Going Bananas over Planet of the Apes
A few days ago, I wrote a post decrying the tendency in Hollywood to remake classic movies. This weekend, yet another movie opened remaking one of the all-time great ones, Planet of the Apes.
I remember when Planet of the Apes premiered in 1968. My brother and his friends got to go to the movie theater to see this magnum opus, while I had to stay home because I was being punished or had to do some drudge chores (I long forgot the reason why my parents forbade me to see Planet of the Apes). After my brother said it was the greatest film he ever saw, I became madder than a billion chimpanzees during a banana famine. I hysterically screamed to my parents, “Why couldn’t I have gone to see Planet of the Apes? You are so mean! I’m not going to speak to you anymore!”
Feeling sorry for me, my parents took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey several months later. This was a universe-sized mistake because although 2001: A Space Odyssey was G-rated, it was too bizarre and too incomprehensible for an ordinary 7-year-old’s mind. While there were apes in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, they did not talk, and when one of them hit an animal bone that soared through the air, I did not know that symbolized the beginnings of flight. Later, I was bored watching astronauts dancing like ballerinas to Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube”, I could not understand why the evil supercomputer HAL was singing “Daisy” (it was being turned off by an astronaut), and I developed a headache watching the dazzling psychedelic special effects when a space ship landed on Jupiter. Immediately after the film ended, I swear my head spinned worse than a top during a tsunami.
When I finally saw it on television a few years later, I literally went ape over Planet of the Apes. To me, it was (and still is) the greatest science fiction movie ever made for it worked so well on so many levels. First, except for the makeup that made actors look like apes, it was the rare science fiction film that did not primarily rely on special effects to grab an audience’s attention. The spaceship that crashed on the ape planet was not as impressive looking as the flying saucers in Star Wars or even the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek and the Jupiter II on Lost in Space. The apes used rifles rather than lasers to kill humans, lived in houses that looked like they came out of The Flinstones, and traveled by horseback rather than rockets. Since it was not a special effects spectacular, Planet of the Apes relied on a great script co-written — although it was changed many times — by the master of Hollywood science fiction, Rod Serling, as well as outstanding performances from Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, and Roddy McDowall to keep people interested.
Second, Planet of the Apes was a brilliant satire of evolution and humankind’s relationship with the apes. The humans on the ape planet were mute, scantily clad, beastly, and horribly mistreated by supposedly “civilized” apes as slaves and experimentation animals. Meanwhile, although the apes were super-intelligent, they divided their society into three distinct castes by having the chimpanzees as the scientists and intellectuals, the orangutans as lawyers and politicians, and the gorillas as brutish soldiers and policemen. The two compassionate chimp scientists of Planet of the Apes, Dr. Zira and Cornelius, were dead-on impersonations of primatologists such as Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.
Planet of the Apes was also an extremely clever action-adventure flick that had one of the memorable surprise endings of all time. Charlton Heston was at his macho best playing George Taylor, a kick-ass astronaut from Fort Wayne, Ind., who commanded a space expedition that ended up on a strange planet some 2,000 years in the future. He was captured by gorillas during an attack on humans and subsequently was made temporarily mute from being hit in the neck by a bullet. Enraged upon hearing he was going to be castrated, Taylor escaped from his cage and fought simians Popeye-like in Ape City until captured by gorilla policemen. Thanks to Dr. Zira, her nephew Lucius, and Cornelius, Taylor escaped castration and a lobotomy ordered by Dr. Zaius (the boss of Dr. Zira and Cornelius), and eventually came across the remains of a technologically advanced ancient human civilization. Ignoring warnings by Dr. Zaius they would encounter their destiny and not like what they would see, Taylor and his girlfriend, Nova, discovered the ape planet was actually Earth upon gazing at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes.
Finally, Planet of the Apes was a terrific comedy. It was hilarious watching people dressed up like apes and uttering dialogue like “human see, human do” and “I never met an ape I didn’t like”. Towards the end of the film, Taylor said such now ludicrously dated late 1960’s cliches like “Keep the faith, baby!” to the rebellious Lucius. And one cannot help but guffaw when Taylor spoke to the apes for the first time as he was being hauled off by the gorilla police, he would snarl, “Take your stinkin’ paws off of me you damn dirty ape!” rather than “Where am I?” or “Let go of me!”
Because Planet of the Apes was such a financial and popular success, over the next four decades, it spawned a plethora of sequels, prequels, a television series reassembled into cheapo movies that were reran for about 10 to 15 years, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a remake by famed director Tim Burton. None of these remotely approached the greatness of the original movie, though Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes had some good campy humor and the television movies had great titles like Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes and Life, Liberty, and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes. Once again, Hollywood proves it should ultimately leave a movie masterpiece alone rather than monkeying around it.
Joe’s Maybe Memorable Quote of the Day
“I do not think I descended from apes for I do not think any monkey in his right mind would want to be my uncle.”