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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ultimate Geek Fu: Again, PLANET OF THE APES...

As a long-time fan of Planet of the Apes, I was horrified when my daughter watched and fell in love with the 2011 “reboot” of the movie franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. She begged me to watch the 2011 movie with her, but I heroically resisted. When she asked several more times if I’d “PLEASE” watch it with her, my resistance became stoic rather than heroic. Finally, over the Christmas Holidays, I relented and watched it with her, my wife and a friend of my daughter’s.
Before I tell you what I thought, a bit of history:

The original Planet of the Apes movie came out in theaters in 1968 and was based on a 1963 novel by French novelist, Pierre Boulle that had been translated into English as Monkey Planet in 1964 by someone named Xan Fielding (a former secret agent who did in Crete what Boulle did in China, Burma and French Indochina during WWII). I was 11 years old and my mom and dad didn't let me see movies by myself yet.

After cutting my science fiction reading teeth on Spaceship Under the Apple Tree and Wonderful Trip to the Mushroom Planet, I moved on to Red PlanetHave Spacesuit, Will TravelThe Zero Stone and thence to JG Ballard’s Vermillion SandsBrave New World, a REAL novel by Michael Crichton called The Andromeda Strain (I read it just before Dad dropped me off at the theater to see the movie in 1971) and finally, sometime not long after that, Boulle’s Planet of the Apes. The book had such a profound effect on me that I recognized the cover of the edition I read as a kid in a line-up of some sixteen other covers, including one with a picture of Zira on it. I read the one with the black cover, red lettered title and white author’s name along with AUTHOR OF BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (which I may have seen by that point, but maybe not). I had NOT seen Planet of the Apes and I wouldn’t see it until some years later in a drive in theater.

All of this I tell you to let you know that Planet of the Apes is deeply rooted in my adolescence and holds a well-nigh to iconic spot in my mind. I have never forgotten the final scene in the movie (which Boulle repudiated by saying, “I disliked somewhat, the ending that was used - the Statue of Liberty - which the critics seemed to like, but personally, I prefer my own. [Had I been in charge of the production,] I could have provided ideas. If I had been free to make them I would have done them differently...”). It lodged itself as firmly in my mind as the science fiction magazine ANALOG being the “only” place I ever wanted to get published.

After seeing the movie, I watched all the others (though I only went to the theater to see Battle for the Planet of the Apes) “on video tape” and hated them. None of them was true to Boulle’s intent which seemed to me to be “making fun of adults”. I didn’t become one until 1975 (didn’t become a REAL one until 1978). I loved the original movie for (as I saw it) making monkeys out of authority figures. As I wasn’t much of a rebel as a teen, this was a powerful release for me…

Along comes the Twenty-first Century and I refused to go to Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes; I refused to go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the theater despite being urged to do so by friends.

It took  my daughter’s gently finagling to bring me to the screen and watch it. A few days later, after hearing my harangue about the first movie, she appeared at home with an unopened copy of that selfsame movie – she’d picked it up at the second-hand story she works at! It didn’t require as much work for me to prevail upon her to watch MY version; though that’s more because she’s got her mother’s gracious character rather than my heroic stoicism.

Coupled together, I strongly suggest that Rise is the true ancestor of Planet. Really.

Where the others, including Burton’s “reimaging” which intended to make the original “better”, and the franchise following Boulle’s Planet of the Apes (BeneathEscapeConquest and Battle) had as their only intent the turning of the movies into a milk cow of cash; Rise and Planet are clearly and intimately linked.

The movie review website Rotten Tomatoes lends some evidence to this: ranked from best (50% or more good reviews) to worst (less than 50% good reviews), we find:

Planet of the Apes (1968) (#1 in the franchise) RT = 89% (as well, it has been accorded several accolades: selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant";  selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time; “widely regarded as a classic film and one of the best films of 1968”; won one honorary Oscar and was nominated for two others; and is on various Top 100 lists of the American Film Institute.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) RT = 83%
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) (#3 in the franchise) RT = 78%


Planet of the Apes (2001) (the “reimaging”) RT = 45%
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) (#4 in the franchise) RT = 44%
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) (#2 in the franchise) RT = 41%
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) (#5 in the franchise) RT = 38%

Planet never really explained how Humans fell to animals and Apes rose to intelligence – as a science teacher this always bothered me. The supposed 2000 years between Taylor et al’s space trip and their return to Earth give nowhere near enough time for apes to evolve and man to devolve.

Rise gives a clear explanation that makes perfect sense to the 21st Century mentality: genetic engineering. It also makes good scientific sense and fits in neatly with the other movies of its ilk: ContagionI Am Legend and Greenpeace’s maniacal attack on genetically engineered WHEAT in Australia.

We’re scared. But we want to live forever, so we’re tortured by our desire for immortality and our fear of science messing things up to a point of causing (or preventing) world-wide plague that ends up being an extinction event for us.

Rise meshes so cleanly with Planet that they might have been written, directed, acted and filmed by one hand; yet they weren’t.

The only thing they had in common was our human fear of apocalypse. In Boulle’s time, it was human engineered nuclear annihilation. In our time, it is human engineered genetic annihilation. Maybe that’s why the two movies resonate so clearly – and unconsciously – in my mind and reviewer’s minds. It’s certainly food for thought. It might also be cause for hope. Thus far we have dodged the nuclear annihilation bullet and are gradually both increasing our knowledge of the atom and turning it to peaceful uses. Perhaps the message is that if we can learn fast enough, we might very well dodge the genetic annihilation bullet and gradually increase our knowledge of genetics and turn it to peaceful uses.

Pause. Think. Consider. Then tell me what YOU think; no, what do you REALLY think...

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