Released in 1986, Planet of the Apes is a science-fiction film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Linda Harrison, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, and other notable actors. It follows a group of astronauts stranded on a seemingly distant land 2,000 years after their departure, who find that highly intelligent primates inhabit the planet. Although there were doubts, the film was a raging success and is considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time for its storytelling, acting, makeup, and of course, the mind-blowing ending. See exactly what went into making the film and some behind-the-scenes secrets.
It’s Based On A Book
Generally, the public is most familiar with the story of Planet of the Apes in film form. Yet, the concept actually came from the French novel La Planète des singes (Planet of the Apes) by Pierre Boulle. Like most other book-to-movie adaptations, the filmmakers took some liberties and made altercations to the story.
Some of these changes included making the location Earth, having the apes less advanced than in the books, and twisting the ending entirely. There have been rumors that the newest installment in the series may come closer to the novel’s original ending.
A Blacklisted Writer Completed The Script
The first draft of the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes was initially done by The Twilight Zone writer Rod Serling, although the producers were unpleased by the first draft, feeling that Serling’s vision would cost too much in regards to special effects.
So, they hired Michael Wilson to make another attempt at the story, regardless of the fact that Hollywood blacklisted him during the period of McCarthyism in the United States over the fear of communism. Serling’s ideas weren’t completely set aside, either, as his mind-boggling twist at the end remained in the film.
Charlton Heston Was Severely Ill During Filming
In the 1960s, Charlton Heston was one of the most successful and sought-after actors of his time, with movies such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and more under his belt. However, his seemingly weakened appearance in the film can’t all be chalked up to great acting.
During the shoot for the first film, Heston was actually sick with a bad case of the flu. Disregarding Heston’s condition, the producers insisted that he continued acting and incorporating his now-hoarse voice into his character for added effect. In Heston’s personal diary, he reported that it was a miserable time in his acting career.
Studios And The Novel’s Author Didn’t Have Confidence In A Movie Adaptation
In the 1960s, typically, movies that involved apes, especially talking and sophisticated ones tended to belong in the realm of B-movies. This proved to be a problem for producer Arthur P. Jacobs when he was going around Hollywood pitching the idea.
He was rejected almost everywhere, with even the author of the novel, Pierre Boulle, having doubt about the film finding any success. Boulle wasn’t confident in his book, and in the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, he explained that he thought it was one of his more unimpressive works.
There Were Odd Lunch Room Dynamics
In a film that included humans and various different species of primates, supposedly, the actors socialized according to their particular characters’ species. During lunchtime on set, without any instruction, the humans ate with the humans, the chimpanzees with the chimpanzees, the orangutans with their own kind, and so on.
This confused even the producers, with Charlton Heston commenting, “I have no explanation for it whatsoever.” To an extent, some of the actors rarely even spoke to each other, even if they had been friendly on other film sets.
The Twist Ending Was Kept Under Lock And Key
Considering the mass spread and availability, it’s almost impossible to keep anything a secret, especially when it comes to movie spoilers. Thankfully, Planet of the Apes was one of the first films that made a true effort to keep the movie’s ending a real secret.
Many later directors learned the importance of a final twist by example from Planet of the Apes and have provided audiences with some incredible ones since. When the movie came out in 1968, movie-goers were absolutely shocked when it’s discovered that Taylor has been on Earth all along.
There Were Hints At The Twist
When Zira shows Taylor the Forbidden Zone map, some coastlines could be identified as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut after thousands of years and nuclear war.
Although the Hudson and East Rivers’ geological markings aren’t there on the map, there is clearly evidence of Long Island, Long Island South, Lower New York Bay, Staten Island, and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s likely only a few people noticed this when the film first came out.
The Idea For The Ending Happened At A Deli
While formulating the story and considering how they wanted to conclude it, producer Arthur Jacobs and Blake Edwards came to an epiphany, not in a writing room, but over some sandwiches at a deli.
The two were having lunch together discussing the film when they saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty, which gave birth to the mind-bending and groundbreaking ending that we know and love today. Hopefully, that exact deli has been made into a national landmark because some true history occurred there.
The Film Was A Smashing Success At The Box Office
Over more than 50 years, Planet of the Apes has made an impressive impact in popular culture. The 1968 adaptation was the highest-grossing film of the year, earning more than $32 million over its budget of just $5.8 million.
Furthermore, it was also nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. Later reboots such as Rise and Dawn and War for the Planet of the apes were also all nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Actors Paid The Price For The Impressive Makeup
The makeup for Planet of the Apes may have been groundbreaking at the time, especially without the use of digital technology, but it came with a price. Each day’s makeup process was so extensive that the actors and extras had to wear their masks all day, both during shooting, between shots, and while on break.
On some occasions, this meant over 16 hours in full makeup! Additionally, the primate masks were so restricting that meals had to be liquified and consumed using straws. Luckily, it was all worth it in the end, at least for the audience.
There Are Nods To The Orginal In The Reboots
Because 1968’s Planet of the Apes proved to be an incredibly successful venture, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has attempted to squeeze it for all it’s worth in the form of remakes. However, the latest franchise has not forgotten its past, and throughout the series, homages are paid to the original film.
Some of these include a jigsaw puzzle that Caesar is putting together depicting a scene from the original, Caesar’s mother’s name is Bright Eyes in regard to Taylor’s character, and Maurice the orangutan is named after actor Maurice Evans, who played Dr. Zaius.
Taylor Was Almost Played By John Wayne
For many iconic films, it’s impossible to picture the protagonist as another actor, which is exactly the case of Col. George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston. However, Taylor’s role almost went to no other than John Wayne, a Western icon and one of the most respected actors of the era.
In the end, the decision was made to not include Wayne in the film, fearing that his presence would give off too much of a Western vibe when their goal was clearly science-fiction. Good thing too!
The Production Was Put On Hold
Before 20th Century Fox committed to making the film, they had reservations about how the ape faces would look on screen. So, the production scrounged up $5,000 to perform a test scene shot with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in costume as Dr. Zaius and James Brolin as another ape.
The studio was impressed with how everything came out and gave the movie the go-ahead. Yet, they delayed the film for six months in anticipation to see how their other science-fiction film, Fantastic Voyage, would do. After its success, Planet of the Apes was off to the races.
The Makeup Artist Also Had A Hand In Star-Trek
One of the most notable elements of Planet of the Apes has to be the film’s incredible makeup work. The artist hired for the project turned out to be John Chambers, who was already well known in the industry for his impressive work on other science-fiction productions such as The Munsters, Lost in Space, and Outer Limits.
Yet, arguably his trademark in the genre was his makeup design for Spock’s pointy ears in the Star Trek television series. He used his skills from his time working at a veteran’s hospital after World War II, where he helped design prosthetics for facial reconstruction of wounded soldiers.
Producers Weren’t Exactly Truthful It Came To Makeup Expenses
Today, it’s rare but not unheard of for some films to have a budget exceeding a whopping $1 billion! This would have been unthinkable during the 1960s. While the Planet of the Apes budget wasn’t anywhere near this number, it was certainly expensive during its time.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most expensive aspects of the production was the makeup, which was over $1 million. Or was it? Actually, the makeup for the 1968 movie only cost $500,000, but producers claimed that it was more as a PR tactic so that audiences would be more inclined to see it.
The Statue Of Liberty Is An optical Illusion
In the past, the location of the final gut-wrenching scene in the film is believed to have been shot in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but it’s actually Malibu, California. And no, the production team didn’t build the Statue of Liberty into the side of the cliff.
Instead, they used matte painting with a practical model for the statue. Furthermore, a half-scale of Lady Liberty’s head and torch were built and shot from a scaffold during the landmark’s reveal.
One Scene Was Almost Censored
Although Planet of the Apes isn’t necessarily the most cheerful or kid-friendly movie, there wasn’t anything that really needed to be censored, although it almost was. In the climactic ending scene, Taylor proclaims some pretty intense phrases to God.
While there was an attempt to censor the scene for profanity, Heston explained that his character wasn’t cursing God but asking God to damn the people to hell responsible for destroying the world and that he wasn’t just using the Lord’s name in vain.
Ingrid Bergman Was Almost Involved In The Project
According to Ingrid Bergman, turning down the role of Zira was one of the greatest regrets of her career. At the time, the thought of playing a primate wasn’t exactly appealing to her, and she learned she made a mistake after the movie was released.
She later told her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, that the part would have been a major opportunity for her to “disregard for regal bearing.” On top of all that, she regrets missing the chance to work alongside Charlton Heston.
Earlier Drafts Had A More Hopeful Ending
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, most people know that it turns out Taylor has been on Earth the entire time and is now stranded in the future. It’s a bit of a depressing ending, although this wasn’t always the intentional plan.
Initial scripts were much more optimistic, with Michael Wilson’s earlier draft having Taylor being killed by an ape assassin and Nova escaping into the Forbidden Zone carrying Taylor’s child. This paved the way for a potential sequel about the rebirth of humanity. Understandably, executives were hesitant since Nova wouldn’t be understood as a true human by audiences.
Kim Hunter Had To Be Medicated To Have Her Makeup Done
Actress Kim Hunter played Zira and the film and due to claustrophobia of being under the mask had to take medication each morning to relax during the makeup process. After some time, she stopped taking the pills, feeling that she didn’t need them anymore.
While she thought the first makeup session without her medication went fine, her makeup artist thought otherwise. She threatened to replace Kim with someone else unless she started taking her pills again because she had to wrestle with her the whole time.
The Spaceship Crash Was Difiifcult To Film
The spaceship crash scene was filmed on the Colorado River at a location known as The Crossing of the Fathers. Although a real crash would have been impressive, the footage was then filmed from airplanes and in water in order to recreate what it would be like in an actual crash.
However, not enough film had been shot, so effects artists and film editors took pieces of what had been filmed, reversed, inverted, and repeated them to simulate an actual spaceship crash.
Filming in The Desert Was No Easy Task
Unsurprisingly, filming in the desert ran over schedule, as they only had three days to complete the scenes they had to shoot. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs liked the long build-up in King Kong and wanted to create similar suspense in Planet of the Apes with the stranded crew wandering in the desert.
Luckily, Jacobs received three extra days of shooting approval. Nevertheless, being in such a hostile environment proved to be harsh due to the heat. This resulted in many of the cast and crew, including director Franklin Schaffner, fainting.
Michael Wilson Brought Some Comedy To The Script
After Serling’s script wasn’t up to the studio’s expectations, Michael Wilson was brought on to take a crack at it. Besides making some major tweaks to the movie’s plot, Wilson also made a point to add some humor by including more witty dialogue to make it more appealing to the general audience.
One scene of his in particular that stands out is the sham trial that Taylor goes through, which is most likely Wilson’s own commentary on being blacklisted by Hollywood.
The Size Of The Film’s Makeup Team Disrupted All Of Hollywood
To execute the incredible task of getting all of the cast in the appropriate makeup, the studio hired hundreds of makeup artists. They ranged from prosthetics experts, hairstylists, costume designers, and anybody else that could lend a hand.
The process was run like a machine to get hundreds of actors and extras ready to shoot a scene, with some artists having to work all day and through the night. In the documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes, it’s mentioned that the production required so many makeup artists that other films had to be delayed because of a makeup professional shortage.
A Chimp Attended The scars
At the 1969 Academy Awards, to no real surprise, John Chambers took home an Honorary Award for Oustanding Achievement in Makeup for Planet of the Apes. Nevertheless, the Academy made sure that there was some flare added to Chamber’s acceptance of the award.
When Chambers was introduced to Walter Matthau’s crowd, he was appropriately handed his award by a chimpanzee that handed him the award. Needless to say, this won the hearts of the audience.
There’s No Explanation To Tim Burton’s Ending
There’s no doubt that Tim Burton is talented and respected in his own right. However, his 2001 reboot of Planet of the Apes wasn’t exactly well-received by many. Viewers complained that it was too slow, uneventful, and there was an uproar regarding the nonsensical when Mark Wahlberg returns to Earth to find apes have replaced all the humans.
Burton defended the ending, claiming that it wasn’t supposed to make sense, and there were rumors that it was a setup for a sequel, although Burton said he’d rather jump out of a window.
Some Iconic Scenes Were Almost Cut
Prior to the film’s release, two scenes were almost cut during post-production, which are both now considered iconic. They are Charleton Heston’s nude scene, which was his first-ever, and the courtroom chimps parodying the three wise monkey’s “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.”
This was actually ad-libbed by the actors on the day of the shoot. It ended up making it into the film because the producers thought that it helped to lighten things up when the film was becoming a little too serious.
There Were Returning Actors In The Reboots
Although the latest reboots of The Planet of the Apes franchise had an ensemble cast including James Franco, Gary Oldman, John Lithgow, and Jason Clarke, none of the human actors reprise their roles in the following films.
However, that isn’t the case for those portraying the simians. In the new trilogy, Andy Serkis as Caesar, Terry Notary as Rocket, and Karin Konoval as Maurice all continue to play their roles, although they are motion-capture performances.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Was Groundbreaking In Its Own Regard
While the original Planet of the Apes relied on impressive makeup work to create convincing apes, the newer films in the franchise utilized a whole different type of technology. Known as motion capture technology, this allows real actors to be in front of the camera, with their actions then animated to look like the real characters on the big screen.
In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the apes was one of the first movies to use motion capture technology on location rather than a studio, which was a major step forward in digital filmmaking.
Naming The Spaceship
In the 1968 film, Taylor and his crew’s spacecraft is never actually given a name. Yet, in the 40th-anniversary release of the Blu-ray edition, in the short film titled A Public Service Announcement from ANSA, the ship is identified as Liberty 1.
Initially, the ship was planned on being called “Immigrant One” in an early draft of the script and then “Air Force One” in a test set of collectible cards, and even “Icarus” by a fan. Interestingly, “Icarus” became popular among the fandom.