Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Timeline Confusion on the Planet of the Apes

Karen: If you've followed Bronze Age Babies for any length of time, you're probably aware that Doug and I are big Planet of the Apes fans. POTA, as it is affectionately known, was a big part of our childhoods -not only the films, but the incredible amount of merchandise from them!

Karen: A new POTA film is being released on August 5, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This movie looks like it is a new take on the Apes story, starting in p
resent time and showing how the apes became intelligent -something that was never entirely clear in the original films.

Karen: In fact, there is much that is not clear in the original series of film
s, and it all has to do with the wonders of time travel. POTA is chock full of time travel and time paradoxes, a timeline so contorted that it instigates internet arguments.

Karen: If we go back to the first film (Planet of the Apes), the astronauts arrive on the planet of the apes in the Earth year 3978 (or 3955, if you believe the chronometer in the spaceship from the second film). In any case, it is far in the future. The apes are largely unaware of the truth of their history, with the exception of Dr. Zaius and perhaps other high-placed orangutans. Their religious stories con
tend that the ape is made in God's image and man has always been a plague upon ape-kind. Of course, at the end of the film we learn that the planet is actually Earth; through what appears to have been a devastating nuclear war, apes and men have somehow exchanged places.

Karen: The next film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, ends with the entire Earth destroyed by a doomsday weapon. That should be it, right? Wrong. You can't keep a successful franchise down. In the next film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, it turns out that three chimps, Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo, escaped the destruction of their world using Taylor's crashed spaceship. Now, suspending our disbelief that apes with a technological level equivalent to about the early 1800s could somehow repair a spacecraft and launch it, these three apes managed to time travel back to Earth circa 1973. This is where the fun begins.

Karen: By traveling back, the apes create a paradox. In this film and the next (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) we see that it is Zira and Cornelius' son, Caesar, who instigates the ape rebellion. So the apes from the future in effect created their own reality!

Karen: This paradox is bad enough, but it also seems to contradict statements from Cornelius, who said that the apes' sacred scrolls say that an ape named Aldo started the rebellion by saying, "No." Of course, even that statement seems to contradict the idea in the first film, that apes had always believed themselves to be superior to man.

Karen: I suppose one could argue that maybe the apes ascendancy was inevitable, that Caesar's arrival just sped things up. Perhaps. But that's not the vibe I get from these films.

Karen: So we may now have tow different timelines in place. They both end up with the same result -apes in charge -but in different ways.

Karen: If you really want to make your head hurt, throw the Apes TV series into the mix. The two astronauts land in 3085, at a time when humans can talk, but apes are clearly in charge. However, they also encounter a Dr. Zaius! Clearly this can't be the same ape- can it? And try to figure out how to fit in the timelines of the cartoon and the comics...oh boy.

Karen: This is such a subject of controversy among the POTA fandom that whole websites and books have sprung up to sort it out. Perhaps the simplest explanation is this: they're just movies made by people who never had any idea that the films would be thrown under a microscope by anyone. Enjoy the time paradox. Argue it. But don't ever think there's a "real" answer to it. Just relax and wave hi to little Baby Milo.


IMFI Pty. Ltd. said...

It's a huge disservice to the original POTA film creators to treat their deliberate timeline alterations as some sort of carelessness. It's quite clear even from the films themselves that timelines diverge due to the actions of the protagonists. It's also explicitly within the dialogue and unshot scripts that the films deliberately raise and answer the predestination paradoxes as they emerge. It simply requires multiple timelines, and it's crystal clear that this is what's intended.

If you want to talk clumsy hamfisted film making go no further than Tim Burton's horrible contribution. Awful.

david_b said...

Karen: Nice topic today.., sure to generate pages of discussion.

Being a fair-weather Apes fan, one point on the TV series (which I loved more than most of the movies, as did McDowell per his comments): Zaius mentioned in the pilot there were space travelers before Burke and Verdon, so without even caring about the ships chronometer, it assumes that the visits of Taylor and Brent occurred before the events of the TV series. Again, as you mentioned, not a lot of continuity going on here..

As for them fixing Taylor's ship, despite the mentions in 'Escape' of Taylor's ship leaving 'two years prior', scriptwriters would have been more plausible to incur it was Brent's ship used, since it landed on ground, not sinking to the bottom of a lake. We never did get an explanation of how primitive apes would have been able to pull a rocket ship out of the middle of a lake.

"Huge unseen Ape naval armada, anyone..??"

"On a secret mission only Cornelius and Zira would know about..?"

Don't get me started on fuel and excape velocity.

Was the mention of it being "Taylor's ship", despite it looking different in 'Escape", used by the scriptwriters to ignore the less successful 2nd movie..?

BrittReid said...

Both TV series presented continuity problems, including mentioning "previous astronauts" and having Brent and Nova appear in the animated series, implying Taylor was still alive!
The Marvel b/w magazine ran several articles trying to clear up the continuity conundrums.

Question: wasn't the same prop ship exterior used in Planet, Beneath, Escape, and the tv series?
(It would lend credence to the idea that it was Brent's less-damaged ship the apes used to travel back in time.)

david_b said...

Another note..:

Obviously, with any successful franchise (Trek, Star Wars, you name it..), ultimately fandom discussion rises the the inevitable 'sacred stone'..:

What is 'Canon'?

You can toss off events of later movies, which have contradictions such as exactly when did the rise actually start. Was it the 20th Century as initially conveyed, or Zira mentioning that it took another three centuries for the apes to "turn the tables on their masters".

Or other franchise outings, like the Apes Animated Series.., with apes flying airplanes, which was closer in actualization of Mr. Boulle's original intent.

It's been the fodder of fan discussion for decades, which isn't a bad thing. One, you have differing takes on series history, and Two, it keeps the fan interest alive.

BrittReid said...

As a rule of thumb, "canon" is whatever is presented in the original format.
For Trek, it was whatever was in the tv series and movies, since one flowed from the other. (Plus elements from the animated series, which Roddenberry and Fontana story-edited.) Novels, comics, Power Records albums, etc. are usually not considered "canon". (Novelizations, which are often created from earlier drafts of scripts, are debatable.)

In the case of PotA, the animated series is so different from the movies/live-action series, that it's obviously a different continuity.

If you're interested in movie-tv tie-ins, I have an entire blog dedicated to them at Secret Sanctum of Captain Video...
Recently I covered Beneath the Planet of the Apes...

J.A. Morris said...

My favorite story about the 'POTS' cartoon:

Cartoonist Doug Wildey worked on the series and was always struggling with network censorship. Apes couldn't carry guns, swords, clubs,etc. because you can't have that on a Saturday morning cartoon. So he gave the bad guys howitzers instead! Nothing violent about howitzers. Here's a link with more info:


Edo Bosnar said...

Good advice about not over-thinking it, Karen. Personally, POTA was only ever a peripheral interest - the first POTA movie I watched as a kid on TV was "Escape", and I also remember watching the TV series and some of the cartoons (but never read the comics or magazine). I enjoyed them for what they were, and never fretted over the parodoxes or continuity. I think that's why I actually found Burton's remake rather enjoyable, and found it amusing that he used the idea of time-travel gone awry as the main plot driver.
In that regard, I'm actually rather intrigued by this new movie.

BrittReid said...

Actually, as Wildey pointed out, it was what kids could imitate if they could find the weapons at home.
(Many had fathers who had served in the military and brought home souvenirs up to, and including, bazookas. My dad had a "grease-gun" machine gun and a couple of luger pistols.)
Howitzers were chosen because no dads had brought home howitzers from the battlefield!
As a result, there was probably LOTS of "violence" as apes blew up entire countrysides shooting at humans, but, IIRC, nobody ever got killed or seriously wounded!

david_b said...


Great point on the weapons (ie, what Dads would bring home..), it makes the most sense for censors.

As for your mention on Canon, I agree totally. My point was whether you're establishing Canon from the Boulle's original intent or the popularized movie, whose popularity really started the franchise.

One could argue the movie created in fact, it's own 'canon' which is the general assumption we're addressing here, only borrowing story and ideas from the true novel.

Kubrick did the same in '2001' from Clarke's original book 'The Sentinel'.

BrittReid said...


As you point out, movies and tv shows based on existing literary properties tend to establish their own "canon", sometimes taking over from the original books as the definitive versions of the series/characters in the public's mind.
Planet of the Apes and the James Bond films are a classic example of this.

While Kubrick based the idea of 2001 on "The Sentinel", it does incorporate ideas/concepts from several other Clarke short stories, plus lots of original material brainstormed by Kubrick and Clarke together.
There is a novelization written by Clarke based on the Kubrick/Clarke screenplay, greatly expanding (and explaining) the film.
It should be noted that even if the film creator writes/cowrites the novelization, it may not be "canon"
George Lucas & Alan Dean Foster's novelization of Star Wars has such a different depiction of the Emperor and the Fall of the Republic, that it's hard to believe Lucas' statements that he had planned out a nine-film series using these characters.

Karen said...

My impression -based on what I've read and the interviews I've seen -is that the makers of POTA and its sequels did not have any grand plan figured out for the series. I mean, doing a sequel was actually pretty rare then. Heston barely agreed to sign on for Beneath, and only on the condition that he be killed off, so he wouldn't have to do any more apes films. Heston even claimed it was his idea to blow up the Earth, so it would end the series. Paul Dehn, the screenwriter for Escape, came up with the ingenious idea of moving the franchise into the modern time. Certainly he knew he was setting up a paradox. But alternate timelines? I think the fans have really been the ones to develop that idea. And it's completely viable. But I don't believe the scriptwriters (Dehn and later the Corringtons) were scrupulously poring over such details.

As for the TV show, I just found it easier to assume it was on Earth-27 or some such place.


Anonymous said...

IIRC, an ape scientist in the last movie of the original series (Battle for the Planet of the Apes) speculated about diverging timelines, alternate possibilities, and the idea that one's actions in the present can change the course and affect future events. Not that there weren't contradictions-especially the apes being able to repair and launch the spacecraft.

Anonymous said...

I always assumed the TV show was a reboot or alternate reality, rather than a continuation of the movie.

Related Posts with Thumbnails