[box cover]

Planet of the Apes: The Evolution (complete series)

It's just so tempting to dismiss the five-chapter Planet of the Apes series as mere sci-fi junk food, as camp, as pop-culture trash. The effects are dated. The masks are cheesy. Heston overacts. Roddy McDowell is a chimp. They made fun of it on "The Simpsons" (you know — that musical version where the animated Heston manqué sings "You finally made a monkey out of me"?). It's something your parents used to park you in front of the TV to watch on Sunday afternoons, so it must be kiddie fare. But after watching the entire Planet of the Apes DVD box set — all five films, plus a terrific supplemental documentary hosted by McDowell - one quickly realizes it is deeply, deeply amusing that parents let their kids park in front of the TV and watch these films on Sunday afternoons. It's amusing because — with the partial exception of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the fifth and thank God final installment in the series — these films are subversive, apocalyptic, nihilistic, distrustful of all authority, violent as hell, and sad, but sad in that hope-leeching, mean-spirited way that, say, Titanic isn't. The Apes series gets away with being labeled kiddie fare, of course, because of those cheesy ape masks. The best science fiction/fantasy — as practiced on TV by Roddenberry (on occasion) and Serling and in print by Bradbury and Gibson et al — acts as a sort of American kabuki, coding universal human truths into a deceptively broad opera of metaphors. In spite of the dated latex and supposed overacting, the five Apes films tell an epic story that's packed with social and philosophical observations and stick-in-your-craw images and dialogue. This is a perfectly dandy box set — I mean, it's just dandy that it's finally coming out, given that the restored set's been out for a couple of years now on videocassette — but temper your expectations vis a vis supplemental materials. An identical set of trailers and previews for all five films (and the documentary) can be found on each disc — plus an unnecessary teaser for a video game that's obviously in the early stages of coding — but beyond some intriguing conceptual artwork on the first film's disc, the occasional production stills, and a Web link, there really aren't a lot of goodies to be had here. That said, a sixth disc in the box set features the outstanding, two-hour 1998 "Behind the Planet of the Apes" documentary, hosted by McDowell shortly before he succumbed to cancer. It's packed with just the sorts of interviews and test footage and other supplemental info that would normally be menu-accessible had such a documentary not been made, so quit whining already.The source prints are all lovingly restored — though said restoration makes the lighting flaws on Conquest as offensive as flatulence in church. I also encountered a couple of layer-switch freeze ups, but that's quibbling. And finally, a word to the wise: The animated menus are clever, but turn down the volume if you leave them onscreen for any length of time; if you don't, the discordant score excerpts, which play on an endless loop, will start sounding like the music in Hell's waiting room. You have been warned.
—Alexandra DuPont

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