Tim Burton Offers Up His Vision of Planet of the Apes (2001)

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POTARemaking a classic movie is always a gamble at best. Fans of the original are always ready to pounce on anyone who dares touch “their” film. Remaking a sci-fi classic is almost always a recipe for disaster. Your best bet is to take the classic in a different direction in hopes of making a film that is at least as good as the original yet fresh. However, when you don’t really offer anything new or worthwhile, you might as well have taken the time to create a different film altogether. Someone should have told director Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) that before he signed on for the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes.

20th Century Fox knew what a cash cow the Apes franchise was and had been attempting a remake since the late 80s. At one time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was signed on with a long line of possible directors and producers that included names such as Oliver Stone and James Cameron. Years later, Tim Burton took on the role of director with a new script that was essentially a remake of the original 1968 classic. Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal wrote what was ultimately a confusing story that should have been more original. It lacked any likeable characters. In the process of trying to rehash what had already been done better in 1968, they ended up confusing the fans, especially with the cliffhanger ending. Konner and Rosenthal have some good (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) and some bad (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Beverly Hillbillies) films to their credit. Burton is a modern-day genius to many but any genius can have a bad film and Planet of the Apes is just that.POTA 2

The movie starts off in 2029 aboard the space station Oberon. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg, Transformers: Age of Extinction) handles the apes specifically trained for space missions. When chimpanzee Pericles disappears in a strange electromagnetic storm, Leo takes another space pod in pursuit. He ends up crash landing on a strange planet in the year 5021. Here, apes can speak and rule a primitive society while treating humans as slaves. Leo is quickly befriended by the female chimpanzee Ari (Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) while also turning the eye of fellow female slave Daena (Estella Warren). Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk) is cast as the evil General Thade, who has romantic interests in Ari while also wanting to wipe out the human race. Ari helps Leo and a group of humans escape in pursuit of Calima (eventually revealed to be mean Caution Live Animals), a holy site forbidden by the apes. A signal is being transmitted from there that Leo believes is his space station Oberon. With General Thade in hot pursuit, a clash between the humans and the apes seems inevitable.

POTA 1Planet of the Apes certainly has a good cast. In addition to those already mentioned, David Warner (Star Trek VI) appears as Senator Sandar and Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile, Daredevil) is Colonel Attar, right hand gorilla to General Thade. Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is slave trader Limbo, the comic relief in a film that didn’t need any comedy. We even get cameos from original cast members Charlton Heston (as Zaius, father to Thade) and Linda Harrison. Unfortunately, what really hurts the movie is the script. It gets far too convoluted towards the end with time travel and revelations that really don’t have an impact on the audience. Even the big cliffhanger makes no sense. Sure, it is kind of cool and maybe a sequel would have answered some questions but it seems thrown in just for shock value.

The best part about Planet of the Apes is the fantastic make-up designs by Rick Baker. They were realistic and very believable. Sure, the last two movies have stunning CGI but those of us who are old school will always appreciate good makeup and this movie has it. Too bad there was little else to hold my attention.POTA 3

I recommend 2001s Planet of the Apes as a curiosity at best. Stick with the original flicks or the new franchise for some better entertainment. This version spawned a few toys and a couple of paperback novels, all of which quickly found their way into discount bins. Check out the trailer for yourself before tracking down the movie so you can get an idea of the journey awaiting you.

Next time, we reboot the franchise again with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).POTA 5          

Planet of the Apes Takes The Next Step Onto The Small Screen

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Go ApeDespite a shrinking budget, the Planet of the Apes movies were still making money. By 1973 and after five films, it was clear that the theatrical part of the franchise was exhausted. But 20th Century Fox saw that there was still money to be made due to the high ratings the movies received on broadcast television. With producer Arthur P. Jacob’s death in 1973, the franchise was turned over to Stan Hough, who envisioned a transition to television. By the fall of 1974, Planet of the Apes would become a weekly series.

The premise of this new TV series was essentially the same as we saw in the first two theatrical films. An Earth spaceship enters a time warp and crashes on Earth in the far future. The year is 3085, putting it several centuries after the Lawgiver’s speech from Battle for the Planet of the Apes and some 900 years before Taylor arrives. The spaceship is the same exact model as used by Taylor and Brent in the first two movies, giving a sense of continuity. Three ANSA astronauts are on board with one having died in the crash. Ron Harper (Land of the Lost) stars as Colonel Alan Virdon and James Naughton (The Paper Chase) is Major Peter Burke. Both are rescued by a human and they soon discover that apes can speak on this planet. They quickly learn that they are on Earth in the future and begin their journey to find a way back. They befriend a chimpanzee named Galen (the ever-present Roddy McDowell) with the ape forces in pursuit. Our gorilla leader is General Urko (Mark Lenard, Star Trek) and we even have a Councillor Zauis (Booth Colman), setting the stage for the standard episode as the humans and Galen would always be one step ahead of their pursuers. The biggest difference being that in this version, humans could talk but lacked the superior standing of the apes.POTA TV 1

The series only lasted 14 episodes due to low ratings but was actually quite enjoyable. In 1981, episodes were re-edited into five 90-minute movies with Roddy McDowell returning as an aged Galen to introduce the films, broadcast as part of a week-long celebration. The titles of the five films were Back to the Planet of the Apes, Forgotten City on the Planet of the Apes, Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes, Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes and Farewell to the Planet of the Apes. Much like Fox had done before with the 1974 Go Ape campaign in bringing the first five films back to the theaters, viewers were encouraged to Go Ape once again.Old Galen

With Apes merchandise flooding the market in everything from action figures to puzzles to comic books, it’s no surprise that another attempt at a television series was made just one year later. In the fall of 1975, NBC brought the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes to Saturday morning television. The show only ran for 13 episodes but was an interesting interpretation, showing a more advanced ape culture including cars and planes. It involved a group of human astronauts crash landing on the future Earth and pursued by the apes. Familiar names abound including Cornelius, Zira, Urko and Zauis. While the animation was limited, the stories were actually quite good and offered up a different take on what was now a very familiar story.

POTA cartoonBy 1976, five movies and two television series later, the Apes franchise was exhausted. It would live on in repeats and home video, never losing its’ popularity despite the lack of new material. While the first five films thrived on VHS, both TV series never saw VHS releases. Now, thanks to DVD and Blu-ray, the entire original Apes saga is available for future generations.

Before we move on to the next chapter, I highly recommend tracking down the Power Records sets as well as the original comic books and magazines from Marvel that were published until 1977. Malibu Comics also revived the comic series in the 90s as well as the recent series from Boom! Comics that are set in the original Apes universe.POTA Comic

Also take the time to watch the superior documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes produced by AMC in 1998. It features Roddy McDowell as your host and includes quite a bit of behind the scenes footage along with cast interviews and an overview of the entire original Apes story.

Next time, we take the next step into some dark territory with Tim Burton’s 2001 vision of Planet of the Apes.     

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) Is a Very Anti-Climatic End to the First Film Series

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Go ApeOn June 15, 1973, the fifth and final entry in the original Apes saga was released to the theaters. Gone was the fanfare of the original. Gone was the star power of a Charlton Heston. Gone was the powerful soundtrack musings of Jerry Goldsmith. And gone was the big Hollywood budget, going from $5.8 million to $1.7 million in a little over five years. What we were left with a movie struggling to end the series on a high note with a climactic battle than barely rises above B movie fare. And so goes the Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).

Arthur P. Jacobs returns as producer for what would ultimately be his next-to-last project prior to his death in June 1973, less than two weeks after this film’s release. The film is a direct sequel to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), being set a little more than a decade later following a nuclear war. The opening of the film is set in North America 2670 A.D. and we witness the Lawgiver (veteran actor and director John Huston, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Visitor, to name a few) introducing us to the continuing tale of revolutionary Caesar (played once again by Roddy McDowell). He is now a leader of a small group of apes and humans, attempting to co-exist. Caesar has settled down with a wife, Lisa (Natalie Trundy) and son Cornelius (Bobby Porter). However, the gorilla leader, General Aldo (veteran character actor Claude Atkins, The Twilight Zone and The Night Stalker) would rather rule with an iron fist. Caesar wants to learn of the future and is told by his human assistant MacDonald (Austin Stoker, playing the brother of the MacDonald character seen in Conquest) that the old records should still exist in the Forbidden City. Caesar, MacDonald and Virgil (singer Paul Williams, Phantom of the Paradise) travel to the city and Caesar sees footage of his mother Zira being interrogated by Dr. Hasslein (archival footage of Kim Hunter and Eric Braeden). They also find the city inhabited by mutants and being led by new Governor Kolp (again played by Severn Darden). Caesar, Virgil and MacDonald barely escape the city with their lives.BFTPOTA

However, now that the mutants know they exist, they desire a war to end the apes once and for all. Meanwhile, General Aldo is planning a takeover which is made easy once Caesar is devastated by his son’s mysterious injury. He has no idea that Aldo tried to kill Cornelius after the young ape discovered Aldo’s takeover plan. As Aldo begins to lock up the humans, the mutants are on their war. Caesar returns just in time to rally the apes and release the humans to lead them in a final battle. And once the dust settles, the real final confrontation between Caesar and Aldo happens as Caesar now knows it was Aldo who killed his son.

BFTPOTA 2Sadly, this final chapter was doomed from the first day of pre-production. Despite having Roddy McDowell back in the lead role, the movie suffered from a poor script and an incredibly low budget. The idea that a nuclear war would devastate society but leave a nice green valley within the time span of a decade or so is a stretch, even when watching a film about talking apes. The fact that all of the apes are wearing costumes that just happen to resemble those from the first three films really shows how low the budget was. I also wondered how the apes could have evolved so quickly to the point where they are all on the same level as Caesar now. And the final “battle” comes across looking like nothing more a weekend of larpers who just happened to acquire some explosives. Several scenes appear to be reused time and again, obviously to cover up how little of a battle it really was. As much as I love the original series, this final film makes me sad to see how quickly the series had fallen.

Paul Dehn is given story credit here while John and Joyce Covington are credited for the screenplay. As the Hollywood story goes, Paul wrote a story treatment but was unavailable for the rewrite. The Covington’s came in and wrote the script before Paul returned for some rewrites and tried to get a shared credit. In the end, he was only given credit for the story. However, one key difference remains that must go to Paul. The Covington’s had wanted to end with a futuristic school ground battle between a human and an ape, showing that the conflict between the races will go on. What we ended up seeing was a final scene where the Lawgiver is talking to a mix of humans and apes and a final shot of a statue of Caesar with a tear in its’ eye. Its’ message is ambiguous, implying joy that the races now live side-by-side or that the apocalyptic future is unavoidable. In either case, this was a horribly cheesing end to a series that had maintained the level of enjoyment for the first four films, despite an ever-shrinking budget.BFTPOTA 3

Despite my overall displeasure with Battle for the Planet of the Apes, I still recommend it if for no other reason than to enjoy Roddy McDowell in a role he was born to play. Make sure you go in with low expectations and watch the extended cut as it contains some extra footage. In one sequence, we see the new Governor of the Forbidden City decide not to launch an atomic bomb, which is later revealed to be the Alpha-Omega bomb. He is referred to as Governor Mendez (Paul Stevens), a clear nod to the Mendez leader seen in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, indicating that history may indeed be repeating itself.

Check out the trailer and watch the movie to judge for yourself. It’s definitely worth a Saturday afternoon matinee viewing. Next time, we take a look at next chapter of the Apes saga as our simian friends invade the wonderful world of television.BFTPOTA 4

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Turns The Violence Up

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Go ApeAfter the commercial success of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox wanted more of the Apes saga. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs and writer Paul Dehn reunited to continue the adventure while moving it in a new direction. British director J. Lee Thompson, best known for films such as Taras Bulba (1962), Eye of the Devil (1967) and Mackenna’s Gold (1969), came on board for the final two entries in the series. With baby Milo alive and well in 1973 at the end of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, a new timeline had been created. But was humanity still headed for destruction?

As we begin Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), the timeline that Cornelius gives during the government hearing is now apparently either forgotten or changed. The centuries it originally took mankind to destroy themselves and apes to reign has been put on the fast track. We jump to 1991 and discover that the disease that wiped out all dogs and cats occurred in 1983. Humans have started keeping apes as pets, eventually training them to do simple household chores. By 1991, apes are now being used as slave labor, just as Cornelius stated they would, just on an accelerated timeline.

Roddy McDowell transitions from playing Cornelius to now playing his son Milo, still traveling with Armando’s (Ricardo Montalban) circus. After Milo inadvertently speaks out against police who are beating an ape, he runs away as Armando is arrested and interrogated by Inspector Kolp (Severn Darden, The Six Million Dollar Man). Kolp works for Governor Breck (Don Murray, The Viking Queen), the leader in this city in what now appears to almost a police state. Rather than give Milo away, Armando commits suicide by jumping out a window. Meanwhile, Milo is captured and sold in an auction to Governor Breck, who allows Milo to choose his own name. He chooses the name Caesar.CFTPOTA

Caesar begins working alongside Breck’s assistant MacDonald (Hari Rhodes, Daktari), who sympathizes with apes and soon discovers who Caesar really is. After Caesar finds out that Armando is dead, he begins to train the other apes, teaching them about combat and secretly collecting weapons. Caesar is building a resistance as the time has come for the apes to be in control of their own destiny. It is time for the birth of the planet of the apes.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes continues the shift from apes being the oppressors to mankind being the root of all evil. You easily sympathize with the apes in this movie and root for Caesar to overpower the evil Governor Breck. Having McDowell play the lead character here makes sense and allows the actor to continue in the role he was meant to play. Natalie Trundy is back as well, this time playing chimpanzee Lisa, who becomes the love interest of Caesar. In fact, Lisa becomes the second ape to speak, saying the words “No” to express how she does not want Caesar to kill Breck. This is another change from what Cornelius had previously described, mentioning how it was an ape named Aldo who first spoke. However, we would get to see Aldo in the next movie.

CFTPOTA 1The racial tensions present in this movie were a direct parallel of what the United States was experiencing in the 60s and 70s. The violence present here was much more than seen in previous movies, which played a part in some heavy editing prior to the film’s release. Some clever rework at the end and a new voiceover by Roddy McDowell toned down the violence. The recent Blu-ray release has the restored violent scenes that are a little jarring upon first viewing. However, I think they enhance the movie and are worth checking out. A pre-title sequence involving an escaping ape was also apparently filmed but was not in the original release nor was it restored for the Blu-ray. The smaller budget is easily visible in the limited set pieces but location shooting covers most of this up.MSDCOOF FE002

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was not a movie in heavy TV rotation in the 70s, at least not in Wichita. While the first three films and the final fifth film were often shown on TV, the fourth film was always skipped. When Power Records did their book and record adaptations, it was also omitted. However, it did receive a novelization and comic book adaptation. I didn’t view this film until the late 80s and I still enjoy it today as much as I did then. I recommend checking out the unrated version.

Check out the trailer as well as the original ending of the film. I enjoy this movie quite a bit but always think of it more as a separate entry apart from the first three as it just has a more adult tone. I wish this is where things would have stopped. However, next time get ready for the Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).CFTPOTA 4

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) Is A Fun Entry In The Adventure Series

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Go ApeAs our movie begins, we see what looks to be a familiar shoreline. The opening moments are reminiscent of what we have seen in the first two movies. Then, the shocking sound of a helicopter makes us realize this will be a very different Apes movie. We see Taylor’s spaceship floating in the ocean, eventually brought to shore by the military. As high-ranking officials salute and welcome the three astronauts to the United States, they remove their helmets, revealing they are in fact chimpanzees. Thus begins the great third chapter in the Apes saga, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).

To enjoy this movie, you have to take some immediate leaps of logic. First, the last we saw in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Earth was destroyed. It becomes immediately obvious that this movie does not take place on that world. Well, more accurately, it does but it takes place in a different time in what was then only two years away rather than thousands. We are quickly told that a scientist by the name of Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo, Who Killed Teddy Bear) was an ape with knowledge well beyond his years. He not only found Taylor’s sunken spaceship but had it pulled up and restored enough to survive the destruction of Earth in 3955, conveniently finding its’ way to just the right time period. Okay, at this point, if you’ve accepted talking apes, this really shouldn’t be that hard to follow. Just go with it and enjoy the ride.EFTPOTA

After our three chimpanzees are taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, we quickly lose Dr. Milo as he is killed by a depressed gorilla. Our focus now shifts to two familiar faces, those of Cornelius (once again played by the returning Roddy McDowell) and his wife Zira (Kim Hunter). They are befriended by Dr. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman, The Swarm and Piranha) and Dr. Stephanie Braxton (Natalie Trundy in the second of her eventual three roles in the Apes franchise). Meanwhile, the President of the United States (William Windom, Captain Decker of the classic Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine”) is taking the advice of Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden, The Rat Patrol and Colossus: The Forbin Project), a renowned scientist previously mentioned in the first two films. Hasslein knows that Cornelius and Zira represent a future where apes rule and he decides that eliminating them will alter the future and save mankind. Cornelius and Zira go from celebrities to most wanted, on the run as Zira is pregnant and ready to give birth.

EFTPOTA 1Escape from the Planet of the Apes is very different in tone from what we had seen in the first two films. It does require some leaps of logic but, once you do, you can enjoy what I feel is actually a better film that it’s’ predecessor. I thoroughly enjoy Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but here we continue the story and begin to come full circle in how apes will eventually rule the planet. Cornelius offers us a timeline of how, over centuries, apes go from pets to servants after a disease wipes out all dogs and cats. As servants move into slavery, the key moment when an ape named Aldo says “no” is the catalyst to apes ruling Earth as mankind continues on the path to self-destruction. The action and suspense turns the tables as man takes the place of gorillas, now hunting down Cornelius and Zira, who ultimately have to rely on humans for help just as they once helped Taylor and Brent. It all works to tie the first three movies together.

Even with a smaller budget, the movie really looks just as expensive due to the ability to use real-life sets and only three actors in make-up. Jerry Goldsmith returns for a whimsical soundtrack that picks up on elements of the first film while standing out as unique, enhancing the new surroundings of the movie. Paul Dehn is back as writer and is now on board for the rest of the series, just as producer Arthur P. Jacobs continues his work of producing the saga. Don Taylor directed the third Apes chapter, his most well-remembered genre film alongside Damien: Omen II (1978) and The Final Countdown (1980). He also directed quite a bit of classic television, including episodes of Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.EFTPOTA 2

The film clearly sets things up for a sequel and a new timeline of events. Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn) makes the first of two appearances as circus owner Armando, helping save Zira’s baby Milo, putting into motion the arrival of talking apes centuries ahead of the events described by Cornelius. Despite being rushed into production, Escape from the Planet of the Apes was ultimately more successful than Beneath the Planet of the Apes, assuring more Apes films to come.

Check out the trailer (warning, it is full of spoilers) and come back next time as we witness the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972).EFTPOTA 4

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) Suffers From Budgetary Restraints

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Go ApeHollywood of the 1960s was in many ways no different than it is today. When you have a big hit at the box office, why not try to recapture that same success. When Planet of the Apes (1968) was a commercial hit, 20th Century Fox was more than ready to go back to Ape City with Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs was back with Ted Post directing the second release in the franchise. Director Franklin J. Schaffner was ready to move on to his new project Patton following the success of Planet of the Apes. Post was fresh off the Clint Eastwood western classic Hang ‘Em High (1968), which in some ways made him a logical choice considering how many of the scenes were set in the desolate Forbidden Zone. Fox studios wanted Charlton Heston back as astronaut Taylor but he was very hesitant to revisit the role. He finally agreed to a much-reduced presence, ultimately appearing in only a handful of scenes.  BTPOTA

The movie picks up right where Planet of the Apes ended, beginning with a recap of the final scene leading up to Taylor and Nova (Linda Harrison) on horseback, riding off into the Forbidden Zone. Through flashbacks, we see that they encounter fire and earthquakes before Taylor disappears into a cliff wall. Not too far away, we see a crashed spaceship resembling Taylor’s from the first film. The ship’s commanding officer, referred to only as Skipper (Tod Andrews, Hang ‘Em High), dies as fellow astronaut Brent (James Franciscus, Marooned and Valley of Gwangi) begins putting together his whereabouts. They were on a rescue mission for the Taylor’s lost ship, traveling through the same time warp. Brent soon discovers Nova riding on horseback and, upon seeing that she has Taylor’s dog tags, he rides with her to Ape City in search of answers.

BTPOTA 1Once there, he discovers a planet ruled by apes and a gorilla faction hell bent on war. General Ursus (James Gregory, TV series such as Star Trek and Barney Miller) wants to storm into the Forbidden Zone, despite objections from Dr. Zaius (played by the returning Maurice Evans). Cornelius and Zira (again Kim Hunter) have smaller roles here, serving only to essentially set Brent and Nova on their way after he is shot. They are soon captured and, upon quickly escaping with some help from Zira, they head into the Forbidden Zone with a gorilla army not too far behind. Brent soon understands that he is indeed on his Earth just as he discovers a race of underground mutants worshipping an atomic bomb. A collision between apes and mutants ultimately leads to the final conflict that seemingly ended the franchise.

Roddy McDowell was not able to reprise his role as Cornelius due to his commitments in directing Tam Lin (1970). David Watson does a very convincing job of playing the character. So much so that I must admit I didn’t realize for years that it wasn’t McDowell, who would return to the role the following year. Several familiar character actors appear as mutants, such as Victor Buono and Gregory Sierra. Natalie Trundy would make the first of several appearances in the Apes franchise playing mutant Albina.BTPOTA 3

While Heston had a very small role, his scenes were among some of the best in the movie, including the final moment involving the Alpha-Omega doomsday bomb. Franciscus did a fine job of taking the lead hero role but something seemed to be missing. This same feeling also pops up when listening to the soundtrack. Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic music for the first film is gone, replaced with a score from Leonard Rosenman, who is well-known for other works such as Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). It works here, especially the gorilla march, but it lacks many of the other-worldly qualities Goldsmith brought to the first film.BTPOTA 2

One of the biggest setbacks in this film is the reduced budget combined with the needs for a larger cast of apes. Unfortunately, this was resolved by having many of the background actors wear masks instead of actual make-up. Look in any scene, especially during General Ursus’ speech, and it is painfully evident. Visually, the movie lacks the overall scope of the original and comes across looking as if it had its’ budget slashed in half. Not surprising because that was just the case.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a fun sequel despite being much weaker than the first film. Check out the trailer before hunting down the Blu-ray. Of course, it did well enough at the box office to warrant a third sequel, which was quickly rushed into production. Next time, we take a big leap in logic so that we can Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).BTPOTA 4

Planet of the Apes (1968) is a True Sci-Fi Classic

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Go ApeIn 1963, French author Pierre Boulle wrote Planet of the Apes. It told the tale of three astronauts who travel to Betelgeuse and discover a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are savages. Thus, the start of what would become one of the greatest franchises in film history. From 1968 to 1976, the Apes series dominated with 5 feature films, a short-lived live-action television series and a Saturday morning cartoon. Following a Tim Burton reboot in 2001, we are now enjoying a new series of films with a third planned for 2016. And it all started with 1968s Planet of the Apes.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had purchased the rights to the original novel in 1963 but found little interest in Hollywood. But, after Jacobs began to earn himself a reputation, 20th Century Fox was interested and the project was greenlighted. As the script was being developed, and as in the original novel, the concept of three casts of Apes society was a groundwork that would survive to the final film. There are the gorillas, the more militaristic police force, the upper class orangutans who rule society and the more liberal minded chimpanzees who are the scientists. However, the technologically advanced aspects of ape society would be abandoned early on due to budgetary constraints. Legendary Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling wrote an early draft that was rejected. However, elements would be retained in what would eventually be the final draft, rewritten by Michael Wilson. The advanced ape society was now replaced with a more primitive (and cheaper to film) version. What did survive was Serling’s iconic final scene, still one of the best in cinematic history.POTA 1

Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 with top Hollywood actor Charlton Heston (The Omega Man, Soylent Green) in the lead role of astronaut George Taylor. Taylor is the commanding officer of a space mission that includes fellow male astronauts John Landon and Dodge, along with the lone female Stewart. Upon crashing into a lake surrounded by rocky terrain and desert, it’s discovered that Stewart’s hibernation chamber had cracked, leaving her to die before the others had awoken. Our three survivors leave the sinking ship in search of life on this strange alien world. They soon discover a humanoid species that appear to be mute. But before Taylor has a chance to name himself their god and take over the planet, he and the others are shocked to see gorillas on horseback hunting the humans. Fleeing for their lives, Dodge is killed and Landon is knocked over a cliff before Taylor is shot and captured.POTA 2

We discover that apes rule this planet. They are intelligent, using horses and living in dwellings, as well as possessing weapons. However, there is no electricity, so perhaps the best comparison would be that of Earth in the 1800s. Taylor is kept in a cage in what appears to be a zoo where humans are studied. He is eventually befriended by two chimpanzees, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell, It!, The Legend of Hell House) and Zira (Kim Hunter, The Seventh Victim), who believe Taylor to be different. Once Taylor regains his speech, it becomes a race to save Taylor and his mate Nova (Linda Harrison) from Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans, Rosemary’s Baby), who clearly knows more about man than he is letting on. The final scene is a stunning one, wrapping up the tale while leaving the door open for answers as to what really happened to the world Taylor once knew.POTA3

There are several aspects of Planet of the Apes which help it stand out as a true sci-fi classic. The script is intelligent, weaving a tale where we ultimately see that the flaws of mankind lead to its’ destruction but are the apes any better? A superior cast enhanced the script, from the main cast to the supporting actors, such as James Whitmore and James Daly. The shooting locations gave it an expansive feel, from the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon to Malibu Creek State Park. And as we are being treated visually, there is an amazing score by Jerry Goldsmith that was nominated for an Academy Award.

POTA4All of these combine for an amazingly fun flick that is one of my personal favorites. I have very fond memories and watching this movie countless times when I was a kid on Friday and Saturday nights. It not only launched a series of films, but a merchandising juggernaut that included everything from trading cards to action figures to coloring books to puzzles. Not to mention those great book-and-record sets!

I highly recommend Planet of the Apes and suggest you watch it on Blu-ray as the remastered picture is stunning. Be sure to watch the great documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes as well. Then, seek out the 2011 novel Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, written by Andrew E.C. Glaska. It expands on the movie by telling the story of what happened to astronaut Landon between the time he was captured and we see him return, lobotomized and mindless. Amazing illustrations by artists such as Jim Steranko make it well worth tracking it down.

Next time, we travel Beneath the Planet of the Apes! Go Ape!POTA5