Planet of the Apes (DOWSE guide to the movies)                                                                                         

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the net guide for creative minds

  Planet of the Apes

DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

Planet Of The Apes

An Overview of the Movie Series
by Octavio Ramos Jr.

In 1968, 20th Century Fox released Planet Of The Apes, the now classic science fiction film that spawned four sequels, a television show, books, comic books, and hundreds of promotional products. Although for a while the apes films were forgotten, director Tim Burton (Batman and Sleepy Hollow) has recently revitalised the franchise.
  Scheduled for release in July 2001, a remake of Planet Of The Apes is in the works. The film is rumoured to feature a genetically-altered gorilla designed for deep space travel who enters a wormhole and is transported 2,000 years into the past, where it becomes a messiah for the simians living in the area. The film stars Mark Wahlberg (The Perfect Storm) as an astronaut who follows the gorilla through the aforementioned wormhole. Charlton Heston, who starred in the original apes movie, will have a cameo.
  This article covers the original five ape films, which were released from 1968 to 1973 and cover a fictional timeline from 1972 (the opening of Planet Of The Apes) to 3955 (the end of the world at the climax of Beneath The Planet Of The Apes). Although all five films are available separately, the movies have been collected in a DVD set titled Planet Of The Apes — The Evolution. This collection includes a sixth DVD, which contains a two-hour documentary filled with bonus footage, special effects tests, and a history each film's development and its impact on the world's consciousness.

Planet Of The Apes
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
110 minutes 1968
In the early 1960s, producer Arthur P. Jacobs (Dr Dolittle) was fascinated with French author Pierre Boulle’s 'Le Planete des Singes', which translates to English as 'Planet Of The Monkeys'. In the English-speaking world, Boulle’s book was titled Monkey Planet. Best known for works such as The Bridge Over The River Kwai and The Whale Of The Victoria Cross, Boulle considered this science fiction tale one of his lesser works and felt it had no potential for cinematic adaptation.
  Fortunately, Jacobs felt differently, buying the rights to the book and spending the next three years developing and pitching the concept to all the major studios in Hollywood. As is often the case in American cinema, none of the studios were interested, even when superstar actor Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments and El Cid, among so many others) became attached to the production. It was mogul Richard Zanuck at 20th Century Fox who finally agreed to take a chance on the film. Zanuck had been shown test footage of several actors in simian makeup that demonstrated that the 'monkey' suits were effective and not laughable. In this rarely seen footage appear Heston as Taylor, Linda Harrison as Zira (Harrison played the human Nova in the debut film), James Brolin (The Car and The Amytville Horror) as Cornelius, and Edward G. Robinson (Soylent Green and The Last Gangster, among others) as Dr Zaius.
  Directed by Frank J. Schaffner (Patton and The Boys From Brazil) and scripted by Michael Wilson and The Twilight Zone writer and host Rod Serling (and many other diverse hands), Planet Of The Apes made its debut in 1968, attracting a legion of fans and winning an Honorary Academy Award for Outstanding Makeup Achievement (thanks to makeup artist John Chambers).
  The film opens with Colonel George Taylor (Heston) preparing to enter a sleeping chamber. A cynic and modern hermit (he hates humanity), Taylor is comfortable floating among the stars and in his self-inflicted malaise wonders if man will ever change. He and three colleagues, fame-seeker Landon (Robert Gunter), man of science Dodge (Jeff Burton), and 'future Eve' Stewart (in what amounts to a cameo role for Dianne Stanley), have been in space for a few years and are now returning to Earth. The deep space experiment involves a time Doppler effect in which the astronauts age only a few years while the citizens of Earth age centuries.
  Because humans no longer control the Earth and because their technology is now ashes, there is no mission control to help the spaceship land once it enters Earth’s orbit. The craft crashes in the 'Forbidden Zone', a place still haunted by the aftermath of nuclear war. As Taylor and his two companions abandon ship, they discover that Stewart is dead (her sleeping chamber has cracked) and that the hull is sinking into a large lake. The men escape on a raft, make for land, then walk through great stretches of cliffs and desert, at last finding an oasis guarded by what appear to be anthropoid scarecrows. The men soon encounter primitive men and women who are mute. Taylor believes that they have discovered a new Garden of Eden. With a smile he quips, "If this is the best they’ve got around here, in six months we'll be running this planet."
  But the Earth of the future has more to offer, principally a new order of primates, descendants from primitive apes. In this upside down world there are three new castes: gorillas (who are the workers and soldiers), chimpanzees (scientists and intellectuals), and orangutans (governors and politicians). It seems the humans have invaded crops cultivated by the advanced but rural apes. Gorilla soldiers with modern firearms and horses soon kill many of the humans, with pockets captured for subsequent experimentation by the chimpanzees. In the melee, Dodge is killed and Taylor and Landon are wounded and taken as prisoners.
  Wounded in the throat, Taylor cannot talk, but he does manage to communicate with Dr Zira (Kim Hunter), a psychiatrist, and Dr Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), her fiancée and an archaeologist. When Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) learns of the human and his ability to reason (and his understanding of technology; namely, of airplanes and flight), he orders Taylor emasculated and Landon lobotomized. Taylor escapes, only to be captured again; ever defiant, he utters his first words among the apes: "Take your stinking paws of me, you damned dirty ape!"
  After a monkey trial (with hilarious clichés thrown in), Cornelius and Zira help Taylor and his new girlfriend Nova (newcomer Linda Harrison, who happened to be Richard Zanuck’s wife at the time) escape, and the four, along with Zira’s nephew Lucius (Lou Wanger), head into the Forbidden Zone to prove that man was once superior to the ape. Followed by Zaius and an army of gorilla soldiers, the four manage to return to a dig Cornelius had begun several years previous. Taylor manages to capture Zaius, and within the cave, they discover a human doll that talks, thus proving that humans once held superior technology and that apes somehow descended from them.
  Although Zaius eventually regains control of the situation and places Cornelius and Zira under arrest for heresy, he lets Taylor and Nova go free. The film’s coda has Taylor discovering that he is not on an alien planet, but rather on Earth, where the human 'maniacs' killed each other in a great war and now are dominated by others. As Taylor screams with frustration and Nova watches on with painful naiveté, the camera pulls back to reveal a half-buried Statue of Liberty, America’s greatest symbol of freedom now nothing but rubble. A moment in all of science fiction sure to send chills through anyone’s spine the first time, this scene retains its ability to generate contemplation upon subsequent viewings. Very few images from science fiction cinema can pull off such emotive power.
  Because Planet Of The Apes spawned four sequels, a television series, and even spoofs (Spaceballs features the film's coda in a hilarious send-up), many people have dismissed the film, and this is unfortunate. Taken on its own merits and given a fresh viewing, Planet Of The Apes is excellent science fiction. The dialogue remains fresh, lacking so many of the 'gaw-gaw' words expected in today's films, the plot is riveting and compelling, the actors are excellent (and those behind the makeup create characters we can identify with), and the action is nonstop. Some of the sight gags are a bit overdone (the 'see, hear, and speak no evil' gag deserves a groan) and some of the political statements are a bit heavy-handed (humans stink, much like bigots say that minorities stink), but many other messages come through beautifully. One of the most subtle in delivery is the caste system among the apes - even the costumes dictate ethnocentric memberships.
  If you have never seen Planet Of The Apes, do so. You will not be disappointed. If you have seen it, see it again. It might surprise you, particularly at how well it has aged. Like fine wine, enjoy it as a standalone piece and savor its luscious cinematic environment.

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Ted Post
100 minutes 1970
The box-office draw of the first film led to the creation of a sequel, but the film studio elected to cut the budget dramatically. In addition, Heston was not interested in participating in a second apes film and Roddy McDowall was unavailable because of his directorial debut with Tam Lin. Despite these setbacks, producer Jacobs commissioned a script from Mort Abrahams and Paul Dehn and assigned television veteran director Ted Post to helm the picture.
  Beneath The Planet Of The Apes opens where the first film left off, with Roddy McDowall reprising Cornelius in a voice-over where he reminds everyone of man’s blight upon the world. After a repeat of the last few minutes of the first film, the sequel kicks in with Taylor and Nova wandering through the Forbidden Zone. In the meantime, two astronauts have crash-landed on the planet. One of the men, known only as the skipper, dies, leaving John Brent (James Franciscus, who at the time was known as a miniature Charlton Heston) to survive alone. After burying his comrade, Brent encounters Nova, who rides alone. When he mentions Taylor to her (he sees Taylor’s dog tags around her neck), Nova remembers cinematically that they encountered great fire walls and earthquakes and that Taylor fell through what appeared to be solid rock.
  Brent and Nova make their way to Ape City, where they encounter Cornelius (the only time the role was played by David Watson) and Zira (Kim Hunter), who help the duo. They also overhear a plan by General Ursus (wonderfully played by James Gregory) to expand Ape City by entering the Forbidden Zone and destroying a mysterious force that affects the senses of simians.
  Brent and Nova are captured by solider gorillas, but with the help of Zira they manage to escape. The duo find themselves underground, where Brent discovers that they really are on Earth — in New York City. Far worse, a subterranean race of human mutants holds court here, and soon Brent and Nova are captured and interrogated.
  Having survived 'ground zero' during the nuclear holocaust in humanity’s past, the telepathic beings are horribly scarred and mutated. Moreover, they have degenerated after so many years of suffering, having established a cult that worships the ultimate weapon, a cobalt-cased nuclear weapon Taylor later labels a 'doomsday bomb.'
  After an encounter with the illusions of the telepathic mutants, Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans), Ursus, and a gorilla army find the underground city and quickly begin to destroy what they do not understand and naturally fear. The mutants have no weapons other than illusion, so they commit mass suicide, with a handful activating the nuclear weapon.
  In the end, Nova and Brent are killed, as is Urses, but before Taylor dies, he manages to detonate the cobalt bomb, thus destroying Earth in one of the most nihilistic endings ever in science fiction.
  Although not as powerful as the first film, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes is an action-packed, politically charged movie. Although the message that atomic weapons will someday destroy the world is an old one, the message that power corrupts (and that absolute power corrupts absolutely) is delivered extremely well. From Ursus' speech before the ape council to the underground mutants' response to Brent when he asks "Who are you?" (the response is, "The only reality in the universe."), the underlying theme of power is explored to its almost unavoidable conclusion.
  The stricter budget shows in this movie, particularly in the ape crowd scenes, where the makeup effects on the masks are uneven. However, there is a wealth of ideas that keep the film going. Franciscus does a solid job as Brent and the mutant council consists of individuals such as Paul Richards, Victor Buono, and Don Pedro Colley. The film also marks the debut appearance by Natalie Trundy as a mutant council member. Trundy would appear in all subsequent ape films.

Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Don Taylor
98 minutes 1971
Having destroyed the Earth in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, producer Jacobs appeared to end the apes series, but once again the studio wanted another film. Turning to writer Paul Dehn, Jacobs asked for another story, and this time Dehn responded by turning the tables on the series by creating a situation in which the apes are now the minority. To pull this off, Jacobs and director Don Taylor (Damien: Omen II and The Private Eyes) needed charismatic actors. Fortunately, Roddy McDowall agreed to reprise his role of Cornelius, as did Kim Hunter as his now wife Zira.
  The film begins with Taylor's old spaceship floating in a body of water as military personnel scramble to rescue those on board. Three astronauts emerge from the wreckage, but when they remove their helmets, military personnel respond with shock, for the three are really apes. The space travelers are whisked away and placed in a cage within a zoo.
  As military personnel and civilians struggle to understand how apes managed to commandeer a human spaceship, Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) attempt to understand how they came to Earth’s past. It is at this point that the viewer must accept the explanation, as difficult as it might be to swallow, given the mythology already set in place by the two previous films. For example, in Planet Of The Apes, Cornelius tells Taylor that flight is a scientific impossibility, but one sequel later, he has acquired the skills to pilot an advanced rocket into space. The reason given for such leaps in scientific capability is Dr Milo, a genius ahead of his time who somehow rescued Taylor's craft from the Forbidden Zone. How can this be, given that Dr Zaius refused to let anyone explore that region, particularly after Taylor escapes?
  Rather than tackle these issues head-on, the film 'chickens out' by killing off its answer man. Of the three intellectuals, Dr Milo perhaps has a thorough understanding of humanity's science and technology. While the three chimps are held captives in the zoo, Milo is quickly dispatched by a depressed gorilla, leaving the couple to grapple with humanity's inherent fear of the unknown.
  The middle part of the film showcases the couple's fifteen minutes of fame, in which the chimps are treated much like instant celebrities. These sequences are quite engaging and bear a certain resemblance to the degeneration of another alien, David Bowie, in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. Underneath all the posh parties, extravagant gifts, and barrage of speaking engagements works Dr Otto Hasslein (Eric Breaden), the US president's (William Windom) science advisor.
  Using every trick he can muster, Hasslien discovers that the chimps come from the future, that they used humans as experimental rats, and that one day the Earth will be destroyed by militant gorillas. Far more disturbing is that Zira is pregnant. Hasslein's solution is quite simple: destroy the talking chimps and their offspring and thus change the future.
  At this point in the film there are more variances to established ape mythology. In Planet Of The Apes, only Dr Zaius knows about the history of humanity — at one point in the film Taylor calls him "the keeper of the terrible secret." In Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, Cornelius and Zira have extensive knowledge about man's history. The only possible link to such knowledge is (again) Milo, but this hypothesis does not bear out in the film.
  Helping Cornelius and Zira as much as they can are Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy). When Cornelius accidentally kills an orderly, the couple, with the help of Lewis and Stevie, escapes from a military compound and seeks solace with kind circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban). Unfortunately, Hasslein is tenacious, and like King Herod in his search for baby Christ, he uses police and military units to search every zoo, pet shop, and circus for the talking apes. In the end, Cornelius and Zira are hunted down and brutally murdered, as is their baby. The coda, however, reveals that the talking apes' child is alive and well, living under the watchful eye of the animal-loving Armando.
  Escape From The Planet Of The Apes is a solid entry in the apes film series, serving a pivotal point of reference between the future and the past by helping close out the former while leaving much fertile ground for the latter. The chemistry between McDowall and Hunter is exceptional, and these two fine actors serve as the film's fulcrum. The comedy sequences are funny without being labored and the sense of menace leads to a thrilling and brutal climax. As for the coda, it efficiently set up the next film, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

slaves revolt in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes © 1972 APJAC/20th Century Fox

Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes
Director: J. Lee Thompson
88 minutes 1972
  During a soliloquy while explaining Earth's future in Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, Cornelius explains that humans took small monkeys as pets after a plague wiped out all cats and dogs. Cornelius then goes on to explain that apes become slaves and that there at last comes a time when one ape, who he says was named Aldo, spoke the first word of resistance — "No." Cornelius and Zira name their own child Milo, after their dead comrade.
  As Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes opens, Armando (Ricardo Montalban) explains to Ceasar (Roddy McDowall), the now grown-up progeny of Cornelius and Zira (having undergone a name change, too) why apes are slaves. It seems that Dr Otto Hasslein’s efforts from the last film have proved futile, even though the US president was aware of the prophecy presented by the talking apes.
  The movie takes place in 1991, a time when the US has become a semi-totalitarian country in which Ape Management trains and disciplines simians and in which a security force demands papers at every crossing and uses all means necessary to maintain societal order. Director J. Lee Thompson (the original Cape Fear and many films featuring Charles Bronson) and writer Paul Dehn are a bit heavy handed in presenting a Nazi-like environment, going as far as using Gestapo-like uniforms for the security force.
  Circus owner Armando has avoided cities, staying mostly in the provinces, in an effort to protect Caesar, who has been trained as a bareback horse rider. Armando and Caesar arrive in an unnamed city (which is really Century City in California) to give out flyers for the circus, and as they do this Armando explains how simians became slaves. Caesar also experiences first-hand the brutality on the apes. Unfortunately, he cannot contain his anger and frustration, and during a brutal assault on a simian messenger, he cries out, "Lousy, human bastards!" The security force overhears him, but Armando takes the blame, enabling Caesar to escape.
  With Armando detained and subsequently forced to kill himself to protect what amounts to his adopted son, Caesar infiltrates Ape Management as a transfer from Africa (along with two orangutans). His abilities soon have him working for Governor Breck (Don Murray), a tyrannical official who aspires for the US presidency. When the talking ape hears of his adopted father's death, he resorts to revolution, using his face and body mannerisms to communicate with fellow apes.
  Caesar finds an ally on the human side in one of Breck's assistants, a man by the name of McDonald (Hari Rhodes). McDonald, a descendent of slaves, sympathizes with Ceasar, so much so that when the talking ape is discovered and Breck orders its execution, McDonald sabotages the plan. The intelligent Ceasar realizes the sabotage and fakes his own death. After killing a guard, he manages to escape and ignite the revolution.
  The film's original climax was much more militant (and powerful), but at the last minute it was softened. In the original ending, Caesar calls for all-out rebellion, saying that in the smoke his people would conspire and sabotage until the human race consumed itself. And once this was done, the apes would rise and build their own cities, cities where there would be no place for humans. This is where the original ending would close the film.
  At the last minute, Roddy McDowall was called in to record additional dialogue. As a result, the new ending has Caesar’s girlfriend Lisa (Natalie Trundy) uttering the word "no" (remember, in the previous film, Cornelius claimed that Aldo had been the first to utter this word) to prevent the now armed gorillas from killing Breck. Upon hearing her objection, Caesar softens his tone, stating that humans should be dominated with compassion and implying that one day both species would live together.
  Although an exciting standalone film, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes showed that the series was getting sloppy, particularly with respect to its mythology. McDowall once again turns in an inspired performance, as do Rhodes and Trundy, but Don Murray's histrionics are embarrassing at times (I groan every time he screams out, "Look, there's more!"). The writing is effective, particularly when it understates Caesar's plight for revolution, but there are plot holes and the mythology shows too many flaws.
  At this point in the series, the ape makeup had become an accepted effect. This factor, coupled with diminishing budgets and lacklustre production, caused the next production to be the last in what could have been a long-standing movie series.

Battle For The Planet Of The Apes
Director: J. Lee Thompson 86 minutes 1973 Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, with its more revolutionary tone and enhanced violence (and the only PG-rated apes film), had upset many parents who has become accustomed to taking their children to what they believed were action-adventure films with wholesome messages. Consequently, producer Jacobs returned to the formula for the series' final film, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes.
  Paul Dehn's original script for this film carried through the themes established in the previous film. The film also would serve as a circular closing arc to the series, in which the apes secure their domination of humanity after destroying the survivors of a nuclear exchange.
  To tone down the violence and create a more united atmosphere, husband and wife team John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington reworked Dehn's script. For example, Caesar was softened, no longer a revolutionary ape but rather a leader and a father. In addition, a wraparound introduction and coda, hosted by John Huston as the Law Giver (funny, I was under the impression that Caesar was the Law Giver), altered somewhat the ending postulated in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. In this new ending, humans and apes live together in harmony. However, the film's closing scene is quite vague, for it shows a statue of Caesar crying. Now, it he crying because he knows that the two species will never be able to live together? Or is he crying because he has succeeded and is relieved?
  Battle For The Planet Of The Apes has little plot going for it. The story begins with Caesar having established a rural colony outside the now destroyed city from Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. Humanity has suffered a nuclear war, and Caesar and a band of talking apes now hold dominion of the surviving humans. Among the humans are McDonald, the brother of Breck's personal assistant (played by Austin Stoker), and teacher (Noah Keen), who is teaching the next generation of intelligent apes, including Caesar’s son, Cornelius (Bobby Porter) and a militant gorilla named General Aldo (Claude Akins). Among the ape residents are Lisa, Caesar’s wife (Natalie Trundy), and a genius orangutan by the name of Virgil (Paul Williams).
  It seems that Caesar is having problems with General Aldo and his soldiers because they wish to dominate and enslave the humans. McDonald suggests to Caesar that they return to the destroyed city, where archival records will reveal to Caesar that the gorillas one day will destroy the Earth (Cornelius' prediction from Escape From The Planet Of The Apes). Caesar, Virgil, and McDonald return to the ruined city, where they encounter badly scarred and radiation sickened humans led by Kolp (Severn Darden), another of Breck's old assistants. Caesar's return stirs the vengeance within Kolp, and soon he and his mutant army are headed toward Ape City. Caesar must rally the troops, but will Aldo be an ally or an enemy?
  A subplot in the film involves the murder of Caesar's son by Aldo, culminating in the realization that ape has killed ape, and as a result apes are now as dangerous — and sinful — as the humans they despise.
  In an attempt to soften the film even further, Fox for this particular release has removed a crucial scene from the movie that many fans may not remember. The scene involves two of the mutants who stay behind (Richard Eastham and France Nuyen) to activate a doomsday bomb should Kolp and his army fail. During the film, the two mutants elect not to set off the Alpha-Omega weapon, but instead decide to worship it. This scene ties directly to the mutants found in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.
  Without this scene, the film's coda, in which the Law Giver speaks to a congregation of humans and apes, is much more hopeful. Unfortunately, the original closing scene is not as effective without this crucial scene.

Behind The Planet Of The Apes
Editorial Director: David Comtois
120 minutes, documentary.
This DVD presents the story behind the apes movies. Although it emphasizes the first film, the documentary does cover all the films. Hosted by Roddy McDowall, the documentary (originally prepared for the American Movie Classics cable network channel) includes rare behind-the-scenes footage, the original test makeup sessions featuring Edward G. Robinson and James Brolin, and interviews with all the players.
  This DVD makes up for the lack of special features on any of the DVDs, but I would have liked to have seen more. As for the documentary itself, it is well presented and the information is top-notch.

In Closing
Planet Of The Apes has continued to exist on the small screen for several years, both as a live-action series and later as an animated series. The American cable network, The Sci-Fi Channel, has resurrected the live-action drama and American Movie Classics has recently shown all five apes films, even reviving the old slogan of 'Go Ape' as part of its marketing campaign (TNT also has shown the films). With the impending release of Tim Burton's remake, Planet of The Apes may be a hot commodity again. As the Law Giver says in the closing moments of Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, "only time will tell."

Octavio Ramos, Jr.

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