Apes Rule Then and Now

July 31, 2008

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that there are a couple of postings that  make reference to perhaps the first American science fiction franchise of the modern film era…  Planet of the Apes.

Several days ago AMC aired the entire film series (of which I admit to watching sections throughout the day) and I happened to watch a recorded episode of the “Big Bang Theory” in which they went to an Apes film festival.  Of course this reminded me of (hold on to something solid, it’s coming…) my childhood memories of the Apes.  I remember one summer being dropped off at the local theatre with a ticket from the PTA in-hand and 50 cents for a Dr. Pepper.  We all sat in the dark, pelted each other with crazy caffeine energy using whatever wasn’t stuck to the floor and whooped and hollered at the Apes.  To this day I still have flashbacks of the dream/nightmare that followed where the Apes invaded my childhood neighborhood.

For all of its B-movie knocks, in many ways, the Planet of the Apes series developed the blueprint used by many science fiction endeavors (such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and, to a lesser extent, Superman, Batman, and Spiderman) that followed. Not only did Planet of the Apes spawn four sequels, but also a television series (short-lived but entertaining), a Saturday morning cartoon, countless books, comic books, and the other spin-off material – the “action figures”, costumes, lunch boxes, and various other crap that are now mandatory to the success of any summer blockbuster (and trade fodder for “collectors”).

When originally released, Planet of the Apes was strongly received by critics and the public alike and became a victim of its own success. The Planet of the Apes original team had gone into the film without thoughts of a sequel, so, when the desire arose, no one knew exactly where to take the story. Predictably, the resulting motion picture, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, turned out to be a muddled, poorly conceived, B-movie adventure turd that did to the series what entries like Alien 3, Return of the Jedi (sorry Ryan :-)), Superman 3, and Star Trek V did to their franchises. Fortunately, things got better with the third (and my favorite) installment, Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

Like most good science fiction, Apes combines action, adventure, futuristic settings, and allegory into entertainment. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a masterpiece, but, even after almost 30 years, it holds up reasonably well (especially if you look past the logic flaws and just watch). The special effects are hokey, but set design, costumes, and makeup are great. The apes look like advanced simians (and indistinguishable from several extended family members), not just men in monkey suits. This, I think, is (and was for me as a kid) a key to the film’s success. The creatures are believable enough that we accept them, rather than laugh at them. Once you buy into the concept of a planet ruled by apes, everything else slides easily into place.

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2 Responses to “Apes Rule Then and Now”

  1. WebPulp said

    The first will always be my favorite. The performances of Rodey Mcdowell and Charlton Heston in that first were never matched by any of the sequels.

    But I can’t let this go without mentioning the hacked Marky Mark / Tim Burton wannabe mess. Mcdowell’s ape in 70’s makeup was more believable than any CGI enhance lessor performance. And a “Damn them all to Hell! (in a G rated movie no less) had more dramatic impact than an “Ape”raham (Missing)Lincoln Memorial.

  2. brosking said

    Gotta agree about the 2001 version. Not exactly a high point!

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