"'You cut up his brain, you bloody baboon!"', Charlton Heston shouts at some malevolent monkey in the 1968 adaptation of Pierre Boulle's novel. Decades on, he might have said something similar to Tim Burton, who `re-imagined' the film (minus the minor matter of much imagination) as a regressive soup of special effects, screeching social satire, Mark Wahlberg and similarly surface-level-only nonsense. Give us those old PG Tips ads any day.
Thankfully, three decades later, the original remains the thinking chimp's conceptual sci-fi movie. From subtext to design, make-up to apeing-up, crash-landing to rude-awakening final twist, it's fully realised, witty and superbly sustained.
On the one hand, it's a classic genre piece, hinting at themes of faith and science; on the other, it's a key time-capsule of the Cold War-cum-Vietnam era. Little wonder that, in Charlton Heston's opening monologue, his Taylor is happy to leave the 20th century behind. In 1968, the world surely didn't seem much less of a madhouse than the one he lands on, a forbidding planet where evolution has gone AWOL.
From there, the film works every angle beautifully. The hierarchy of the ape society is keenly considered, the characterisation of the simians is rich and clear. Even through John Chambers' ape designs, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans give expressive performances. The script is packed with zingers, too, from "Human see, human do" to "But you're so damn ugly!", when hairy Chuck plants a kiss on Hunter's chimp. As for the twist (so spectacularly bungled in Burton's vapid variation), it's an example of smart audience duping that easily has the edge on, say, The Sixth Sense in terms of sheer resonance.
Of course, it's not perfect. For all his bare-chested bluster, Heston often seems to act with his teeth, and his stab at space angst is baaaaad ("I feel... Lonely"). Linda Harrison's Nova, too, is barely even given the space to take on a token `love interest' role. Still, if the knuckle-dragging TV series and banana-gobbling remake can't dent the film's reputation, any other minor quibbles aren't going to knock it out of the trees. Even after all these years, it still stands on its own two feet.