Friday, July 10, 2009

Get Your Stinking Paws Off Me, You Damned Dirty Ape!!

Words cannot express my wide-eyed wonder when, as a mere waif of seven years, I watched my first Planet of the Apes movie. My family had recently relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and while I was most disappointed to leave behind my beloved Channel 44 out of Chicago that showed Marvel Super-Heroes (the legendary 1966 cartoon show) or Spider-Man (the 1967 classic), I was excited to discover a few channels in my new home that would expand my love of science fiction.

Among reruns of the 1940's serials, such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, and a seemingly endless string of Tarzan movies (here my love of Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe began -- it wouldn't be until many years later that I would read the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and gain an even greater appreciation for Christopher Lambert's portrayal of the jungle lord in Greystoke), there came the Apes movies and still later the CBS television show. From that point forward, I was going Ape!

I had several of the Apes Mego action figures and playsets, bubble gum cards, coloring books, etc. Wanting to soak up all things Ape at this point, I came across the original Pierre Boulle novel at the public library. It featured a cover reminiscent of scenes from the film by the same name, so I asked my mom to check it out for me. What a disappointment! Now, this was long before I knew anything about such things as "based on the novel", etc. But what I'd seen on tv was nothing like this book -- Apes driving cars? Nah...

In fact, I'd argue that the film versions of the Planet of the Apes franchise are not traditional science fiction at all. Sure, it deals with time travel, fall-out from a nuclear disaster (which I assume bred the mutations in the apes and the de-evolution of human beings), and then later genetic proselytizing by Caesar (maybe? But then that wouldn't explain how, only one generation later, all of the apes can talk and are running the world in Battle for the Planet of the Apes). But in the first film, originally released theatrically in 1968, there is no science used to solve any of the conflicts/problems in the plot.

Planet of the Apes was a wonder to me. The concept of time travel wasn't so new to me, as I'd gleaned a little information about such things from an issue of Justice League of America I'd owned -- it was a JLA/JSA crossover, so inter-dimensional travel and such didn't seem strange. As Taylor (Charlton Heston) and crew made their way to the forest, I at first thought they'd ended up on a planet of primitive humans -- until the apes burst on the scene. Looking back on the first film today, it's really the score that makes it so impactful -- the weird music while Taylor and company are traversing the desert, the horn upon first view of the gorilla atop steed, the rapid-fire pace when Taylor ran throughout Ape City, ending up in the "natural history museum"...

As a kid, there were many elements of the morality play that went over my head. It wasn't until viewing all five films in the franchise day-after-day on an after-school "Apes Week" movie festival that I picked up on the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" gag during Taylor's trial and of the impact of the nuclear war. The Statue of Liberty scene was of course impactful to anyone who's ever seen it; but the devastation wrought and the time required to bury her waist-deep in earth didn't settle in until many years after. Perhaps Heston's best performance in the film is that last scene.

Strangely, it was many years later that I saw the third film, Escape From the Planet of the Apes. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I do recall looking through magazines in the grocery store (precursors to Starlog or Fangoria or some such things) and seeing lots of still photos. I didn't really grasp the story -- hey, it was the grocery store, not school... you think I was going to read the magazine?? -- but I did think that Cornelius and Zira looked absolutely ridiculous in regular human clothing. The next exposure to this episode was through the Power Records comic/45 rpm that a friend owned. But despite the wait, I was glad to have finally seen the film, and consider it perhaps my second favorite of the original five.

So if I have to rank 'em, I would say my re-viewing at any time would go in this order:
  1. Planet of the Apes
  2. Escape From the Planet of the Apes
  3. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
  4. Beneath the Planet of the Apes
  5. Battle For the Planet of the Apes

My main dislike for Beneath is the telepathic powers of the cult members. I suppose, though, that if I could accept such a mutation in Jean Grey over in the X-Men, then I should be able to accept it generations after a nuclear disaster. I also disliked the scenes when Brent was forced to attack Nova -- just didn't care for that type of violence. And by the way, Linda Harrison looked much nicer in the second film... And the antithesis to her carnal beauty was the scarred visages of the monks who lived underground -- totally scared the bejeebers out of me as a child!

So to finish (and I could probably ramble on about all of this for quite some time), I still make time for the Apes movies. About a year ago when AMC (was it that channel??) ran an Apes marathon, including the television series, I was along for most of it. I've read a few articles about the black & white Planet of the Apes magazines that Marvel Comics published in the 1970's and have wondered about picking some of them up (could an Essentials volume be in the offing -- please?). I'm just still, all these years later, into the concept and the franchise.

But don't get me going on the Tim Burton re-make...

1 comment:

Doug said...

Fox Movie Channel broadcast the Apes franchise this past weekend -- the 1968 original on Friday (7/17/09) evening and the remaining films Sunday evening. It was awesome!! Letterboxed and uncut!

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