Planet of the Apes: The Ultimate DVD Collection

"It’s a bloody nightmare.” So says astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) upon discovering that apes have taken over planet Earth in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. A nightmare indeed, one that is on par with The Simpsons’ enactment of a dolphin takeover in "Night of the Dolphin” and the flying fishy menace in Piranha II: The Spawning. The imagination behind the Planet of the Apes series was and is still a cinematic breath of fresh air. Based on French author Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des Singes, Apes was developed back in 1968 by director Frank Shaffner, Michael Wilson and The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling. Made without the confidence that it would be a smash hit, the film skyrocketed upon its release and spawned one of the most successful string of sequels ever. This Ultimate DVD Collection is nothing short of what it claims to be, amassing every key component in the franchise’s history, both good and bad. The original film and its four sequels are the cream of this crop. Planet of the Apes still stands as one of the best pieces of science fiction to be translated to the big screen. Tackling numerous social issues (racism, Communism, war) and producing several famous quotes and scenes, it also fashioned a look that would remain forever beloved by moviegoers. Surprisingly, all four of the sequels are enjoyable and for the most part, good films that respectfully and creatively progress the storyline. Best of the four is Escape, where chimpanzees Cornelius (the immortalised ape actor Roddy McDowell) and Zira (Kim Hunter) become the series’ stars as they are caught in the supreme role reversal when they travel through space and arrive in the past, which in turn is the present 1971. The 2001 "remake,” which director Tim Burton acknowledges as his own interpretation, unfortunately lacks the same vision producer Arthur P. Jacobs carried throughout the ’70s. Though it’s commendable that he opted to create his own version, it lacks everything that made the original such a fascinating watch: the humour, despair, unique visual style and of course, gripping drama, with the exception of the twist ending. The biggest flaw is the overtly malicious Tim Roth and his army of apes, who are way too aggressive and violent. As well, the lack of characters as compelling as Cornelius and Dr. Zaius (Paul Giamatti’s pathetic comic relief sure doesn’t cut it) turn the film into one that relies solely on its action sequences. When Fox finally ceased production on the Apes films in 1974, they were quick to jump to the small screen. Of course, Planet of the Apes didn’t make the desired transition, being cancelled after 13 episodes. Though an unaired 14th is included here, along with the other unreleased episodes, the program is simply the franchise taking its last gasps. McDowell, who starred in four of the five films, was the vehicle’s star (this time as another ape, Galen), however, even though it looks much like the sequels, the inadequate storylines suffered from the repetitive theme of humans being captured and escaping every single episode. An animated series followed in 1975, yet it’s hardly anything more than average Saturday morning cartoon watching for even those who go ape for the Apes (though it is funny to hear General Urko voiced by Henry "Fred Flintstone” Corden). In addition, there are bonus discs for each version of the first film with plenty of supplementary material. Best of all is the two-hour, all-encompassing featurette "Behind the Planet of the Apes,” hosted/narrated by McDowell before his 1998 death. It is here we receive every little titbit of knowledge we’d ever need about the franchise (pre-Burton, of course), from the on set lunchtime segregation between the gorilla, chimp and orangutan actors and the outrageous budgets for makeup to the aborted ideas that could have taken the series into new directions — making Nova pregnant, which therein could have birthed a whole new superhuman race, and killing Caesar in Conquest. Many forget that Apes kick-started a marketing phenomenon that was followed by merchandising successes like Star Wars and pretty much every modern day blockbuster, but the best way to remember this wonder is by picking up the special edition, which comes as a bust of Roddy McDowell’s Caesar. If ever there was a storage case to suit a collection, it’s in the head of the most recognisable ape face ever. (Fox)