Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Armageddon Films FAQ

After watching the trailer, we are more excited than ever for the July premier of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes! Here is what Armageddon Films FAQ author Dal Sherman had to say about the 1968 original film (as well as its many sequels): 

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

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The Planet of the Apes series of five films (1968–1973), not to mention its various sequels, certainly have a place in any bookabout apocalyptic futures. It’s also a very downbeat run of films, seeing the rise of a new order with the apes that is in every way just as prejudiced and mad as the humans before them—plus, the world gets blown up at least twice. Even the fifth and final movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which spends much of the film trying to suggest an alternate “happy” ending for the world in the future, can’t quite escape from the prede- termined insanity of hate and war in its final scene.

While terrible things do happen, and there are certainly ramifications for the characters once they ”arrive” after these events, the first film opens with the biggest “you’ve slept through it” moment in cinema history, namely because it’s supposed to be a mystery until the final moments of the movie. That mystery I already spoiled for you at the beginning of this book, but the reason behind it has not been discussed. At the beginning of Planet of the Apes, we have Charlton Heston as Taylor, an astronaut on a spaceship traveling away from Earth in 1972. Upon wondering what the future will be like and foreshadowing the daylights out of the whole “will the world be a better place?” thing, Taylor goes into hibernation with the other three astronauts. He awakens in 3978 with the ship having crash-landed in a lake and rapidly taking on water. Taylor and two of the others (the lone female astronaut died previously in the journey due to a malfunction with her hibernation chamber) escape the sinking ship and head to land. There they ponder where they are and what they will find on the planet that they assume to be in the correct trajectory for their ship, somewhere in the constellation of Orion.

They eventually meet up with mute and rather mindless human scavengers just as they are attacked by humanlike apes on horseback. One of the astronauts dies at the scene, another is eventually seen to have been lobotomized, and Taylor is shot in the throat and thrown in with the other humans in Ape City. (This brings to mind—are there other cities full of apes? Is this it? If not, how did they get away with calling their city Ape City? Do the other ape communities wince a bit at that? “Oh, why can’t we have a nice name like Ape City instead of being Monkeytown?” And, really, isn’t this a bit pretentious? We don’t see a lot of Human Village or Mankind Junction locations on the map, after all. Maybe a few Peckerwoods. But this is a huge digression. Sorry.)

After various adventures in the city, with Taylor trying to communicate with the apes and attempting to plead his case to those in charge, he finally breaks out and travels into the “forbidden zone.” What he finds is the Statue of Liberty and the realization that somehow the spaceship had returned the crew to Earth in 3978. Taylor makes the (as we later discover) correct assumption that mankind destroyed itself, resulting in the mute, simple-minded humans still left on the planet.

The reveal of the Statue of Liberty is the big shocker of the movie—the one discussed in the introduction that left the audience stunned in disbelief. Up to this point, the audience could center their reactions on the idea that the movie is essentially a metaphor of man’s inhumanity to those not like themselves (only with juxtaposition of apes being man and man being animals). Yet throughout the plot are sprinkled moments where there’s an underlying mystery to resolve: how did this world come into being? Taylor’s jump into the future allows for the surprise ending and could only be done if—up to that point—we have no awareness that this is Earth in the future instead of some unnamed planet in the constellation of Orion.

As it stands, the original novel by Pierre Boulle, La planète des singes (1963) isn’t even set on Earth—the protagonist lands on an ape-dominated, Earthlike planet, although in a final twist the protagonist returns to Earth to find it now run by apes as well (an element Tim Burton would return to in his 2001 adapta- tion). For this reason, and others in the novel, there is no mystery as to why apes are the dominant species; it is merely there for purposes of satire dressed in elements of science-fantasy. Thus, although the novel deals with the elements of the protagonist being hurled into the future and finding a strange new world waiting for him, there is no sense of some type of world-ending menace having hit Earth (or the Earth equivalent). It is only with the Heston movie that the point is driven home that Taylor missed the death of his world and has returned to see the results.

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A postapocalyptic Earth that we are not to recognize as such wasn’t new to cinema by 1968. Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man with Robert Vaughn (looking anything but a teenager or a caveman, even in his loincloth) had covered the same “shock ending” ten years before Heston and crew. The film also draws itself from the age-old science fiction plot of the battle-scarred lone male and female survivors of a nuclear war finding each other and becoming Adam and Eve (commonly referred to as a “Shaggy God” story, as per writer Brian W. Aldiss). Elements of this can be seen in episodes of The Twilight Zone as well, such as the episodes “Two” (featuring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as two enemies who must come together after the end of the world), “Probe 7, Over and Out” (which ends with nuclear war survivors becoming Adam and Eve), and even Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun” (featuring a group of people leaving a doomed planet to find Earth), just to name one program. Perhaps it is no wonder that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling would cowrite the script to Planet of the Apes—its final twist makes the movie one long Twilight Zone episode.

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About HLPAPG

Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on May 14, 2014, in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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