1968 was a seminal year in American history.
That was the year of the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. It was the year that saw Laugh In premier on TV, the Beatles formed Apple Records, and the Pope came out against birth control. Both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. It was also the year that two seminal science fiction films came out, Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Not only did they come out the same year…they premiered on the same day, April 3rd.
Both are films of the future as seen through the eyes of 1960′s writers and are based on novels.
2001 is hopeful about our journey among the stars, while Planet shows how mankind if it keeps going the same way (with nuclear proliferation, etc.) that we might be knocked down by another species who shares the planet with us.
There are lots of things they share in common besides being about a possible future. Both films could be considered responses to the advent of Vietnam and the counter-culture but in different ways. The psychedelic light show at the end of 2001 brought in the stoners that actually created the buzz that kept it in theaters till it found its audience.
George Taylor (Charlton Heston) in Planet was an over the top version of the red blooded American male. But Taylor enjoyed and supported the youth movement by his statements throughout the film especially when he enjoys Zira’s nephew raging against old people and says “never trust anyone over 30.” (this was a well known phrase in the 60s counter-culture). Ironically, Heston was 44 years old when the film premiered.
Both films contain female scientists.
Zira (Kim Hunter) is, of course, a main character and, therefore, remembered better than her 2001 counterpart Elena (Margaret Tyzack), a Russian scientist that is friends with Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester). Yet both spoke with cultured tones and knew some secrets of the universe. The fact that two science fiction films came out in the 1960s and both had strong female characters is unexpected.
There are other obvious ways the two movies are related.
Both movies contain apes…but very different versions of ape kind. The apes in 2001 are the precursor to man and the apes in Planet of the Apes are after man’s fall. Taken together it is a sharp contrast.
The humans that Taylor encounters who happen to be mute, animal-skin clad humans are almost on the same level as the apes before they rise from encountering the monolith in 2001. The apes in Planet are both sophisticated and intelligent.
Another instance of the two films similarities is the fact that in both movies there are people in suspended animation for their long voyage. In both films, there are deaths of people in those suspension tubes. In Planet the only female on the expedition dies and Taylor takes a moment to stare at her tube and remarks that she’s been dead over a year. At that point, Taylor and two other men are “stranded” on this unknown planet with no ship, no women, and no source of food.
Planet of the Apes does give Taylor a love interest, Nova (Linda Harrison). He tells her about his dead shipmate, “Did I tell you about Stewart? Now there was a lovely girl. The most precious cargo we brought along. She was… to be the new “Eve.”
2001, however, stays away from any romantic angles and talk of procreation. And all those that died in suspended animation are male scientists. It is likely that this is due to the fact that Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001 and had a vested interest in the science and predicting the future, where Pierre Boulle, who wrote the novel Planet was based on enjoyed writing adventure stories.
Both films also have intelligent antagonists. Dr. Zaius and HAL have a lot in common. They both think that they know what is best for others and they both keep a major secret that is their undoing.
However, it is the ending of the films that are the major difference. 2001 ends with a hopeful note that humanity is embarking on a grand adventure into the cosmos.
But Taylor finds that he was on Earth all along.
2001, of course, is more obviously a problem for modern viewers since the year of its events has already passed us by. Yet a lot of its predictions have come to pass. We do have video phones now. The globalization of the world we live in continues apace. And there is the International Space Station in orbit that continues to grow and find new ways of being useful.
Planet being set 2000 years in the futre gives us the more dystopian view of the future and is also more accessible (as shown by its 4 sequels as well as the 3 films in the reboot of the series). Where 2001 is at times like an abstract painting, Planet beats you over the head with what it is, a warning.
Either way, both films imply a future worth thinking about.