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.