PLANET OF THE APES

Those damn dirty apes have spent 50 years mon­key­ing around in movies, comics, nov­els, games and even a theme park. Join us as we trace the ape evolution…

Total Film - - Contents - WORDS Paul Brads haw

Ex­plor­ing the evolution of the fran­chise: movies, comics, games, even a theme park (sounds like easy mon­key).

Cap­tured, beaten and forced into a labour camp by the Ja­panese army in 1943, French writer Pierre Boulle re­lived his har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for the rest of his life, first ex­or­cis­ing them in his gru­elling war novel The Bridge Over The River Kwai (1952) be­fore turn­ing to science-fic­tion in 1963 with Planet Of The Apes.

A dark al­le­gory about in­hu­man­ity, in which a trio of hu­mans ex­plore a planet or­bit­ing the star Betel­geuse, which is pop­u­lated by in­tel­li­gent apes, the book launched one of the big­gest fran­chises ever made. Span­ning five decades, nine movies, two TV se­ries, hun­dreds of comics and a head­scratcher of a time­line, Planet Of

The Apes be­came the rebel child of main­stream sci-fi, each new chap­ter defin­ing and re­flect­ing con­tro­ver­sial de­vel­op­ments in US so­cial pol­i­tics.

While the fran­chise’s main gam­bit – re­mind­ing us of our in­abil­ity to stop treat­ing each other like an­i­mals – has un­de­ni­able sub­tex­tual power, it has also quietly evolved through two crit­i­cal turn­ing points in Hol­ly­wood sci-fi his­tory, set­ting bench­marks for spe­cial ef­fects and storytelling both be­fore

Star Wars and af­ter Avatar.

Boulle’s book laid the ground­work, but it shares sur­pris­ingly lit­tle with any of the films, and a di­rect adap­ta­tion has never been at­tempted. Fram­ing his story with a side-strand in which a pair of hon­ey­moon­ers dis­cover a message in a bot­tle, Boulle’s ac­tion is set en­tirely on a re­mote mon­key planet

“I can’t help think­ing that, some­where in the uni­verse, there has to be some­thing bet­ter than man.”

that def­i­nitely isn’t Earth, and fea­tures no spo­ken dia­logue.

Back in the early ’60s, sci­encefic­tion was the ter­rain of the B-movie, but the suc­cess of Fan­tas­tic Voy­age in 1966 be­gan to change that, and prompted 20th Cen­tury Fox to hunt out other “re­spectable” fan­tasy ti­tles to adapt – bring­ing them to Boulle and Twi­light Zone creator Rod Ser­ling.

“As tal­ented and cre­ative a man as Boulle is,” Ser­ling ob­served at the time, “he doesn’t have the deft­ness of a science-fic­tion writer. Boulle’s book was a pro­longed al­le­gory about moral­ity… But it con­tained within its struc­ture a wal­lop­ing science-fic­tion idea.” So out went Boulle and in came Ser­ling, bring­ing with him a “wal­lop­ing” re-writ­ten script for the film that cli­maxed with what’s now recog­nised as one of the great­est twist end­ings of all time.

Charl­ton He­ston was cast in the lead, Roddy McDowall donned John Cham­bers’ mon­key suit, Franklin J. Schaffner took the di­rec­tor’s chair and cinema his­tory was made long be­fore He­ston fell to his knees and re­alised, yes, he was on planet Earth af­ter all. Nom­i­nated for three Os­cars and win­ning one (for Cham­bers’ stel­lar ef­fects work), the 1968 film be­came a bona fide phe­nom­e­non.

Luck­ily, it left plenty of room for se­quels – and the film quickly bal­looned into a time-trav­el­ling, genre-stretch­ing be­he­moth that gave au­di­ences a new chap­ter al­most ev­ery year un­til 1973. Be­neath The Planet Of The Apes (1970) in­tro­duced a new as­tro­naut (James Fran­cis­cus’ Brent) and a nu­clear threat that tied the se­ries into con­tem­po­rary head­lines for the first time. Es­cape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971) took us back through time to the present day, tak­ing aim at me­dia cul­ture and celebri­ties.

Con­quest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972), mean­while, gave us civil rights marches, race ri­ots and Cae­sar – the child of the revo­lu­tion who would go on to shape the fran­chise. The fu­ture­set Bat­tle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973) wrapped things up, sort of, by clos­ing the loop on the orig­i­nal film, but the grow­ing ap­petite for all things ape meant the uni­verse was more than ready to ex­pand be­yond the cinema.

Not that it hadn’t al­ready. Ever since the first film opened, the ape faces of Tay­lor, Ur­sus and Zauis had been ev­ery­where. Pre­ced­ing Star Wars’ blan­ket mer­chan­dise cam­paign by al­most a decade, Fox pushed POTA into ev­ery toy shop and su­per­mar­ket through­out the late ’60s – with play-sets, ac­tion fig­ures, mon­key masks, lunch­boxes, piggy banks, kites, puz­zles, plush dolls and cos­tume kits fu­elling a world­wide ‘ape mania’. King of the col­lecta­bles (and still worth a for­tune on eBay) were the Topps trad­ing card sets, which repack­aged key scenes from the movies with a stick of 5c bub­blegum.

‘boulle’s book con­tained a wal­lop­ing sci­encefic­tion idea’

rod ser­ling

With more than 300 in­di­vid­ual Apes items on sale by the end of 1973, POTA was big­ger than ever when the movie se­ries wrapped up – helped in part by the syndication of TV re­runs. Not want­ing to lose mo­men­tum, Fox com­mis­sioned Ser­ling to pitch an idea for Planet Of The Apes: The Se­ries and, tak­ing bits of his draft script and ig­nor­ing a lot more, the TV show launched in 1974 as a sep­a­rate, stand-alone chap­ter set in the mid­dle of the Ape­v­erse.

Ron Harper and James Naughton were cast as the new as­tro­nauts who found them­selves cut­ting into the time­line some­where af­ter Be­neath, and Roddy McDowall re­turned as a new ape – but his ap­pear­ance wasn’t the only thing that jarred. Why were the na­tive hu­mans speak­ing? Where was the nu­clear apocalypse? What hap­pened to all the pol­i­tics? Why was one episode all about evil shark gods?! Clearly, Fox saw POTA less as a uni­verse and more as a fran­chise – some­thing the fans re­sponded to by switching off their TVs.

Can­celled af­ter just 14 episodes, POTA: The Se­ries was an ex­pen­sive flop – but Fox wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet. Com­mis­sion­ing Re­turn To The Planet Of The Apes as an an­i­mated se­ries in 1975, the pro­duc­ers turned to DePatie-Fre­leng en­ter­prises

(the com­pany set up by Looney Tunes le­gend Friz Fre­leng) and gave it free rein… but no money. The bizarre re­sult is a show that still stands as the big­gest anom­aly in the POTA uni­verse – a weird mesh of big ideas and zero bud­get that gamely tries to take the ac­tion back to the movie time­line.

An­other set of as­tro­nauts crash land on Earth, this time find­ing an alt-fu­ture ape planet full of colon­naded mon­key palaces, chimps fly­ing jet-planes and an un­der­class of hu­man mu­tants. Ham­pered by a ridicu­lous bud­get, the an­i­ma­tors were forced to use as many still im­ages as they could to keep the costs down. Un­sur­pris­ingly, an ugly, cheap Satur­day morn­ing ’toon that skipped over five films’ worth of back­story didn’t last long – and

Re­turn was axed af­ter 13 episodes.

Driven into ob­scu­rity by the likes of Star Wars and the glossier sci-fi ap­petites of the ’80s and ’90s, POTA wouldn’t be back on screens un­til Tim Bur­ton’s “reimag­in­ing” in 2001 – but there was an­other, al­ter­na­tive, Ape­v­erse out there that had been go­ing strong ever since the first film.

Switching pub­lish­ers a dozen times over the decades, the POTA comics be­gan as a manga in 1968 and sur­vived al­most 50 years of con­flict­ing sto­ry­lines, film tie-ins, fran­chise crossovers and multiverse up­heavals.

Still best re­mem­bered for its Marvel run be­tween 1974-77, the Stan Lee-backed POTA se­ries ran for 29 is­sues and fea­tured orig­i­nal canon sto­ries in black-and-white pan­els along­side ar­ti­cles on the mak­ing of the movies. The li­cence changed hands ev­ery few years there­after, with Boom! Stu­dios tak­ing over in 2011, launch­ing the cur­rent se­ries, which now stands as the long­est-run­ning adap­ta­tion to date.

Wisely sidestep­ping the multiverse by set­ting their story 500 years be­fore the orig­i­nal 1968 film, Boom! has since con­fused ev­ery­one once again by pub­lish­ing a Star Trek cross­over in 2014 ( The Pri­mate Di­rec­tive) that saw Cap­tain Kirk and Ge­orge Tay­lor (Charl­ton He­ston’s char­ac­ter) team­ing up to try to stop the klin­gons from in­stalling a pup­pet go­rilla gov­ern­ment.

By 2014, of course, cin­ema­go­ers had al­ready been rein­tro­duced to POTA via Tim Bur­ton’s oft-for­got­ten, mostly ma­ligned 2001 Planet Of The Apes. Pay­ing homage to the kitsch of the orig­i­nal film se­ries but aban­don­ing its time­line, the film po­si­tioned it­self closer to Boulle’s book than Schaffner’s movie, pre­serv­ing the “other” shock end­ing (Earth is over­run with apes!) that was writ­ten out in 1968. A com­mer­cial suc­cess but a crit­i­cal fail­ure, Bur­ton’s film failed to reignite in­ter­est in the fran­chise – though it did kick-start an­other mer­chan­dise blitz.

New ac­tion fig­ures, new trad­ing cards and new apes flooded su­per­mar­ket shelves once again, along­side Wil­liam T. Quick’s nov­el­i­sa­tion of the film. It­self one of many movie tie-ins, the book in­spired two pre­quel nov­els, The Fall and Colony, which added even more chap­ters to the newly ex­pand­ing time­line, though they failed to blend with the con­ti­nu­ity of the comics, the films and the TV shows.

Also up was the fran­chise’s first videogame – a PlayS­ta­tion tie-in made

with­out any seem­ing knowl­edge of Bur­ton’s film; ar­riv­ing late, crash­ing early and dis­ap­pear­ing with­out a trace. Ex­cept that it wasn’t tech­ni­cally the first POTA game. Orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for the Atari 2600, an ear­lier Apes ti­tle had been swal­lowed up in the videogame crash of 1983. Pre­sumed lost un­til the mid ’90s (when some­one found a copy in a mis­la­belled box), the game was sub­se­quently re­jigged by in­die de­vel­op­ers Retrode­sign and pub­lished on­line as Re­venge Of The Apes in 2003.

Al­most a decade af­ter Bur­ton’s film, talk stirred of a ‘proper’ re­boot. Post- Avatar and post-Gol­lum, SFX tech­nol­ogy had ad­vanced enough for pro­duc­ers to con­sider a new take on POTA that didn’t rely on pros­thet­ics. Led by Andy Serkis’ mo­tion-cap­ture per­for­mance, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was a global tri­umph in 2011. Trans­port­ing the Ape­v­erse back to the be­gin­ning ( again), it grounded the fran­chise with new hu­man leads, be­liev­able ef­fects and a vi­ral-out­break ori­gin story that re-opened all the doors that had been slammed shut over the pre­vi­ous decades.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes fol­lowed in 2014, with War For The Planet Of The Apes open­ing this sum­mer, bring­ing the story strands ever closer to the dystopia that Boulle orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned. Ty­ing the broad themes back into cur­rent so­cial pol­i­tics, the new se­ries is as provoca­tive to­day as the first films were in the ’60s

– this year’s bat­tle-heavy chap­ter even draws in­spi­ra­tion from the film of Bridge On The River Kwai.

More im­por­tantly, POTA is back. Cae­sar’s face is on t-shirts again. Ac­tion fig­ures are back on the shelves. Comics are tak­ing up the new time­line. There’s even talk of a ride be­ing built at a new theme park in Malaysia (see box, p79). “It en­dures,” says long-time fan and one-time Bat­tle ex­tra John Lan­dis. “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if its next in­car­na­tion is a Broad­way mu­si­cal.”

From book to film to TV to comics and be­yond, the Ape­v­erse has be­come an un­tame­able beast. But with more knots, holes and false starts than any other movie mythol­ogy, it’s big enough now to hide every­thing be­hind a 400lb CG go­rilla and the prom­ise of more films to come. “It might be three films, it could be four. It could be five. Who knows?” says Andy Serkis of the re­booted se­ries. “The jour­ney will con­tinue.”

‘i wouldn’t be sur­prised if its next in­car­na­tion is a mu­si­cal’ john lan­dis

it’s a mad­house! Charl­ton He­ston and Linda Har­ri­son in the orig­i­nal 1968 film.

trad­ing places (top) Chimps re­volt in Be­neath The Planet Of The Apes; (above) small screen stars Ron Harper and James Naughton on classic Topps cards.

reimag­ined (top left) The an­i­mated se­ries and PlayS­ta­tion game, both doomed to fail­ure; (left) Tim Bur­ton’s 2001 re­boot was also a dis­ap­point­ment.

mon­key suit (above left) Andy Serkis first takes on Cae­sar in Rise; (above) mo-cap trans­for­ma­tion; (top) rid­ing to war in the new film, out this sum­mer.

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