the net guide for creative minds
of the Apes
Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus
Planet Of The Apes
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
revolt in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes © 1972 APJAC/20th
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
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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