Planet of the Apes

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Planet of the Apes (or Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off![notes 1]) is a 1968 film starring Troy McClure[notes 2] Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. This article is full of "spoilers", so if you're one of the few who hasn't seen it yet, stop reading it now, and get a copy. The film is based on a novel by the Frenchman Pierre Boulle, who also wrote Bridge over the River Kwai.[notes 3] The original screenplay was written by Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, but Serling's script underwent extensive modifications. Serling was responsible for the killer plot twist at the end, which is one of the best remembered bits of the film.

Like all the best science fiction, it isn't just exoticism or escapism, but addresses issues relevant to its times. It is an excellent satire on religious fundamentalism, racism, and the relationship between science and tradition. Don't let the filthy rubber ape masks fool you.

It's also partly a comedy, which a lot of people forget.

Castes[edit]

The world of Planet of the Apes is divided into castes based on species:

  • Orangutans — tend to be scientists, religious leaders, politicians etc. Very dogmatic.
  • Gorillas — military, manual labour, the proletariat of ape-dom.
  • Chimpanzees — everything in between the gorillas and the orangutans. A kind of clerical/middle class caste.
  • Humans — the dumb animals of the ape world. Completely degenerated.

Issues addressed[edit]

  • Knowledge and power: Not only does Dr. Zaius know the real history of the world, he refuses to let others know about it. He goes to great pains to hide archaeological and biological evidence that contradicts the status quo, and is prepared to torture and kill to maintain it. He resembles a medieval churchman in many ways.
  • Racism
    • The caste system is obviously unjust and has no grounding in reality: Cornelius and the chimps frequently come up with ideas better than the orangutan Dr. Zaius.
    • The way the humans are treated echoes slavery, and in the later (and much weaker) films, the ape uprisings recall the racial uprisings in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and other American cities.
  • Religious fundamentalism — the ape religion features heavily in the film, which is rigidly enforced.
  • Human violence — humans' propensity for violence is brought up throughout the film, and the horrifying ending reminds us of just how capable we are of destroying ourselves. The world that the apes live in seems to be largely desert.
  • Animal rights — intentionally or unintentionally, this is suggested by the film too, as the apes treat the humans with contempt. Likewise, some humans deny any degree of intelligence or emotion in other species.

The unpleasantness[edit]

Publicity picture for the 1974 TV series.

The original film spawned a legion of 1970s sequels, for which Roddy McDowall is perhaps largely to blame. There was also a mediocre TV series, a mediocre Tim Burton film in 2001 (starring Mrs. Burton), and the surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes (a remake of the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) in 2011. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to Rise, was released in 2014 and is regarded as arguably second only to the original 1968 film.

The 1970s films tend to spin out the exotic element of the first film, without as much of the subtlety. However, the later films do develop the nuclear holocaust theme from the first installment. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the only one of the later films with much new to say.

But of course, Planet of the Apes is not the only popular science fiction film to have been plagued by later additions.

Bigfoot?[edit]

It is interesting to note that one theory about the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film suggests that the costume maker from the Planet of the Apes was used. While the film is almost certainly a fake, the Sasquatch in the film doesn't really look that much like the apes in the film, so for that reason alone, it probably has another source.

Quote mining[edit]

"Take your cold, dead hands off my guns you filthy ape!"
  • George Taylor (Charlton Heston)
    • It still doesn't give me the why… a planet where apes evolved from men? There's got to be an answer.
    • Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!
    • YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!
    • I hate every ape I see; from chimpan A to chimpan Z.
  • Dr Zaius
    • To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense.
    • Cornelius, a friendly word of warning: as you dig for artifacts, be sure you don't bury your reputation.
    • Have you forgotten your scripture, the thirteenth scroll? "And Proteus brought the upright beast into the garden and chained him to a tree and the children did make sport of him."
    • I see you've brought the female of your species. I didn't realize that man could be monogamous.
    • There is no contradiction between faith and science… true science.

And the classic line (addressed at George Taylor):

  • "GELD HIM!"

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off! on YouTube
  2. Who you may remember from such films as Buck Henderson: Union Buster and Good-Time Slim, Uncle Doobie and the Great 'Frisco Freak-Out
  3. In the original novel, after a journey which seems to take two years but which really takes three hundred, French astronaut Ulysse Mérou lands on the Earth-like planet Soror which orbits the star Betelgeuse. On Soror, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans have become the dominant species and humans have degenerated to the point of being naked savages who cannot speak. At the end of the novel, Mérou returns to the Earth which he left seven hundred years earlier. Landing in Paris, Mérou sees that the Eiffel Tower is still there but finds that Earth has been taken over by apes too.