Reboot to the future: The Rise and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In the month that marks the 48th anniversary of the first Planet of the Apes film and the start of the Year of the MonkeyJokerside’s Aperospective moves on to a new future. Following in the stinkin’ paw prints of its 70s forbear, the recent Apes reboot has proved that there’s big box office in telling the story of man’s fall and ape ascendency. And true to this conflicted and paradoxical franchise, inspiration for this the greatest phase of the Apes comes from the lesser 1970s films of the original saga….

Looking at Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

“Tonight we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes”

IT HAPPENS A LOT IN SCIENCE FICTION – SOMETIMES YOU’VE JUST GOT TO TAKE THE LONG WAY ROUND. 20th Century Fox, perhaps surprisingly, chose that route for their precious Apes franchise in the 21st century. It helped that the seeds were sown during the prickly blockbuster pre-skirmishes of the 2010s, before Disney Marvel and Warner Brothers fully locked horns in 2012, when Fox was still riding high on the wave of Avatar. In 2015, with the flawed Fantastic Four reboot securing both Fox’s highest ever trailer views and abysmal box office, you might think that things have complicated further.

But in choosing not to follow up on the perfectly fair box office of Tim Burton’s challenging 2001 ‘reimagining’, Fox was content to let the Apes take their own long way round. Perversely, this new franchise rose from the weaker entries of the original saga. It jettisoned the space flight and time travel of the original novel and iconic early films, and looked at the apes and humans we know now, with all the concerns and worries of our time. The apes were no long in a pipe-dream dystopia. Brilliantly, it told the story the right way round for the first time; an intelligent way to dodge the traps that Burton’s effort fell into. Prudently, it set a template that could roll on, at an unrushed rate, for decades. And astonishingly, just two films in, this reborn, refreshed Apes saga has already grossed $1.2 billion – that’s over double the rest of the Apes films combined (even adjusted for inflation, the new cycle is far ahead).

The third part of this retrospective looked at the turning point of the franchise. The masterstroke brought to bear by franchise writer Paul Dehn from the ashes of the Earth’s destruction after just two films. Not only was his solution a refreshing jump (back) into the contemporary, but quite possibly one of the truest, if inverted, adaptations of Pierre Boulle’s original novel. Escape from the Planet of the Apes set the course for two further films exploring, in rather sporadic fashion, the rise of the ape against the rather self-inflicted fall of man.

Having only previously glimpsed the start and the distant end of the ape story there was plenty to mine or originate. And while Escape set in motion a separate timeline, speeded up by the apes’ paradoxical return to the past, this new telling sits in a parallel timeline of its own. As such, the two recent Apes films make very loose remakes of the final two Apes films of the original cycle. To start at the beginning once again…

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

A new dystopia

“Plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall…”

The penultimate film of the ‘70s cycle quickly moved things away from the contemporary setting of Escape to the Planet of the Apes. Come Conquest of the Planet of the Apes it’s 1991, a good two decades on from Taylor’s initial flight and even further from that cynical astronaut’s (and Charlton Heston’s) mind. A blunt opening of the march of the apes finds simians clad in identical boiler suits. We’re watching history unfold just as Zira had described in the previous film. But typically, as much as the cycle of futility rolls on, things aren’t quite right. Perhaps due to that earlier paradoxical arrival of advanced Apes or perhaps a sign of the fickle yet inescapable hand of destiny, the timeline has accelerated beyond the one Zira related. This was screenwriter Paul Dehn’s third Ape film, and the chance for him to forge forward with a mythology removed from the source book and the established ape civilisation of the first two films.

But like the second film in the cycle, Conquest puts a lot of stock in continuity drawn the preceding film. Ricardo Montalban’s returning Armando provides the necessary recap and introduces us to the now grown Caesar, explaining recent history to the clearly sheltered young ape. Armando has to brief him on how to act like an ape in a world where circuses are things of the past and the timeline has rapidly accelerated into dystopia. Armando may be carrying circus flyers, but it’s a hollow action as he knows circuses are long gone. That disconnect between his actions and words strike him out as a relic in this dark world. And after he was cast as a saviour at the conclusion of the previous film. Armando is the pivot in the film series’ changing allegiance. Not only an ape-sympathiser only cast in a favourable light by a shift to make apes the heroes of the piece, but also the character who protects this ape Moses on his way to destiny. While the religious overtones are clear, civil rights remain the primary source of parody, satire and drama in this exploration of the near future.

“They’ve made slaves of them”

A mysterious virus from space has wiped out all cats and dogs, but there’s little time to mourn under the monuments to lost pets. Humans brought apes in to homes as quick replacements – no wonder the dog barked at Zira in the third film – with their increased skills soon pushing them into menial tasks – although we are quickly shown the implications, like the simians unconditioned to fire in restaurants while the dystopian rattle of tannoy warnings and demonstration curfews rings out in the background. The way apes have taken a foothold in cities is Dehn’s light nod to the fascinating crux of ape’s inherent stagnation in Pierre Boulle’s original novel; their civilisation held back by their dependence on mimicry. Read more…

Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Enter Paradox

Escape back to the Planet of the Apes

The third of Jokerside’s retrospective looks at a turning point of the all-conquering Planet of the Apes franchise. This summer’s revelled in dystopia, showing that the recent Apes reboot was ahead of its time. But it didn’t owe so much to the stark and iconic original with its Lady Liberty conclusion or Tim Burton’s Apes film that time forgot… Read on for the film that made Apes contemporary. 

IN HINDSIGHT, THERE WAS NEVER AN EVOLUTIONARY DEAD-END WHEN IT CAME TO PLANET OF THE APES SAGA, MUCH AS TIM BURTON’S 2001 RE-IMAGINING LOOKED LIKE ONE. There was still a lot of stock in those dominant Apes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And even though Fox Studios wisely decided that the critical stock wasn’t quite there at the beginning of the century, despite the reboots solid box office, the franchise could never be seen as anything other than a sleeping King Kong. When the right hook appeared less than a decade later, it didn’t lay in the same place as it had in 2001…

A different dawn

In the first part of this retrospective, it all ended with a beginning. Tracking the nihilistic fate of humanity, 1968’s Planet of the Apes followed Charlton Heston’s Taylor as he discovered that humans had doomed themselves to subjugation by insurgent Apes… And then accepted the pointlessness of it all and destroyed the Earth in the sequel. It was bleak, no doubt about that, but the studio wanted more. Alongside animated and live action television series, there would be another three films that put paradox front and centre of a franchise that had previously used time travel as a loose but science-anchored device to look at man’s ultimate fate.

The second part of this retrospective looked at how Tim Burton’s flawed 2001 reimagining had got its opposable thumbs in a twist trying to forge something new and iconic from a franchise it defined as temporal paradox and general monkeying around. Amid high stakes studio play, it got the angle wrong and proved a short-lived revival. Fortunately the source material was rich. While Pierre Boulle’s original novel, the short tome that had sparked the whole saga, had propelled men forward to witness the dominance of apes, it left plot strands and ideas that even the original five films hadn’t picked up. And when it came to writing around the end, it was the only place to look.

Having destroyed the world in a very finite way at the end of the second film, a famous telegram reading “Apes exist. Sequel required” landed on the plate of Paul Dehn. And it was this legendary adapter of Goldfinger, Taming of the Shrew and later Murder on the Orient Express whose storytelling steered the Ape ship for the next three years. He chose a simple and brilliant escape route, taking the favourite apes from the first two films and dispatching them back to the present day, suddenly contemporary to the present/near future that Taylor had left in Planet of the Apes.

It’s the point where the main film Apes timeline diverges for the first time, based on an ontological paradox. Zira, Cornelius and brilliant but short-fused Dr Milo’s arrival in the ‘present day’ at the very least sped up the ape ascendency, and by altering that time flow must cast the eventual fate of Earth in doubt (although of course, Taylor’s journey had already taken place).  But despite necessarily altering the franchise premise, Escape from the Planet of the Apes may be the one film that draws the most from Boulle’s novel, albeit by visiting key sequences, ideas and the final literary exposition from the opposite angle.

Read more…

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…

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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