Planet of the Apes
Ape, ape, ape, ape, ape, ape, ape, ape, ape.
How many apes is that? A lot.
(Part of our series on negative
utopias and dystopia in media)
Given America's love of George
Bush, I'm surprised that these movies haven't enjoyed more of
a renaissance. The original Planet
of the Apes movies were produced in an era of new-found civil
rights, heightened social consciousness, and, well...apocalyptic
Charlton Heston movies: The
Omega Man, Earthquake,
1975 , Soylent
Green. For a new twist on the often ham-handed delivery of racial
social commentary in these films, try substituting "Republican"
or "Liberal" every time they say "chimp" or
While the films are dated in many ways that make
them almost comical, they did have impressive production values,
and without the makeup
methods refined in the making of these films, the world would
be lacking the bumpy-foreheaded sort of aliens that have made shows
Trek Deep Space Nine such a success.
Although Charlton Heston stars in the first two of
these films (I've always found it ironic that such a Randian, NRA-pumping
Republican like Heston so often played the good guy who was warning
us of the perils of war and destruction of the environment), the
real star in most of these films is "exposition man";
the fellow who describes in detail the crucial plot element that
might have been more effectively revealed with visuals or in the
context of dialog. (Like just now, when I could have just used the
word without defining it). This sort of exposition is in many ways
essential to a loveably bad science-fiction film, but is laid on
heavily here, from the moment Chuck Heston opens his mouth in the
first film. His crewmates (especially the one that dies before her
character is introduced) should thank their lucky stars for "suspended
animation" - traveling across several thousand years* with
Heston babbling that way would make anyone go ape. There's an especially
macabre moment at the beginning of the first film in which (while
Heston babbles on, preaching about the meaning of life) we see a
close-up of a tiny American flag Heston's crewmate has planted.
Heston pauses, and in a low-angle shot backlit by the sun, begins
laughing maniacally. This had a special poignancy for me, given
our current attempts to plant a flag in another
desert, right here on Earth and in the present.
Regarding this movie's dystopian theme, I've never
seen mention of the fact that the story does something rather interesting:
it takes the Judeo-Christian archetype of an apocalyptic end for
mankind, and fuses it with a very Darwinian concept of species evolution,
mutation, and survival of the fittest. This weird fusion of evolution
and Christian apocalypse is especially present in the second film,
in which the mutant psychic humans worship an ICBM with the Greek
letters Alpha and Omega painted on it, and in voiceover, Roddy McDowall's
character Cornelius recites the following:
"Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's
pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust or
greed. Yes, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's
land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert
of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle
lair: For he is the harbinger of death." The Sacred Scrolls
(29th scroll, 6th verse)
The later films focus more obviously on the civil
rights angle and time paradox prequelling**, a device that seems
essential to the dystopian theme. This time-travel stuff presents
some problems for the storyline though; how could Milo/Caesar be
the progenitor of all future talking apes, if he's the offspring
of Cornelius and Zara, who are from the future? In spite of the
fact that these later movies are obviously just cashing in on a
successful franchise, they're still entertaining, if only to see
Ricardo Montelban in his pre-KHAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!!!
role as Armando, the infant chimp Milo's protector.
Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes
I unfortunately have this disorder that doesn't allow
me to dislike Tim
Burton films. In spite of the fact that the Tim
Burton version was widely panned, and that it frankly didn't
offer anything really new to the story as told in the original film,
it was still immensely stylish and pleasantly Burtonesque. Besides,
Helena Bonham Carter is one
hot chimp. I never thought I could find a monkey [sic] so sexy.
This sexy chimp motif was apparently intentional, as I learned while
reading about the makeup effects here.
Pierre Boulle's Monkey Planet
I knew the original movie was based on a book, but
didn't learn until a few years ago (while watching an excellent
A&E Ape-A-Thon hosted by Roddy McDowall) that it was a book
Planet written by a Frenchmen named Pierre Boulle. Although
I haven't read it, I want to...perhaps you could by me a copy. It's
on my wish
list. In any case, there's a pretty amusing article on Salon.com
(see link below) about the "novelization" process of American
films. If you feel like reading it, pay attention to which version
*Every time I see the first film I can't help
wondering why a spaceship that's sophisticated enough to travel
at the speed of light can't navigate around a small lake.
**This raises a paradox I've always loved:
how can you travel back to a time before the time machine you're
More About Planet of the Apes:
Planet of the Apes Pages
Nice summaries complete with spoilers.
Article By Joe Mullich
Novelising a movie based on a novel.
Some background on the author.
| Read more about
negative utopias and dystopia in film here.
Of The Apes ('Monkey Planet')
the Book At Amazon.com
The Old Testament