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Planet of the Apes: The Ultimate DVD Collection—20th Century Fox

Somewhere at my mom's house, I still have a Planet of the Apes action figure or two and possibly a 45-record with a storybook. Prior to Star Wars, POTA was the movie-marketing phenomenon.

So, it's no surprise that the talking-apes franchise, which includes five movies, both live-action and animated TV series, and a 2001 Tim Burton remake, is no stranger to DVD, with at least three incarnations of the original 1968 film. Now, Fox brings together the entire canon in an Ultimate DVD Collection (with suggested retail of $180), and it is limited to 10,000 units. While there's little new here with regard to content, the packaging will turn heads, and having everything in one box may appeal to completists.

POTA, while not the groundbreaking film the supplements might lead you to believe, was a unique blend of science fiction and social allegory at a time when most sci-fi was of the men-in-masks B-movie variety. Certainly, the casting of Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and the Shakespearean-trained Maurice Evans lent a credible patina to an intriguing but standard sci-fi-grade story by Pierre Boulle.

That the four theatrical sequels—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—increasingly sullied the franchise says more about the high standard set in 1968 than the quality of the follow-up films themselves.

The best science fiction has always shined a light on the contemporary human condition, and POTA fulfilled that criteria. The "advanced" society of apes was a metaphor for race relations: humans were the subjugated minority, of course, but the ruling race was subdivided into dark-skinned gorillas (the soldiers and workers), the lighter chimpanzees (the scientific and intellectual elite), and the blond-haired orangutans (the political rulers). In fact, these classes became so ingrained during the shoot, so we're told in a running text commentary, that the actors self-segregated when dining on the set.

The original film and accompanying disc of supplements are just two of the 14 platters you'll find in this box, but are identical to the 35th Anniversary Edition released in 2004. While the 1.85:1 anamorphic video quality of the feature and Dolby Digital 5.1 track are more than adequate, the highlight is the McDowall-hosted "Behind the POTA" featurette. It delves into the genesis of the film and the make-up effects, plus it includes rare footage of make-up tests. The two-hour documentary is a must-watch for the true fan but may already be in that fan's collection in one form or another.

The main feature also contains two commentary tracks, which, combined, amount to about one-third of the film. The first features McDowall, Hunter, and make-up artist John Chambers, all recorded separately. The second track features composer Jerry Goldsmith, who talks about the score that's essentially a character in the film. While both tracks have their moments, you'll grow weary of the long lapses.

Still, it's more than what you'll find on the four sequels, which offer nothing but the trailers for all five films. The only noteworthy element is the inclusion of the seldom-seen 92-minute television version of Battle for the POTA, as opposed to the 86-minute theatrical cut.

The features are followed by the complete 1974 television series, 14 episodes spread over four discs, that remained true to the spirit of the films and maintained reasonably high quality during the show's short run, particularly in the costume and make-up departments. Starring Ron Harper and James Naughton as astronauts following in Taylor's (Charlton Heston's) footsteps, the television series raised humans to the status of servants living in more civilized ghettolike pockets.

The equally short-lived Return to the POTA animated series, 13 episodes that aired from 1975 to '76, comprises discs 11 and 12. With no limiting set budget, the apes are more technologically advanced, and humans continue to question how things got so screwed up.

Finally, we get the two-disc 2001 Tim Burton remake. Marked by exceptional make-up effects, this was a worthwhile effort but is ultimately throw-away entertainment.

This package increases the gee-whiz factor by loading the discs into a very lifelike bust of the ape Caesar, complete with hairy mane. It's a very cool package, one that you can display as a collectible on your shelf, with or without the "magazine" disc attached inside. Give Fox points for pushing the envelope here.

If you already own some of these elements, you might want to take a pass on this pricey collection. Still, at an Amazon.com cost of $135, there's a lot here, and you could always auction those old General Ursus and Dr. Zaius figures to defray the cost.

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