Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Tim Burton’s Missing Link

Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes 2001

The second part of Jokerside’s trip back to The Planet of the Apes shifts even further sideways. After five films, a television series and an animated television series the Plane of the Apes saga looked to have burnt itself out on the big and small screens by the mid-1970s. But you can’t keep good dystopia down. And plans for a reboot that began in the late 1980s came to fruition at the start of the 21st century…

Less a reboot, more a reimagining, in hindsight Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes served to add even more texture to a science fiction sprawl across multiple parallel realities. It may stand alone, but 14 years on, does it stand tall? *If you care about spoiling this or any other Apes film you may not want to read on just yet.*

EVERY SO OFTEN A CREATIVE PROPERTY FINDS ITSELF STAMPED WITH A FAMILIAR LABEL, ONE THAT MAKE’S SELECT FILM FANS SLAP THEIR HEADS WITH BLUNT SCISSORS: A TIM BURTON DREAM PROJECT. It’s a surprisingly broad label, or ‘dream label’, that says more about the creator than the subject. Perhaps it’s something quirky, eccentric, gothic, long forgotten or that urgently needs a ‘Hollywood update’. It may well have a Grimmish quality of child-like amazement and horror. Easily accommodating Johnny Depp helps, and of course, it can’t have been picked up by Terry Gilliam already. It’s a regular sentence in Hollywood notices, but one that broadly ignores the fact that Burton’s best work comes from properties that are either very well known (Sleepy Hollow, Batman) or fresh and twisted takes from multiple sources (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands). Other times, it all goes a little wrong.  Whether it’s the work of Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl or yes, Pierre Boulles… A decade on from his brilliant Batman two-parter Apes proved once again that big budget studio ambition isn’t always the best partner to Tim Burton dream projects.

The first part of this retrospective took a look at the original auteurs of everything Ape. There was Pierre’s Boulle’s erudite novel from 1963, making ingenious commentary and putting enough ideas on paper to last well over the eight films it’s so far spawned. Five years later came the iconic adaptation under the expert eye of director Franklin J. Schaffner, with the marvellously unpredictable Charlton Heston frying every synapse as the last man; thrown forward in time to get the final proof that his contempt for his own species was spot on. And there was no redemption to be found on screen, especially when the second film continued that storyline to a very finite conclusion: the detonation of the doomsday bomb and the destruction of the world. The franchise would spin on of course, and a look at the conclusion of that cycle, along with the recent highly successful reboot will come next time…

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Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Page to Screen

Planet of the Apes Part One

Last year Dawn of the Planet of the Apes navigated its change of cast and director to match the critical acclaim and exceed the box office of its predecessor. Already raking in more than the original five film cycle, Fox’s key apocalyptic franchise is clearly back to stay. And Hollywood is richer for it.

In the first of four simian long reads, Jokerside looks to the far future of Pierre Boulle’s original novel and the two Charlton Heston starring adaptations that kicked off one of Hollywood’s major franchises by ending the world…

THE APES ARE BACK. IN SO MANY WAYS THE ARCHETYPAL ACTION FRANCHISE, PLANET OF THE APES IS ALSO ONE OF THE STRANGEST. It’s the first two scenes of 2001 all wrapped up, when it wants to be. It’s humanoids versus humanoids, but not one of them is an invader from outer space. These aren’t machines from the future, but ambassadors from hummanity’s past. Man’s destruction may lie in his own hands, but the winners aren’t built by them; it’s anti-robot to the point of schadenfreude. Not only are apes waiting for man at the end of time, but against all odds, technology in the thrall of the cosmic joker, serves up a man of our contemporary to witness it. It’s one thing that man is destined to destroy himself, but quite another that he’s forced into subjugation, robbed of almost everything, even language, only for a cynical, desperate forefather visit the future to witness it. That just rubs salt in the wounds of our mute, enslaved, distant ancestors. There’s no simple extinction to offer man an easy way out of this universe. The apes are coming and it’s a good thing that Creationists will have stopped reading by now…

Post-apocalyptic action-fiction has never waned since its inception – around about the publication of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man in 1826. And she was no one hit wonder. 189 years later, this year has seen George Miller’s Mad Max bring the genre resoundingly back to the cinema. But a few years ago, Fox’s greatest franchise found a less bombastic way to drag its own brand of dystopian horror back to the big screen. That’s proved a great success. In creating two superb, intelligent and brilliantly produced films during this ‘reboot’ Fox has somehow managed to gross over a billion dollars. It elevates a franchise that burned so brightly through the late 1960s and early 1970s before floundering for three decades – and just about disguising the fact that the Apes films were never riddled with quality as much as they were ambition. Still, on their celluloid attack, the real strength still comes from dipping into the marvellously broad canvas painted by a trinket of a book published in 1963.

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