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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2014, but the high-budget prequel/sequel would never have been possible without the original film series from the 1960s and 1970s.

The Planet of the Apes Blu-ray features multiple commentary options, including a recorded track with actors Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, and Natalie Trundy, as well as make-up artist John Chambers. Spliced together by existing interviews, this is more of a voice-over through the movie. To augment the commentary, there’s a text commentary provided by Eric Greene, author of the book Planet of the Apes as American Myth.

That’s enough to shake a fist at.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Commentators: Roddy McDowall (actor), Kim Hunter (actor), Natalie Trundy (actor), John Chambers (make-up artist), plus excerpts from Planet of the Apes as American Myth author Eric Greene’s text commentary

1. Producer Arthur Jacobs secured the rights to Pierre Boulle’s 1963 book “La Planète des singes” before it was published in the English language. Boulle never thought they could make a movie out of it.

2. In 1965, head of 20th Century Fox Richard Zanuck funded a make-up test to the tune of $7,455 (almost $54,000 in today’s money) to prove that talking apes could be taken seriously.

3. Originally, Jacobs did not know how to budget the film, so he asked make-up artist John Chambers his opinion. Chambers suggested it would cost $500,000, which was an astronomical figure back then. The film ended up with a final budget of $5.8M (close to $42M today).

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4. The desert scenes after the spaceship crashes were the first ones shot. The production considered Monument Valley, Texas, and Hawaii as potential locations. Monument Valley was rejected because it was too recognizable from the many westerns that were shot there. When they finally shot in the American Southwest, the heat was so bad that several members of the cast and crew fainted.

5. The scarecrows that the astronauts discover were supposed to be noted as being their first sign of intelligent life. Similarly, a deleted line later in the film talks about how they delineated the borders of the Forbidden Zone.

6. When Taylor (Charlton Heston) says, “To hell with the scarecrows,” the studio wanted to cut the word “hell” to make the scene more family friendly. Forget the fact that you pretty much see Heston’s wang in the next scene.

7. Nova (Linda Harrison) and the other women were scripted to be bare breasted, but the MPAA said absolutely no way to this.

8. Several journalists of the day were cast as background gorillas throughout the film in order to ensure they would write about the production.

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9. In the book, all apes are pretty much considered societal equals. However, the movie sorted them into castes, with the gorillas handling grunt work and labor, the chimpanzees being scientists and artists, and the orangutans (the whitest of the bunch) being the politicians. This was so ingrained into the fabric of the film that the actors and extras ended self-segregating themselves during meal time and breaks, only socializing with each other’s species.

10. The filmmakers heavily debated the fact that the apes speak modern English, which Taylor understands, a clue that they are actually on Earth. In the original script, the apes were meant to have their own dialect, which Taylor learns while mute, so the audience understands the language (which would be presented as English) when he does.

11. Not only did McDowall and Hunter spend time at local zoos studying the behavior and mannerisms of apes, they practiced speaking through the ape make-up in front of the mirror. Eventually, they taught the rest of the cast the best way to articulate the facial appliances.

12. On set, the actors playing chimpanzees were jealous of the other apes because the gorillas and orangutans did not have exposed ears, which meant less time in the make-up chairs. Extras were given pull-over masks rather than appliances glued to their faces, unless they had a close-up scheduled.

13. The make-up on the apes was so complex that they were only supposed to eat soft foods and milkshakes. The actors who smoked were provided with cigarette holders to avoid cigarette contact with the appliances. Chambers had to often redo actors’ make-up when they ate solid food against his advice. The apes were also instructed not to eat in the commissary, and Hunter and McDowall often had to eat in front of a mirror so as to not disturb their make-up.

14. The Planet of the Apes merchandising featured about 300 licensed items, including toys, action figures, trading cards, coloring books, and costumes. It was the biggest merchandising effort of all time, worth about $100M.

15. Two statues of the Lawgiver were constructed. One was put in a scene that was later deleted. The other is seen in the museum after Taylor escapes and tries to run away. After the production, one statue ended up in Jacob’s back yard, and the other ended up at the home of Sammy Davis, Jr.

16. Marlon Brando was once approached to star in the film, but he would have changed its political context. Charlton Heston was a favorite casting choice of Jacobs.

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17. The iconic line, “Take your stinking paws off my, you damn dirty ape,” was originally written as “Stand back, you bloody ape!”

18. The production was constantly trying to find ways to cut costs, particularly in the extensive make-up process. One option was to put the actors in make-up and then transport them to the set. However, they could not drive in cars for fear people would be shocked seeing a chimpanzee driving on the freeway. In the end, helicopters were used to transport the made-up actors to locations.

19. The make-up process initially took a minimum of 3 1/2 hours to complete, with even more time for wigs and costumes. Chambers devised an assembly-line process to expedite the process. McDowall got to the point that he could actually sleep with at least part of his make-up on when necessary.

20. Hunter requested that she be scheduled in make-up for no more than four days in a row because by the end of several days, the spirit glue used in the appliances burned her skin. She ended up sleeping with Vaseline on her face to avoid having a bright red rash each morning.

21. This film featured Charlton Heston’s first nude scene.

22. An oppressed race of baboons were originally written into the script, but they were removed, possibly due to make-up difficulties and the fact that baboons are actually a species of monkey.

23. The famous “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” shot was originally put in as a joke and not intended for the final film. However, when it was included in a test screening, the audience had such a positive reaction to it, the filmmakers left it in the final cut.

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24. Jacobs originally planned on ending the movie like the book, with Taylor returning to Earth only to discover it had become a planet of apes. Author Pierre Boulle loathed the ending of the film and wrote a letter of protest to Jacobs during pre-production.

Best in Commentary

  • Hunter: “It was fascinating working with the human beings.”
  • McDowall: “I never felt like I was ‘quote’ a chimpanzee.”
  • Hunter: “I’d sort of forget what Roddy looked like during the shoot because we’d become so accustomed to seeing each other as chimps that the rest of it disappeared.”

Final Thoughts

As a stand-alone commentary track, this actor/filmmaker commentary is extremely sparse. Considering McDowall passed away in the late 90s and Kim Hunter passed away a few years later, these were not full-blown recording sessions. It sounds like McDowall and Hunter’s contributions were stripped from interviews and edited into an occasional tidbit of information from Chambers. When they actually show up to talk over the film, there’s some decent material, but the commentary exists over probably less than 25 percent of the full running time.

The textual commentary from Greene offers much more detail and production insights, though it too shows up intermittently. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also provides a commentary track about the music production, but that’s much more limited in scope.

As a fan of the Planet of the Apes series, this was worth listening to and reading simultaneously, but it’s not a great commentary presentation overall. Purely for the committed.

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Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives


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