×

‘Planet of the Apes’ Filmmakers Worried 1968 Original Wouldn’t Be Taken Seriously

Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” is generating strong buzz before its July 14 launch. When the film series began 50 years ago, nobody imagined it would last this long. In fact, they weren’t even sure the first one could get off the ground.

Early tests for makeup, costumes, and art direction were so challenging that the film’s production was delayed two years.

The premise of the book (and the first film) was so radical — as Variety termed it back then, “an ape-human switcheroo” — that the filmmakers knew they needed to create a world that looked realistic and dangerous: Their biggest concern was that audiences would giggle at the idea of monkeys ordering around humans.

Pierre Boulle’s French-language novel “La Planete des Singes” was published in 1963; British author Xan Fielding translated it into English the following year. In January 1965, producer Arthur P. Jacobs told Variety’s Army Archerd that he would film the adaptation at Warner Bros., with director Blake Edwards (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and the first two Inspector Clouseau movies).

Just a few weeks later, Jacobs and Warner Bros. announced an 18-month delay for R&D, but it turned out to be longer.

In October 1966, “Planet” moved to Fox, as a joint venture between the studio and Jacobs’ Apjac Productions. The following week, they announced Rod Serling as screenwriter and that the film would reteam star Charlton Heston with director Franklin J. Schaffner (after Universal’s 1965 “The War Lord”).

Cameras finally rolled on May 22, 1967, more than two years after the first announcement. The props and sets were complicated in the pre-CGI era, but the biggest challenge was the makeup: It needed to look realistic and also allow actors to eat meals without removing three hours of makeup. (The idea of a liquid diet was rejected.)

Archerd said security around the set was unusually tight. “The reason: The unusual ape makeup worn by most of the 235 actors in pic. The studio is not permitting any stills to be published until pic’s release next Easter and is also guarding sketches and photographs of the simian city, which the art department created over two years.”

They wanted to maintain “the surprise element,” as Jacobs said, for audiences. They also wanted to keep rivals in the dark. There was fear that the $5 million film could be ripped off in lower-budget version.

Jacobs said that the makeup tests had started back in 1965 when he acquired the book: “The makeup was our biggest expense on the film — costing about $1.5 million, or nearly one-third of the budget — and applying and removing it used up almost 60% of our total shooting time.”

“We knew we’d never have a full shooting day. There weren’t enough makeup men in Hollywood so we had to train them. We had 10 trailers that were turned into classrooms for makeup,” Jacobs said. “It took three to four hours to put it on every day and about an hour and a half to get it off.”

They wound up with 25 makeup artists working on the film.

The film opened Feb. 14, 1968, on a single New York screen. It opened wider on April 3, which was in itself a victory. The filmmakers considered their movie to be in a race with another big-budget astronaut film: MGM’s Stanley Kubrick epic “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

When the Fox film opened, hard-to-impress Variety reviewer A.D. Murphy wrote on Feb 1, 1968, “’Planet of the Apes’ is an amazing film. A political-sociological allegory … an intriguing blend of chilling satire, optimism, and pessimism.” He praised the script by Michael Wilson and Serling, Schaffner’s direction, the cast, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Murphy also praised the makeup, with John Chambers given credit as creative makeup designer, adding, “Ben Nye and Dan Striepeke superbly executed the design.”

Two months later, Variety critic Robert B. Frederick panned “2001: A Space Odyssey,” saying the plot made no sense; as for the Dawn of Man segment, “the makeup is amateurish compared to that in ‘Planet of the Apes.’”

No matter, they both have stood the test of time. Kubrick’s film was a one-off, but “Apes” turned into a mini industry, with five films (1968-73), TV series (both live-action and animated), Tim Burton’s 2001 redo; and the three revived movies, which were born again in 2011. That’s in addition to videogames, merchandise, etc.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • John bailey Academy President

    Former Academy President and DP John Bailey to Receive Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award

    John Bailey, the cinematographer and former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the 27th Camerimage film festival in Torun Poland. The Fest, attended by top DPs and other artists from around the world, will run on Nov. 9-16. Bailey’s credits include Lawrence Kasdan’s “The [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content