Tag: Dystopia

Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Enter Paradox

Escape back to the Planet of the Apes

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.

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Waterworld at 20: We need to Parley about Mariner

The Mariner sinks - Waterworld at 20

The Mariner sinks - Waterworld at 20

It’s the summer of resurgent dystopia – so how could Jokerside ignore the 20th anniversary of Waterworld. Blockbuster folly, by the numbers, laugh-out loud… It’s the masthead film that has everything.

AHOY! YES, THIS POST COMES TO PRAISE KEVIN COSTNER’S SLIPPERY ANTIHERO NOT TO RECYCLE HIM TO DIRT!

What better time to have a big birthday than during this glorious resurgence of Hollywood dystopia. The Apes may be having a year off, but they’ve led a charge that’s dodged the turgid eco-sci-fi of Oblivion and Elysium to lead Mad Max and Terminator back to the multiplexes. In case you’re wondering, one of those last two was a classic.

Many films have been hit by the curse of water, but of the two most notable examples James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) rose to unprecedented success and… Kevin Reynold’s Waterworld (1995) will never lose its disaster tag. For all the wrong reasons. Of course now we all know that it wasn’t the “Kevin’s Gate” critics were quick to label it – that “Kevin” being interchangeable between Reynold and star/producer of the moment Kevin Costner. It made some money, it really did. But somehow, that was even worse, forever banning it from pity lists, a true cult following and even sneaking into snobbish, art-house speakeasies of dumbing down.

It’s a film everyone loves to hate, and that’s precisely why those immensely watchable two hours are bloody great.

Above Board – Emerging from Sherwood

How could they follow that myth-compounded action spectacular?

The two Kevs had recently emerged from the forest of ebullience surrounding Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Yes, a great film: It even had Brian Blessed in it. How could they follow that myth-compounded action spectacular with its huge sets, rather uncharismatic gruff leading man, stellar comic violence, dash of supernatural, mind-wrenching end credit song and iconic villain?  Waterworld of course! It had all the above. Just without the song.

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

Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes 2001

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

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

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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