Thursday, April 14, 2016

MR:Quickies Planet of the Apes series

Did you like the original Planet of the Apes movie? A cult post-apocalyptic classic tale? The story worked good enough it seemed pretty definitive.

Well, 20th Century Fox decided to make several sequels every year. Here's the rest of the original series!

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty reviews!

Who hasn't heard of Planet of the Apes?

This huge franchise spawning over decades and across all mediums was originally a science-fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle. Released in 1963, his novel "La Planète des Singes" was first translated in English  translated as Monkey Planet. The book was about this human astronaut landing on a planet where some kind of reversal happened, it was full of intelligent apes and the humans there appear to be simply wild animals. The book has a satirical tone, and Boulle never liekd to call his work "science-fiction", rather he always saw it as a fantasy piece.

Naturally, due to the huge impression his book left, a film adaptation followed issue pretty quickly.

After the success of the original Planet of the Apes film in 1968, four sequels would follow between 1970 and 1973: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Even a live action TV series would follow those films in 1974 and an animated series, Return to the Planet of the Apes in 1975.

Sadly 20th Century Fox were already the greedy company they continue to be nowadays, and they started slashing the budget and diminish the quality of the production as the series went along (just the way they kept doing it with the likes of X-Men 3, Die Hard 5 or the AVP films to name but a few more recent examples)...

Movie title: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner 
Release date 1968
Genre Science-fiction/Social fantasy/Post-apocalyptic film

[Already reviewed over here.]

Overall: n/a

I give this one a: 3 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Ted Post
Release date 1970
Genre Post-apocalyptic science-fiction film

Taking place shortly after the events of the original film, only one remaining time-displaced astronaut, Taylor (Charlton Heston), was left. He decided to go off with his new savage human-girlfriend Nova on a horseback into the desert of what is known as the Forbidden Zone.

When suddenly another spaceship from the distant past crashes on the Planet of the Apes. Aboard the ship, astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) who came looking after Taylor's crew disappeared. Like a second take on the first film, he also comes to notice this is a world dmoniator by talking apes with humans living as their slaves.

In the major Ape City, gorillas are marching their armies into the Forbidden Zone as well with the orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) leading the way.

Taylor is captured by this civilization of mutated remaining humans with psychich powers living underground - no kidding.

Brent thinks this is another planet. After he's hurt he's taken to the home of chimpanzee scientists Cornelius (David Watson) and Zira (Kim Hunter). They decided to hide him in the Forbidden Zone where rumors say other humans live as the attack is about to take place. They find the old New York City subways and Brent finally realizes he traveled through time to the post-apocalyptic future of Earth! They start hearing voices in their head and find the telepathic humans who apparently now worship a nuclear bomb left behind while the apes march on the Forbidden Zone. The telepaths try to stop them but Dr. Zaius sees through the illusions and lead them forward. They want to detonate the bomb as last resort.

Brent finds Taylor in a cell. They're forced to fight. In the end Taylor himself tries to stop Dr. Zaius who refuses to accept humans. Brent is killed by the gorillas, Taylor is wounded and tries talking to Dr. Zaius. Taylor finally triggers the bomb himself as he sees no escape from this situation, leaving the Earth destroyed...

Overall: After the success of the original, Fox just had to try turning the original hit film into a franchise. Beneath the Planet of the Apes was an attempt at a quick cash-grab sequel. They began working on the second film as quickly as just 2 months after the release of the original film. Of course the sequel had a much smaller budget compared to the first one.

The whole plot of the film feels like a mashed up ideas of recycled scenes from the first film and a bunch of non-sensical ideas. We have Charlton Heston's Taylor character and his human girlfriend captured by a random cult of subterranean mutant humans who worship a nuclear bomb and thrown away from the plot. It's already pretty ridiculous. But then we get one more astronaut who also happens to crash land in the same planet and then we get treated to the same movie all over again.

Originally, coming back from the first film we had veteran television writer Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, pitch another story. And then even Pierre Boulle himself wrote a script for a possible titled Planet of the Men. But the producers turned them both down. Instead this Paul Dehn wrote a quick script to fill in, he would later become the primary writer for the rest of the franchise.

Charlton Heston never really had any interest in coming back so he only agreed to shoot a couple of scenes if they could kill off his character, he later donated his entire paycheck to a charity.

The original composer Jerry Goldsmith was invited to return to score the sequel but they finally replaced him with Leonard Rosenman who did a great job blending the original film's unique score with his own style.

Not to much surprise, the film was poorly received by critics at the time, in fact it's still considered to be the worst sequel in the series to this day. But despite it all this criticism the film was the still a huge box office hit and went on making as much money as the original.

One notable element that got scraped from the film despite having making it into some make-up tests was the idea of half-human and half-ape-like creatures, like in the novel.

Beneath plays with the fear of a nuclear war, which was a contemporary subject at the time of its release.

The human mutant faction sort of detracts from the main conflict in the series, at least it allowed for some new locations for the climax at the end of the film.

The film did not aged as well as the other episodes. It simply tries too much to recapture the original. The only probable with that it's that it's basically just more of the same with nothing new really. One entire hour follows basically the same characters all over again going through the same motions, although Brent makes for a much more friendly protagonist than Heston character was. Too much retread.

Despite the apparent conclusive destruction cause by the nuclear explosion at the end of the film, Fox would ask for more sequels to go on...

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Escape from the Planet of the Apes originally titled Secret of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Don Taylor
Release date 1971
Genre Science-fiction film

We find out a few Apes did escape the destruction of the future Earth in a nuclear explosion while they were trying to salvage and repair Taylor's original spaceship. Our three Apes are Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira and a scientist named Dr. Milo.

Instead they somehow got sent back in time off-camera to the good ol' USA, 1973!

Since these mysterious Apes appeared out of nowhere aboard their missing spaceship, they're brought to a Los Angeles Zoo to be studied. Zira gets impatient during an experiment and the humans discover they can speak!! Our talking Apes soon become celebrities and are treated as equals at first. They reveal they come from the future but they keep the destruction of the Earth secret. When the medias find out Zira is pregnant, the human race gets frightened for their future and they must study and question them. They want to know how the Apes will become the dominant species to try preventing it from happening again. Zira gets drugged and reveal how she used to treat humans as lab animals. But the human race will doom itself and they will be the ones to cause their own downfall at the hands of their own weapons, anyway.

They want to stop Zira from giving birth to another intelligent Ape, so they escape. They find shelter at a circus. The baby is named Milo (he would later be renamed Caesar). Our couple is killed off, but after they're able to leave Milo with the animal trainer at the circus...

Overall: Released less than a year after Beneath, Escape is a much smarter film than what some give it the benefit of the doubt. While budget got even smaller and despite a tight production schedule, they got some fun creative ideas out of this sequel. Since the ending was so definitive last time, they simply reversed the plot of the original film transporting the Apes back in time, now. Which made for far less expensive sets and less Ape make-up effects.

Escape explores some great themes such as racial tension and conflicts at the time, which would now become the focus of the following films as well.

This one was much better received, people finally started to see these films turn into a far greater ongoing epic science-fiction series. It's also the reason this is the best received Apes sequel.

Despite the planet Earth being blown up in the last film, they were able to still continue the series, After the first few minutes setting the shaky premise, it easily becomes the best of the four sequels. The film has some funny undertones at first, but it manages to carefully avoid the whole "fish out of water" scenario since Cornelius and Zira quickly adapt to our world. People fear them to become the first intelligent Apes that would announce the future Ape species taking over the Earth. The story is kind of fun, if it seems like a goofy complete twist of the original's plot at first. Finally the remaining baby Ape is set to grow to be the leader of the Apes' revolution. Flipping around the plot, showing us the humans are not such different from the Apes.

It shows the same fear, the same paranoia and apprehension a different race of intelligent beings were treated in the original film. The same ideas. There's some allusions to the way we experiment on animals. Some references to racial conflicts near the end the way Zira and Cornelius are chased down, as well as some religious overtones.

After being replaced and seeing the role of the character severely diminished in the previous film, Roddy McDowall finally returned to the character of Cornelius. 

This is also the film that complicated the franchise by adding time travel and therefore alternate branching timelines to the franchise, depending on your own interpretation of certain events in the series.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Release date 1972
Genre Science-fiction film

Set in the "near future" of 1991 after a disease in 1983 killed most animals on Earth, such as cats and dogs, humans have now started taking Apes as household pets since they can adapt and learn rather quickly. At first they were trained to do all kinds of chores but now they're basically cheap slave labor. The slave Ape class is trained to be as uman as possible, without having any of our rights.

The sole remaining intelligent Ape born from the celebrity Apes that come from the future is Caesar, who is still in the hands of his trainer Armando (Ricardo Montalbán). Currently working for the circus while trying to hide his identity as the son of Cornelius and Zira from the previous film.

Disobedient Apes are severely mistreated. Caesar accidentally speaks when witnessing some brutality against a fellow Ape. He ends up in a training camp to be re-conditioned. Caesar gets to "name himself" with a name fit for a future leader by pointing a word in a book handed to him. Meanwhile Armando is killed after some brutal interrogations by the police. When Caesar learns this he finally loses all faith in the human race and begins a rebellion.

He starts teaching the other Apes all kinds of skills. And soon leads them into a revolution! The Apes are mostly victorious and kill most of the police forces.

Man's downfall has arrived by their own self-destructive nature. The day the Ape society will leave slavery and rise their own civilization, armies, religion and dynasties is here!

Suddenly the first ape to talk beside Caesar screams "No!". It's Caesar's mate, female chimp named Lisa. Caesar briefly reconsiders, for now they have to try putting their hatred down and try to work out a better outcome to coexist alongside humans. But we know, we just witnessed the birth of the Planet of the Apes!

Overall: After the strong reception of the last film, they were able to keep the same writers and budget which allowed a much better continuation of the narrative. Conquest now focusing even more heavily on racial conflict. The whole film mirroring Civil Rights Movement.

Roddy McDowall returned now to play Caesar, the son of his previous character Cornelius. The story nicely completes the story arc of Caesar from birth to rise as leader of the Apes. The story works great in an organic way, it doesn't feel forced. There's a lot of smart parallel to real human history and the past movies. The Ape revolt against the humans laying foundations for the later Ape society in the series. And we even get the fantastic Ricardo Montalban who played Khan in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

A lot of attention was paid to details such as the wardrobe in the film - humans only wearing dark and black colors while the apes are given colorful clothes. It was the time of racial tension in the early 1970s. The whole film is shot to look like a news broadcast. The human buildings are modern and sterile.

The strange premise - people having Apes for pets - allows to build upon the history of the series. Then it gets brutal, violent and bloody too. It's really well shot, there's a lot of handheld camera work as tings become more and more erratic as the film moves on. There's some cheapness to it due to the constraints but they managed to do great and make a great film thanks to the emotional aspect of the story.

The ending is left open enough to interpretation, which allowed for more sequels.

The original cut was much more brutal. With a different original opening and ending, the message being how the circle of hatred would never end, going full circle. But after test audiences didn't like it they changed the ending which made the story diverge from the original timeline instead, as we see the Apes trying to build a better destiny for both. The original ending would have seen the Apes slaughter humans, Caesar sadly accepting their grim destiny, which would have been a perfect way to tie in the original film.

Interesting note, the series reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) follows a pretty similar plot and premise to Conquest.

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Directed by J. Lee Thompson 
Release date 1973
Genre Post-apocalyptic science-fiction film

This film is being told from what appears to be a flashback from the distant future 600 years later!

Ten years after the previous film, nuclear war destroyed most of civilization. Caesar lead the Apes in this post-nuclear world. Caesar's trying to keep the peace between the Apes and the surviving humans. Did they change the course of events from the original film since they're living together in harmony for now? After the rise of the Apes Civilization Caesar is now trying to keep the rest of the Apes in check. (And in the alternate future his parents came from humans did not possess language nor culture anymore...)

This gorilla General  Aldo (Claude Akins) is planning to take over the chimps as the ruling class among the Apes.

Caesar and Lisa from the previous film had a son, named Cornelius (in honor of his father). Caesar wants to learn more about this future from his parents he's trying to prevent. With a human assistant they locate remaining recordings and archives in what they call the Forbidden City, parts left of the radioactive ruins left behind. They travel there with this orangutan Virgil.

Humans who survived the war and appear to be mutating have been hiding in the ruins of the city. They are planning an attack on the Ape City. Meanwhile Aldo's mounting his own coup to take over the Ape society himself. Aldo is seen scheming by the little Cornelius so he attacks him. Cornelius is left injured and dies shortly from his wounds. Aldo takes this opportunity to pretend it was humans. Caesar can't keep the Apes in check anymore, but he tries to protect them nonetheless.

Aldo wants to kill him, but Caesar learns the truth about what happened to his son. Aldo broke the Apes sacred law: "Ape shall never kill Ape". They fight to the death atop a large tree.

Both species finally decide to try to coexist and build a new society.. Somehow we're now 600 years after Caesar's death. Young humans and Apes still live together in peace.. for now. A child asks about the future (of the original movie), the film ends with a close-up of a statue of Caesar shedding a single tear...?

Overall: Battle for the Planet of the Apes actually has a fairly interesting premise and plot. Continuing from Conquest's storyline. But the film itself is all over the place and not very interesting in the execution.

Strangely the film has a more hopeful tone than the previous films. The war between humans and Apes destroyed much of the planet and they're now living off this wild radiated world as both try to rebuild a better society for Apes and humans alike.

The ending leave things really ambiguous, since it wasn't never followed by a sequel. Set after the main events Apes and humans are now leaving together. It's ab optimistic finale apparently, but the dystopian future of the original Planet is still several years to come by, so is it unavoidable?

Critics were pretty harsh on this film and while I agree with most critics I don't think it's necessary that bad. Just boring.

The film only really wants to talk about the inevitably and horrors of war. But it has not a lot of tension due to the smallest budget in the entire series. It would have been nicer to finally get to see a much larger Ape population here, but they could only afford to shot it from the point of view of a small wild village. Humans slowly turning into slaves in this post-nuclear war planet. Caesar doesn't even really look any older from the previous film despite all time passed.

The film consists of more or less three distinct acts that are not really connected. The first part of the film is about Caesar learning about his past (or rather the future awaiting his species) and the emerging threat of the mutants from the second film. The second act is about this rebellion among the Ape civilization and the segmentation of different Ape classes led by this gorilla general, sadly that's where everything feels way too small. And finally they tried bringing things full circle showing the birth of the Ape society as we knew it to link it back to the original film.. more or less. Can they alter the current path of events, or not? Since the series ended here it looks like it.

There was a huge quality dip. There's still a couple of decent make-up work on the main Apes, but the gorillas and the background Apes don't look that great.

There was an extended cut of the film which only aired a few times on television back in the day. It contains several scenes cut from the theatrical release. Mostly adding background information and more details like the addition of the bomb that would become the threat in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

This isn't exactly the end of the series, as it would be followed by a TV show which I'll cover below.

Like the previous films, this film from the original series was also the inspiration behind the current reboot series. Offering the premise to the 2014 film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which follows a similar premise to Battle.

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score!

And that is all for the original series!

Planet of the Apes had a huge impact on pop culture. There's been all kinds of merchandising tie-ins, comic books, video games and toys. From Marvel Comics' classic 1970s black & white comics which saw renowned comic book authors such as Doug Moench and Gerry Conway work on those, to two Japanese manga adaptations, to the recent BOOM! Studios books set in both the classic Ape movie continuity as well as the new reboot film series.

The films would be followed by two television series. Thanks to the huge ratings of the films on TV broadcasts. A first live action Planet of the Apes series in 1974 set as a direct continuation of the original film series, bringing the timeline further closer to the original film, taking place a hundred years before the first movie.

The idea for the show came during the production of Conquest which was originally meant to be the final film. Set before Taylor's crash in the original film but 400 years after the epilogue of Battle, following its more pessimistic take on that ambiguous ending. It follows more human astronauts that end up in this future, but here humans can apparently still speak. These episodes would be reedited as television films with added introduction segments as: Back to the Planet of the Apes; Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes; Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes; Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes; and Farewell to the Planet of the Apes.

After its cancellation, a second series was launched in 1975, an animated series this time, Return to the Planet of the Apes. And unlike all previous films, it seems to be a continuation of the original novel which is kind of strange at first look since it shows a much more advanced Ape civilization with vehicles and hi-tech weapons.  

There would be a second adaption of Pierre Boulle's La Planète des Singes, the very loose infamous 2001 remake by Tim Burton.

 Finally after Tim Burton's disastrous take, the series would get stuck in development hell until it was completely rebooted with a fresh new start in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a sort of reimagining of Conquest, which was itself followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, this time more or less based on ideas from Battle. A third new episode is expected for 2017, titled War of the Planet of the Apes.

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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