‘Planet of the Apes’ & ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Landed 55 Years Ago
“I can’t help thinking somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.”
The words are astronaut George Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) in the groundbreaking science-fiction classic Planet of the Apes, which was released to theaters in the U.S. on April 3, 1968.
On the same day 55 years ago, another mind-blowing science-fiction opus was released in the U.S. with director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Both films have had a tremendous influence on filmmakers and sci-fi enthusiasts in the decades since. We’d have no Star Wars or E.T. without 2001 and Apes.
There are great thematic similarities in the films. Mysterious voyages through spacetime? Check. An examination of humanity’s past and future? Check. Ape costumes? Check.
Apes posits a cautionary, cynical picture of humanity’s direction. “I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy,” says Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). “His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.” It’s in our nature to destroy each other. Human innovation is driven by the desire to destroy each other in newer and more effective ways. It’s in our nature to turn Earth’s paradise into a Forbidden Zone. “Damn you all to hell!” indeed.
2001 is optimistic. Overly optimistic, considering that it predicted lunar bases and interplanetary spacecraft were commonplace at the turn of the century. Mysterious and presumably alien monoliths appear at various stages of human technological advancement. Much of the film centers on the HAL 9000 computer, which has an artificial intelligence so advanced that it exhibits human emotion and fallibility, which turns out to have disastrous consequences for the crew on their mission to Jupiter. 2001 has many interpretations, though I’ve maintained that it’s an ultimately hopeful film. Human evolution will eventually result in our race overcoming its flaws and becoming godlike. At least that’s what I think of the great Space Fetus.
Whereas Planet of the Apes became a blockbuster franchise, 2001 stands as a lone masterpiece of cinematic art (despite its vastly inferior 1984 sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact). Both movies are worth watching repeatedly, and they’ll continue to be appreciated long, long into the future.
But which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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