For those of you ignorant of The Simpsons, the subject is a reference to the musical version of The Planet of the Apes starring Troy McClure…as the human (the part he was born to play!). But I’m not going to write about the classic song “You’ll Never Make a Monkey Out of Me (I Hate Every Ape I See)” or “Dr. Zaius.” Rather, I’m going to speak about the movie franchise. Using it to elaborate on some subjects talked about in my previous post, “Science Fiction.”
The original Apes film, and to a lesser extent its sequels, are a perfect example of what Sci-Fi can do so well. It takes touchy social/political subjects and wraps them in the cloth of science fiction to make them more palatable for the viewing public. Planet of the Apes addressed such topics as: 1) Social inequality based on race, 2) Science versus Faith (i.e. evolution), and 3) Nuclear Warfare. Oddly enough, even though the film is 40 years old this year, all these things are still very much a part of our civilization. Maybe man doesn’t evolve, we just find more clever ways to cover up our flaws.
So what we do have here is a perfect example of what might be normally taboo, or at least touchy, topics to be addressed in such a public way, Apes tackles them head. And does it for FIVE FILMS! Yes, the four sequels are not nearly as creative or subtle as the first, but how does one really beat the Monkey Trial Redux? I mean, really? The classic scene of the original film where intelligent Apes evolving from Man is debated and the judges do all they can to deny the evidence is simply brilliant (not to mention the comical moment where the three Ape judges imitate the See No, Speak No, Hear No Evil bit). “Objection!” “Sustained!”
The second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, while not nearly as subtle, I believe has new found relevance in our modern society. It deals with an overly adventurous and aggressive military general forcing an unnecessary and ultimately disastrous campaign against what turns out to be the mutant human descendants of humanity who live in a bombed out NYC and worship the almighty bomb…and the holy fallout. The general, Ursus, has the classic, and chilling, line while addressing a council of, “The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked, merciless force!”
Remind anyone of another chilling absolute recently uttered? Perhaps, “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists.” Maybe?
Of course I would not be the first to compare the current Commander in Chief, aka “The Commander Guy,” aka “The Decider,” with an ape.
Granted, that film was made at the height of Viet Nam and also deals with pacifism, a war protest, and the eventual destruction of the planet. Surely not things we have to worry about now, right? Wait a second, didn’t Russia just invade someone? Is this 2008 or the 1950s?
The remaining films deal with how the Earth got to be the planet of the Apes, of which the best installment is Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It deals with the Ape revolution against their oppressive human slave masters, and is quite far and away the darkest installment. The changed, more positive, ending that the studio demanded really kind of ruins the whole thing. Caesar, the leader of the resistance, gives a speech on how Apes shall no longer tolerate their slavery, talks about the world burning in the fires of revolution, really great imagery, and original the human governor of the city was to be beaten to death…but instead the studio demanded that he be spared.
It’s not that I’m opposed to the change, it’s just that it was such a bad hack job and is so obvious that it just ruins the whole ending.
A few words on Tim Burton’s 2001 remake should be made. Mainly on why it just does not measure up to the original. It comes down to the fact that it doesn’t have any of the social commentary that made the 1968 film such a classic. Instead, we get a two hour sci-fi action adventure. Not that sci-fi action is necessarily bad, it’s that when that is everything it is, the obvious silliness of the concept overwhelms the story. In the ’68 version, and Pierre Boulle’s novel, the Ape oppressing human story is a device to explore society, and both do it well. Burton’s remake doesn’t really do it. It focuses entirely on the human’s capture and escape. Also, these humans can speak and do so. Part of what made the original so devastating was Taylor’s palpable frustration at the situation of the humans not being intelligent and the Apes insistence that his intelligence was all a learned trick.
Simply, there were no scenes in the 2001 version that screamed “classic” like the courtroom scene, or Heston’s classic, “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damned dirty apes,” and definitely not the ending shot of the Statue of Liberty. Burton’s end just left the view saying, “huh?” Granted, he was intending to remake more of the films, and perhaps the “Ape Lincoln” at the end might have been explained.
Instead we’re left with a mess of a remake.
What I’m saying is that the films actual hold up better than most people give them credit for. I would recommend the original to anyone I know, and for any fan of science fiction, the whole series really is a must see.