A Look Back at a Classic Sci-Fi Series

With \'Rise of the Planet of the Apes\' to hit cinemas soon, FILMINK takes a look back at the classic series that inspired it.



Collectively, the Apes saga, which was made from 1968 to 1973, is well loved and contains many moments of grandeur, legendary quotes and ingenious storytelling. Composer Jerry Goldsmith produced a pulsating score and many fantastic actors, including Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Claude Akins, appeared. There were increasingly more dodgy production values the longer the series went on, and the dated themes and dialogue now hurts some of the entries. Hastily made sequels cashed in on the initial revelation and even a short lived 14 episode television show prevailed. Also, it remains to be seen if the upcoming origin story, with James Franco, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, will be enough to clear that sour aftertaste lingering for many, thanks (not!) to Tim Burton\'s 2001 reimaging...

Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, the 1968 Planet of the Apes, the first instalment in the series, was groundbreaking, winning an Honorary Academy Award for make-up achievement and starring the great Charlton Heston as Astronaut Taylor. Crashlanding on a distant planet after his intergalactic craft is sent into a whirlwind while on a mission for NASA, Taylor becomes hunted by the apes who rule over the land and the primitive human race. Caught and trapped, Taylor accepts the help of ape allies Cornelius and Zira, not to mention a beautiful female human companion, Nova (Linda Harrison). They run from the primates and go to the forbidden zone to search for the truth. Original, thrilling and a huge box office hit, the film also has one of the best final images ever captured on screen.

1970 saw the gloomy sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes released, which Heston only agreed to appear in if it was in a cameo role and his character was killed. However, he featured heavily in the trailer and executives replaced him with lookalike, James Franciscus, as fellow astronaut Brent. Sent by NASA on a desperate rescue mission for Taylor, he ends up joining Nova and going deep into another world where underground human dwellers fear the apes above them. With the help of outspoken Brent, this cult takes on the ape militant in a huge, but boring battle. Beneath was supposedly written as the final entry but upon its success, money talked, rather than logic or quality.

1971 was the year comedy took effect in the series with the obscure Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Cornelius and Zira flee back in time to 20th century Los Angeles, and the retro world is stumped with the arrival of two talking, walking chimpanzees. At first, novelty ensures worldwide popularity and no one is against their tenure except one man who thinks it might be a warning of a takeover of the human race. This movie is in two halves; fish out of water humour prevails in the opening stanza with Cornelius dressed like a pimp at one point. The vibe moves into sadistic turmoil when Zira becomes pregnant, and the pair is treated similarly to how their friend Taylor was in the first film. An open-ended finale saw not one but two inevitable follow-ups in consecutive years.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in 1972 was all about political upheaval in the futuristic world where apes are now considered the number one house pet. There are no dogs or cats to speak of, which has turned many apes to slavery and degradation. It takes the son of Cornelius, young Caesar to revolt and fight against the current oppression. Upon release, this film received many cuts as it was deemed too violent, most notably a pre-credit sequence that showed lingering shots of an escaped ape with bruises and welts from a suggested bashing by police. The thuggish approach could have been due to veteran action director J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear). It wasn\'t bad, but the look of these films were deteriorating, from the once magnificent make-up (now mostly pull over masks and hairy gloves) to the borrowed sets or costumes from Irwin Allen\'s sixties sci-fi television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel.

Looking rushed and apparently made back to back with Conquest, came 1973\'s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The same director again brings his signature violence to the fore in a final showdown between humanity and the conquering apes. Caesar attempts to provoke peace amongst the two bodies but with the influence of the primate military, an ape civil war begins when humans storm their city for an absolute takeover. The charm of the original screenplay is all but lost with the epic mass of destruction badly constructed. All in the name of equality is the message, but alas it fails to ignite interest.

Based on the original movie, a television series was commissioned in 1974 with 14 episodes that brought two astronauts\' time warp back from 1981 to 3085. Intelligent apes still rule and you know the rest. To milk things even further, five midday movies were screened in 1981 that were mashed together fragments of the series.

Tim Burton finally brought his immediately heavily scrutinised version to the screen in 2001 after various attempts by multiple directors, actors and screenwriters. 20th Century Fox were undoubtedly hoping for an unstoppable franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger at one point was attached to do it in the 1990s with Oliver Stone at the helm. Personally, I thought Burton\'s reimaging, not remake, was entertaining, mostly memorable and contains more than one sharp action set piece. However, I am in the minority.

Mark Whalberg dropped out of Ocean\'s Eleven to play Captain Leo. Astronaut and erratic individual, upon chasing his student chimp in a runaway pod, he crash-lands in a forest version of the forbidden zone. Almost straight away he is captured and unravelling before his eyes is a world run by apes. What\'s a modern guy to do except make a run for it with his furry friends and human counterparts including former synchronised swimmer Estella Warren. Human to ape smooching is also prevalent. Tim Roth, who plays the memorable villain Thade, is said to have turned down the role of Professor Snape in the first Harry Potter film to appear in this. Oh dear! Charlton Heston has an uncredited cameo as Thade\'s ailing ape father and utters a variation of a quote from the original.

Most controversy surrounded the ending, but as stated on the DVD commentary by Tim Burton, this film was always going to be based on the book, not the 1968 film. The ending contains unsatisfactory revelations of apes in Washington and Leo\'s confronted by badge wearing, gun toting gorillas when he returns to earth. Did someone or something get back before him in another time? Who knows?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may or may not answer all that and more, but if the thrilling trailer lives up to anticipation, the twist of apes taking over humanity may enlighten a new generation into seeking out the former movies on DVD.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is released on August 4. There\'s also a feature story on the film in the upcoming August issue of FILMINK, on sale July 20. 


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