A Radioactive Pulp Fossil


Once upon a time, Hollywood made five inexpensive, outlandishly philosophical sci-fi flicks that envisioned a cyclical future history in which evolution is slammed into artificial reverse, humans and strangely human-shaped apes begin an eons-long contest for supremacy, civilizations rise and fall and rise again, and apocalypses are as common as leap years. When have we ever seen the likes of it before or since, and how on earth did anyone miss the films’ rancorous doomsday portrait of racial conflict in the ensuing years of television spin-offs, action figures, masks, novels, comics, bubblegum cards, etc.? Those were the days; now, the original Apes pentalogy is less a kiddie crowd-pleaser than a radioactive pulp fossil, raising unpolitic questions about race identity, tribal bigotry, and Darwinian dread, and referencing the moral holocaust of slavery, the American civil rights struggle, the Scopes monkey trial, and Cold War anxiety. The first film (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner with respect for the juicy Rod Serling–Michael Wilson dialogue, still shines; if the next four reflect a slide in competence and conviction, genuflection should still be offered to the elaborate, over-arcing time-travel narrative pretzel as worked out by screenwriter Paul Dehn. Comparisons, even of the lesser sequels, to the 2001 Tim Burton remake is a contrast between lean meat and a moldy Roll-Up. This essentially definitive DVD box comes with a star commentary, trailers, stills, and a sixth-disc, Roddy McDowall–narrated doc about the original film’s production.