. This offers a branching feature that delivers short featurettes as you watch the film. You can also choose to examine them on their own, which is how I did so.
Taken together via “Play All”, these clips add up to 38 minutes, 53 seconds of footage and provide notes from Planetary Society Director of Projects Bruce Betts, USC Director of the Space Engineering Research Center David Barnhart, California Institute of Technology Professor of Planetary Sciences (Retired) Bruce Murray, USC Professor of Anthropology and Biology Craig Stanford, and USC primatologist Amy Parish.
The pieces discuss why we send people into space and aspects of space travel, thoughts about other planets and the search for extra-terrestrial life, the future of the Earth and mankind, evolution and the possible development of apes, primate societies, and other technical topics.
Though dry at times, the snippets provide interesting explorations. They dig into a lot of subjects reflected in the movie’s content and give us a good background for those subjects. This becomes a nice little compilation.
An “adventure game” called Beyond the Forbidden Zone provides a virtual board game. It requires you to answer scientific questions, virtually all of which address topics in “Science of the Apes”. I normally don’t care much for Blu-ray or DVD games, but this one is more fun than most.
A Public Service Announcement from ANSA goes for six minutes, six seconds. It provides a fake archival reel from the “American National Space Administration” – ie, the movie’s fake NASA. It explains the mission seen in the film. It’s cute but insubstantial.
With the 23-minute, 37-second Evolution of the Apes, we get a discussion of the film. It features Eric Greene, biographer Professor Lucille F. Becker, 30 Years Later: Rod Serling’s “Planet of the Apes” author Gordon Webb, Hollywood columnist James Bacon, Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, screenwriter’s daughter Becca Wilson, USC Professor of History Steven Ross, and 20th Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History author Aubrey Solomon. The piece looks at novelist Pierre Boulle and his creation of the book, the movie’s adaptation and path to the screen, specifics about the script/story, and production issues connected to the situation at Fox. Some of this material appears elsewhere on the disc, but not in this much detail. “Evolution” delivers a terrific glimpse of the adaptation process.
Impact of the Apes delivers a companion to “Evolution” and goes for 11 minutes, 39 seconds. It features Solomon, Greene, special effects artist/historian Bill Blake, former Fox VP of Licensing Marc Pevers, actor/Apes collector Brian Peck, licensing executive Ken Abrams, Abrams/Gentile Entertainment CEO Matrin Abrams. Planet of the Apes Revisited author Joe Russo, and makeup effects artist Brian Penikas. The piece looks at the marketing and merchandising of the Apes series. The show doesn’t provide the deepest examination of the issues, but it has enough meat to make it worthwhile.
Hosted by Roddy McDowall, Behind the Planet of the Apes offers a 1998 documentary that 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 detailed discussion of the show, please consult that article, as I’ll offer a shorter summary here. The two-hour, six-minute, 44-second “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.
Note that the Blu-ray version of “Behind” offers an “interactivity” option. With this activated, the documentary itself occupies only a small window on the left half of the screen. The rest of the space offers elements like “Timeline Information”, cast/crew bios, and other elements. These don’t add a ton to the package, but they’re a decent extra.
After a promo for “Behind” we move to The Archives of the Apes and its seven components. Original Make-up Test with Edward G. Robinson lasts nine minutes and 34 seconds. 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 fill 20 minutes and 14 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 50 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 30-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 41-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.
Two trailers complete “Archives”. We get both the film’s teaser and its theatrical promo.
The Blu-ray finishes with The Galleries of the Apes. This breaks into stillframe areas: “The Ape” (3 screens), “Interactive Pressbook” (13), “Advertising” (9), “Lobby Cards” (8), “Makeup” (15), “Costume Design Sketches” (9), “Props” (9) and “Behind the Scenes” (25). This isn’t an especially extensive package, but it includes some nice materials. “The Ape” – a fake newspaper for the film’s simian society – is especially fun. (Note that when you examine “The Ape” and “Interactive Pressbook”, you can zoom in for a closer look at various elements.)
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. The Blu-ray delivers good sound and a strong set of supplements but picture quality seems lackluster. Even so, this becomes the best home video release of the movie; it’s just not up to expectations.
To rate this film, visit the original review of PLANET OF THE APES