Planet of the Apes, Malibu Creek State Park, Part 1

What is now Malibu Creek State Park was once Fox Ranch, a backlot used by 20th Century Fox for location work on may television shows and films. The back lot became a Malibu Creek State Park in 1976.

Probably the most well known film shot here was the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes (1968). The film was shot between May 21,1967 and filming wrapped up on August 10, 1967. I intended to find and sketch some of the locations used at Malibu Creek State Park.

It turns out that it is not too hard to find these locations because there are many “Visiting Planet of the Apes Locations” videos posted on youtube and other blog posts created by fans of the film. Also the State Park has placed some interpretive signs noting the park’s cinematic history.

On my hike out on Crags Road, I passed the Ape City location on my way to the M*A*S*H site. I would come by this site on my way back and do a sketch of the landscape around the set.

But sequentially the first location using Malibu Creek State Park proved to be one the park’s most visited locations: Rock Pool. In the pool, the three astronauts, including the film’s star Charlton Heston, come upon some water for the first time after landing on a bleak desertlike planet (the previous sequence was filmed at Lake Powell in Arizona). They quickly strip off their space suits and have a jubilant and frolicking skinny dip. Meanwhile some mysterious creatures steal their clothes.

Rock Pool, the filming location of the skinny dipping scene. Now why does not one of these signs say “NO SKINNY DIPPING”?

This leads to the next scene which was filmed at Fox Ranch: the hunt in the cornfield. In reality this was an open oak meadow where now, at one end, is the group campsite. For the film, corn (which grew to eight feet high) was planted in the meadow. In the film, the astronauts come upon a mute race of humanoids harvesting fruit from two (oak) trees. Here Taylor notes: “Look on the bright side, if this is the best they got around here, in six months we’ll be running this planet”. Then the humanoids pause and look on in horror as an odd ape horn sounds and they run for their lives. The human hunt has begun. In this field, Taylor and the audience, first sees the apes of the film’s title: a gorilla soldier, mounted on horseback with a rifle. One of the film’s stars Roddy McDowall said of this scene, “The cornfield hunt offered one of the film’s most powerful and disturbing sequences”. That means a lot, considering that Planet of the Apes features quite a few “powerful and disturbing” scenes. The featured sketch is of the ridge lines surrounding the meadow that once was covered in a cornfield.

The former cornfield used for the human hunt scene. The hills seen in the background have changed very little from when the filming too place here in 1967.

The biggest set built for the film was Ape City which was constructed along Crags Road near Century Lake. The set itself stretched for 300 feet and was constructed of a sprayed foam over an iron mesh form. A large part of the location work of the middle of the film was filmed here, at this location, including Taylor’s attempted escape and the utterance of the film’s most famous line: “Take your sticking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

This is a production still of what Ape City looked like during the sequel to Planet of the Apes: Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
This is the former site of the Ape City set in 2021. An interpretive sign in the foreground.
These are the “famous” steps that lead up to the human cage. When Taylor attempts to escape, he runs up these steps, barefoot.

Planet of the Apes proved to be so successful that the movies spanned four sequels, a television series, an animated television show, and books and comics. Some of the sequels where partly filmed at Malibu Creek State Park. The meadow near the group campsite was featured in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and in the epic battle in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

The next Planet of the Apes location I was heading to and sketching was south of Malibu Creek State Park, along the coast near Zuma Beach. At this location would be filmed one of the most shocking endings ever put to film in any movie made in the 1960’s, or of any movie made, in any decade, for that matter!

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