I remember the first time I saw this movie, being pretty shocked by the twists and turns. I was expecting some kind of fun action movie, but the fate of the four astronauts was too quickly settled for that. Only a few minutes into the movie, the only really functional astronaut was Charlton Heston, and he was in captivity and unable to talk for having been shot in the throat.
The movie shifted from action to philosophy as Heston tried to defend humanity against the charge of being a violent and stupid species. The apes were more engaging than I would have guessed. The final twist at the end was–to my young self at that time–mind blowing.
A lot of critics loved the movie, Roger Ebert gave it a fairly positive three-star review. Then came the sequels, a couple of which I watched, and the television show which was ridiculous. As the experience of that first watching faded, I began thinking of my memories as suspect. Of course there was that twist ending, but I had also come to realize that was kind of a big plot hole.
When Tim Burton came out with his remake in 2001, I was hoping for something great, something magical. Of course what I got was crap, and that increased my fear that the original was possibly crappy as well.
When I finally re-watched it, I was amazed by how good this movie is. With a few caveats, of course. There are some obvious plot problems, a lot of the talking is not philosophy at a very deep level, but it thinks it is. The twists are less stunning, and the whole civilization seems to exist on one stage.
Still, the apes are really, really good. Only the recent re-boot with Andy Serkis and his motion capture does it better. The relationships feel strong, and you can feel Charlton Heston really struggle as he tries to communicate his humanity to his captors. The epic line: “get your hands off me, you damned dirty apes” is pretty powerful in the context of the movie.
Rating this movie as a film, outside of the genre and away from the fans who obviously love this sort of thing, I give it a solid 3.5 stars.