On August 5, audiences will be able to experience the second reboot of the long-running science fiction classic ‘Planet of the Apes’ with ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’.
It all begins with author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel ‘Planet of the Apes’. In it, two astronauts find a message in a bottle from a man named Ulysse Merou. Merou’s tale finds him landing on a planet where intelligent apes are at the top of the food chain. However its discovered during his tale that humans had been the original rulers of this planet. In its’ past, humans had enslaved apes for manual labor. Then over time, the humans become more dependent upon the apes until they are overthrown by their servants and fall into a primitive state. Merou then flees this planet in a spaceship and heads back to Earth, but lands 700 years into the future. He now finds his planet is also ruled by Apes and so he immediately leaves Earth, writes his story/warning and leaves the message for others to discover.
In 1968, Fox released the first film in the series, ‘Planet of the Apes’. It became an instant classic and a commercial success. The movie starred Charlton Heston as Colonel George Taylor. Heston would follow ‘Apes’ with several interesting 1970’s science fiction classics including ‘The Omega Man’ and ‘Soylent Green’. The original script was written by the legendary Rod Serling of ‘The Twilight Zone’ fame. Though his script proved to be too expensive to film, it did include the famous twist ending so prevelant with ‘The Twilight Zone’ television series. The studio then brought in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ writer Michael Wilson to change the setting of a futuristic Ape City, to the now more primitive city version in the film.
Following on the success of the first film, in 1970 Fox released ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’. Heston didn’t want to appear in any sequels but was talked into doing a supporting role as long as his character was killed off. Which it was along with the entire planet. Heston had hoped this would end the franchise, but Fox wasn’t about to give up that easily. In the film, another spaceship from Taylor’s time arrives carrying Brent played by James Franciscus. Once here he finds much of what Heston’s character had found and then ends up underground with telekinetic mutants who worship an atom bomb while the apes are attacking this underground civilization. While trying to make a political statement about nuclear war is commended and there are entertaining parts of the second film, it’s not the series finest moment.
Even though the world had been destroyed in ‘Beneath’, 1971 saw the release of ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’. In this film, three apes return to Earth’s past in Taylor’s repaired spaceship. While at first the apes are welcomed, the government finds out about the declining future of the human race and decide they must kill the apes newborn son, Caesar, as well as the parents. This film sets the stage for the next film in the series, ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’. The third film is certainly a product of its time as one of the main themes of the film is women’s rights.
In 1972, ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ was released. This film finds the now grown ape Caesar living in a world where apes have replaced the family pet after disease has killed all of the dogs and cats in the world. Slowly the apes have gone from pets to workers. Again, the series makes a political statement. This time about indentured slavery and class warfare. Caesar now makes his stand against the human oppressors and the apes are victorious. This film is the analog basis of the just about to be released ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’.
The fifth and final film in the original series of films, ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’, was released in 1973. This last film adds very little to the ‘Planet of the Apes’ mythos and feels much like a last grasp for cash from Fox. In it, Caesar is now trying to broker peace between humans and apes. But, old emotional wounds seemed destined to keep us at war. This story is told as a history lesson 600 years in the future. In it, humans and apes learn about their history.
Even though Fox stopped making ‘Ape’ films at this time, they introduced a live action television series in 1974. This series’ story reused much of the first two films plots, but with two new astronauts from Earth’s past. 14 episodes were produced with 13 airing on CBS. CBS canceled the series after half a season due to low ratings and all 14 episodes are now available on DVD.
In 1975, Fox tried a different take on the ‘Apes’. This time with an animated series on NBC, ‘Return to the Planet of the Apes’. This series, which lasted for 13 episodes, is much closer in spirit to the original Boulle novel depicting a technologically advanced ‘Ape’ civilization. All 13 episodes are available on DVD.
In 2001, Fox first tried to re-boot the franchise with director Tim Burton’s “re-imagined ‘Planet of the Apes’ starring Mark Walberg. This version was both a critical and a somewhat commercial failure. Despite an excellent supporting cast, the films pacing and a wooden performance from Walberg kept the film from being more than decent.
Now a decade later, Fox is again attempting to restart the franchise with ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. This film certainly is taking cues from 1973’s ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’, but with a different mythology regarding the reason behind the rise of apes. This time the story is set in present day San Francisco, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Let us know what you think about this latest reboot.