Planet of the Apes
6 Disc Collection

Starring: Charlton Heston and Roddy MacDowall
20th Century Fox
Certificate: 15
Available now

The 'Apes' saga is one of Hollywood's best known film series. It's five movie string was a mixed affair but during its protracted run managed to garner both critical acclaim and box office success - the two basic ingredients for enduring celluloid prosperity.

The first film, Planet of the Apes, still stands the test of time - improving with close inspection and repeated viewing. It's faultless internal logic and stylish presentation mark it out as a classic and there can be few people who didn't gasp at the movie's climax - unless someone had already spoilt it for you. There are also few films that speak so eloquently about the evils of racism.

The first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, is less coherent but still has just about enough wit and charm to carry off its rather silly premise. Charlton Heston reprised his role as the lost astronaut stranded on a monkey plant on the understanding he'd die at the end of the film - and what better way to ensure you're dead than by blowing up the world? Beneath is slightly silly but nonetheless enjoyable. But there is one question - where did the mutant humans get the latex for their masks and more importantly, why wear them in the first place?

Escape from the Planet of the Apes, derided by some critics at the time of its release, actually fares rather better than expected. The clash of ape and contemporary human cultures parodies racism and bigotry with some sly and smart observations and the central ape performances are well observed and often more human, so to speak, than the humans. Escape is flawed but not fatally.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes has a very different feel to its immediate predecessor. A dark allegory about race riots, the film is both brutal and bloody - unfortunately, it is never fully engaging. Despite a strong central theme, the pet plague and resultant ape training is never wholly convincing which sadly undermines a otherwise promising project. Conquest looks and feels dated but manages, just about, to overcome its shortcomings.

The fifth and final movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, starts to set the scene for the development of the mutant human society seen in Beneath and sows the seeds of the reverse human/ape racism that we encounter in the first film. Unfortunately, it's a meagre offering that looks more like a TV movie than a big screen adventure. It's not wholly devoid of entertainment value but it contains little of any real substance.

The saga could have accommodated one more film - the final descent of man and the ascendancy of Ape culture, but it was never to be. However, the five Ape films are a testament to the idea that science fiction can mix entertainment and social observation to create something bigger than its parts. And the proof of this can be found on the final disc in the box - Behind the Planet of the Apes. The documentary, although already widely shown on TV, is a joy to watch. If only all film-related documentaries were this good.

Overall the box set offers excellent value and good entertainment although only discs one and six are truly indispensable.

Anthony Clark

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