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review added: 9/21/01



Behind the Planet of the Apes
Special Collector's Edition - 1998 (2001) - AMC/FoxStar (Image Entertainment)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Behind the Planet of the Apes: Special Collector's Edition Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Documentary
127 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1) & letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:22:09, in chapter 14), dual Amaray keep case packaging, Planet of the Apes 1967 N.A.T.O. Presentation featurette, Planet of the Apes 1968 featurette, Planet of the Apes Makeup Test with Edward G. Robinson 1966 featurette, A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes 1972 featurette, Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes 1970 featurette, J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes 1971 featurette, Behind the Planet of the Apes 1998 promo, theatrical trailers (for Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Disc Two: Bonus Materials
130 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1) and letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), dual Amaray keep case packaging, unedited interview with Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes Dailies and Outtakes featurette, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (12 chapters for McDowall interview), languages: English (DD 2.0 and mono), subtitles: none


Behind the Planet of the Apes, hosted by 4-time Apes film veteran Roddy McDowall, is an in-depth look at the history behind one of the most prolific film franchises ever, The Planet of the Apes. The 1968 film, which spawned 4 sequels, is loved by many, and this new 2-disc set from Image is sure to be sweet nectar for each and every Ape-head out there. The Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary alone was previously available as a bonus disc in Fox's Planet of the Apes: Evolution box set. But Image has taken the documentary many were already familiar with, and added a truckload of extra supplements to expand the experience even further.

The main feature on this set is the 2-hour documentary, Behind the Planet of the Apes. Even though this documentary covers all 5 films in the series, it's an incredibly intricate detailing of the production of the first film in the franchise - so much so that the entire first half of Behind is spent on the history and production of the first film alone. Featuring a bevy of behind-the-scenes footage, longtime fans of Planet of the Apes will get a kick out of seeing the actors dealing - sometimes unsuccessfully - with the demanding prosthetics and makeup required for the film. The documentary features interviews from 1998 with practically every key actor and crewmember involved with the film that is still alive. What I found most amusing in this documentary are the interview clips with Heston, as he explains how he tried hard to make sure that no more sequels would be made after the second. A good deal of time is dedicated to John Chambers and the ingenious ape designs and effects he developed for the films. We also get information about how the film was adapted from the book, the casting, the filming locations, screenplay variations and post-release public reaction. And did I mention that you get a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews?

The first hour of Behind is as good as a "making-of" documentary can get. But it all starts slipping once the documentary begins covering the Apes sequels. The coverage for Beneath, Escape from, Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes consists mostly of each film receiving 10-15 minute summarizations in the form of film clips, with only brief behind-the-scenes footage, and short interview snippets of each film's director talking about his own Apes vision. The last 15 minutes of the documentary discusses the short-lived live action TV show and Saturday morning cartoon that were spawned from the films. Brief mention is also given to the films' multitude of merchandising, and how the series has impacted modern culture - demonstrated by a clip from a hilarious 1996 episode of The Simpsons, where actor Troy McClure portrays "the human" in Planet of the Apes: The Musical ("I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-a to chimpanzee. Oh, you'll never make a monkey out of me!") That's great stuff! Note that this documentary was produced before Tim Burton's "re-imagined" 2001 version of Planet of the Apes went into pre-production, so it's not discussed.

On the technical end, Behind the Planet of the Apes looks and sounds pretty good for a documentary. All footage, excluding clips from the films, is presented in 1.33:1 full frame and the video is of decent, broadcast television quality. Detail is nice, colors are bold and I saw no signs of compression artifacting. The 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen clips from the films are pretty much on par with how they appear on their respective DVD releases. They look okay, but dated and lack the detail of an anamorphic transfer. Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track features easily intelligible dialog, and subtle surround envelopment for the music track that's overlaid throughout most of the documentary.

If, after watching Behind the Planet of the Apes, you think you know everything there is to know about everyone's favorite monkey-infested cinematic universe, just wait until you get to the supplements. They'll take you several hours to get through alone! Starting with the Disc One of the set, you get the 127-minute documentary discussed above, and also a bunch of shorter featurettes. The Planet of the Apes 1967 N.A.T.O. Presentation, hosted by Heston, is a 10-minute summary of the film filled with clips of the most exciting parts of the movie, ending with an introduction of the stars of the film. This piece was developed for the North American Theater Owners organization, and thus is largely promotional. The Planet of the Apes 1968 featurette runs 5 minutes, and is another promotional piece which includes behind-the-scenes footage. Planet of the Apes Makeup Test featuring Edward G. Robinson is an interesting, rare addition to this set of extras (and is also discussed in Behind). The 10-minute makeup test took place in 1966, when Fox was experimenting with the cinema trickery of turning a man into a monkey. Robinson was originally cast as Dr. Zaius, but decided to bow out before the film's production in 1967. Robinson is featured here in full ape costume - which looks somewhat different from the final costuming - acting out a scene with Heston and, surprisingly, James Brolin, who is playing Dr. Cornelius. The next featurette, entitled A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes, is a 14-minute piece from 1972 that is also promotional in nature, and features behind-the-scenes footage from all 5 films. Don Taylor Directs Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a 7-minute featurette that shows more behind-the-scenes footage and an on-set interview with the director. J. Lee Thompson Directs Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is next on the agenda, and at just a minute in length, could barely be considered a featurette. It's basically a short reel of the director speaking with actors during a makeup session. The Behind the Planet of the Apes promo is a 2-minute promotional piece (duh) for the 1998 documentary, which is featured in this set. Concluding the supplements for Disc One are the theatrical trailers for all 5 Apes films, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. All the trailers are in fairly good condition, but do show signs of wear.

Had enough yet? Well too bad, because we haven't even gotten to Disc Two yet! Pop in the second platter, and you'll find a 110-minute, unedited interview with the late Roddy McDowall from 1998. The veteran actor discusses the Apes films he starred in with great depth and detail, recounts many anecdotes and shares his personal feelings for the films that kept him busy for nearly a decade. Casual fans of the films will probably find that the Behind the Planet of the Apes documentary is more than they ever wanted to know about the Apes saga, but die-hards will want to spend the extra couple of hours with McDowall in this interview session. The interview has 12 chapter stops, but there is no scene selection menu on the disc. That would've been nice to have, so you could jump to a specific topic discussed in the interview directly from the main menu. The only other supplement on the second disc (What? You actually want more?) is a 20-minute reel of dailies and various outtakes from Planet of the Apes. No production audio is present through the reel, but Jerry Goldsmith's score supplements the images.

So you fancy yourself a die-hard Planet of the Apes fan? Then why isn't this 2-disc set in your library? If you're a fan, you'll want to upgrade the documentary disc you got with your Planet of the Apes: Evolution boxed set with this new 2-discer from Image. With over 5 hours of material in total, the Behind the Planet of the Apes: Special Collector's Edition will leave your head spinning from the sheer volume of information it contains about the making of this well-loved franchise. I could see where this documentary DVD set could invariably fall into the "overkill" category for the casual fan. All I know is, I've never typed the phrase Planet of the Apes this many times in my entire life!

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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