Get your stinking paws on

Planet of the Apes: The Legacy Collection

Maybe it’s because I was in grade school when I first saw the Planet of the Apes movies, but I’d forgotten how extremely pessimistic they are, with a rather bleak view of human nature. Charlton Heston is as true an antihero as the guys from Easy Rider, full of 1960s cynicism, swagger and disgust at the way the world is run—whether by men or apes. Too bad he’s mostly remembered these days for playing biblical heroes; Heston’s George Taylor is a much more interesting fellow.

The new six-disc Legacy Collection has all five Apes films, as well as a two-hour retrospective documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes. Hosted by Roddy McDowall, it covers the history of the franchise, from Pierre Boulle’s surprisingly good novel (which he thought unfilmable) through the first, relatively high-budget movie and then the sequels, a short-lived live-action TV series and an equally short-lived cartoon series. It’s a good thing this documentary is included, too, because the other DVD extras are nothing to write home about. The text commentary by critic Eric Greene, though interesting enough, is a big distraction from such famous scenes as the orangutan tribunal’s “see no evil” tableau. Who wants to watch a Fox News-like crawl when Heston’s croaking, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape”?

The movies themselves, though a bit ham-handed in their social commentary, are surprisingly relevant. Major social conflicts (among both apes and humans) between science and dogma, and between a secrecy-prone militarism and an open society, could come right from today’s front pages.

Still, the real attraction is the apes. The Oscar-winning makeup still works, and it’s even more impressive when compared with the ape masks used for the crowd scenes in the low-budget Beneath the Planet of the Apes. And who can resist film legend John Huston in orangutan drag as the simians’ Lawgiver?