Updated: Dec 1, 2017 5:41 pm
If you were a wee lad of eight when the original Planet Of The Apes was released back in 1968, there is no way that you would expect to be still thinking about it in 2017 at a slightly less wee age (figure it out; we’re not running a math class here). Unless, of course, you’re obsessed with these sorts of things—then it’s no surprise at all.
But fueling that ongoing obsession is that the concept was reborn in 2011 with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, continued three years later with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and brings a trilogy of sorts to a close in a few weeks with War For The Planet Of The Apes.
The original idea truly does feel as though it could have come out of The Twilight Zone (and if you’re not familiar with that Rod Serling-created show, find it… right after you finish this article).
An astronaut arrives on an alien-looking planet, comes across savage humans, and muses to his fellow astronauts that if this is the best the planet has to offer, they’ll be running the place in six months. A solid aspiration, if it weren’t for the damn apes. Apes on horseback. Armed with rifles.
It’s a moment that shocked audiences around the world (personal musing: how shocked could they have been if they bought a ticket for a movie called Planet Of The Apes?)—though not as much as the film’s stunning ending, which remains mind-blowing to this day—and launched into an adventure that would continue in some form or another for nearly 50 years, encompassing nine films and two television series (one live action, one animated). Whether you're a fan of the original film series or the new one, the subject has remained an intriguing one.
What follows, then, is FHM’s look back at the entire Apes saga, from Planet to War and everything in between.
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Planet Of The Apes (1968)
Charlton Heston is astronaut George Taylor, who, along with two astronauts—who (spoiler alert!) don’t make it to the final credits—finds himself on a bizarre planet in which intelligent, talking apes rule supreme and humans are savages. He spends most of the film trying to figure it out, as well as his own place in the universe. All this while encountering the likes of compassionate chimpanzees Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter), and the not-so-compassionate orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who views him as a blight on society that threatens everything by his mere existence. Towards film’s end (and get set for a major spoiler), Taylor and a mute woman named Nova (Linda Harrison) escape the apes and set off on their own. But then Taylor discovers the shattered remains of the Statue Of Liberty on the shoreline, and realizes that he’s been home all the time. That his ship passed through a “time curve” and this upside down world is actually future Earth. Roll credits.
Charlton Heston (actor, “George Taylor”): “I was quite delighted with the way it worked. It’s not a profound film, but it’s a good film. It makes some valuable observations on the human condition. It’s kind of a black satire, if you like. And it takes a rather gloomy view of the human condition, but I don’t think an inaccurate one. I think it’s important to make a strong distinction between the first film and the others. The whole structure of the ape society changed markedly in the other films. In the first film, the ape society is kind of a ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ imitation of human society, inevitably including the worst traits. The focus shifts in the sequels and there’s a great deal of carrying on about the gorillas being fascists and the chimpanzees are the good socialists. The later films just got very political; very 1960s political.”
Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970)
Charlton Heston didn’t want to return for a sequel beyond a cameo—considering anything beyond the first film to just be more “adventures among the monkeys”—so James Franciscus is astronaut James Brent, who follows Taylor’s trajectory and ends up crashing on this planet of apes. He meets Nova, Cornelius (David Watson this time out — hard to tell with the monkey make-up), Zira and Zaius. After going through similar escape adventures that Taylor did, he and Nova find themselves in the Forbidden Zone, actually the remains of New York City following a nuclear holocaust. Beneath the streets they encounter mutant telepathic humans who pray to an Alpha-Omega bomb as well as the captured Taylor (Heston appears at the beginning and the end). The gorillas (representing the military) invade and the mutants, whose powers of illusion aren’t enough to protect them from bullets, are being slaughtered. Throughout all the chaos, Taylor is the guy who, although wounded, is able to launch the Alpha-Omega bomb, not only destroying both sides but the entire planet itself. The idea was actually Heston’s.
Charlton Heston (actor, “George Taylor”): “I thought I’d been very clever, because as we were working on the last scene, I sold the director and the producer on the idea of having Taylor, as he’s dying, hit the bomb. And they agreed that that would be very good, so we did that and I thought, ‘That finishes the series. You’ve blown up the world, and that’s the end of it.’”
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971)
Okay, you’ve killed everybody, you’ve literally blown up the planet of the apes, how the hell do you continue the story? Enter writer Paul Dehn (who wasn’t as impressive on Beneath) who came up with the brilliant notion that while the war was being fought, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall returns), Zira and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) are able fish Taylor’s ship out of the lake it sank in, figure out how to get it operational and launch it into space (okay, that part is stupid, we’ll give you that), and that while in orbit Earth is destroyed, and the shockwaves propel the ship backwards in time to six months after Taylor took off. What follows is a reversal of the first film, where the three apes (soon cut down to just Cornelius and Zira...bye-bye Milo) are on a planet of humans. At first they’re treated as celebrities as the film goes for a light comic touch, but then a growing paranoia takes root that if these talking apes aren’t eliminated, generations hence they will pose a threat not only to the human race but Earth itself (personal musing: if you’re a talking chimp, never get drunk and reveal too much about the future). This becomes even more paramount when Zira announces she’s pregnant, triggering an armed ape-hunt.
Zira gives birth in a circus thanks to the kindly Armando (Richardo Montalban, who Star Trek fans know as Khan and others might know from Fantasy Island) and her baby survives. Frak you, humans, trying to mess with the future. You’re goin’ down!
Associate Producer Frank Capra, Jr.: “There are people who think that Escape is the best of all of them. Obviously the first is truly the best and was the most unique. It also had the problems of dealing with the makeup, which was very difficult and important to the project. Once that was done, making sequels was not as hard. But this was a very different kind of picture. In the end, we did something that a lot of people said we couldn't do: another successful sequel.”
Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1971)
The child of Cornelius and Zira has grown up to become Caesar (Roddy McDowall, playing his own son) in a world where, as Cornelius revealed in Escape, looked to replace all the dogs and cats that died due to a plague brought back to Earth by astronauts, by taking in apes. Discovering how easy it was to teach the apes to do tricks, the simians quickly went from pets to slaves, and it is into this now-totalitarian environment that Armando (Ricardo Montalban) has brought his adopted son in to. Caesar is horrified, and it is only a matter of time before he leads a full blown revolution of the apes against their human masters. McDowall is the one to watch here. As Andy Serkis would do 40 years later in Rise, it’s an incredible arc to watch Caesar go from this intelligent albeit sheltered being, to the leader of a revolution. And his speech at the close (outside of some dopey post-production editing to soften things a bit) is absolutely riveting.
Director J. Lee Thompson: “Roddy McDowall was marvelous. He would approach these role as if he were doing Shakespeare. And each one individually as if it was the first film. You would think, seeing him in Conquest, that he was playing that role for the first time. His enthusiasm and the way he would talk was simply amazing.”
Planet Of The Apes (1974)
This one-season television series stars Roddy McDowall as the chimp Galen, and Ron Harper and James Naughton as astronauts Alan Virdon and Pete Burke. Also in ape make-up is Mark Lenard (best known as Spock’s father, Sarek, in Star Trek) and Booth Colman as Dr. Zaius. The set-up of the show is that the astronauts, who have crashed on a planet of apes in the future, are seeking a computer that they are hoping will help them get their ship back into space, but while they’re pursuing that, the apes are pursuing them as well as Galen. Every week they go to a new village, every week the apes almost catch them, every week they barely escape. Can you sense the repetition? Plus, the producers were way too focused on the human characters. Uh, didn’t anybody tell them we were there for the apes?
Roddy McDowall (actor, “Galen”): “I think the show was ill-conceived. They had absolutely cut-and-dry proof of why the material worked through five previous films. An enormous audience appeal. And when it first started, the reason the film series worked was because the audiences were primarily interested in the behavior of the apes and the chimpanzees, not in the humans. The problem with the TV series initially was that it was centered on the humans, the astronauts. By the time that switched around—and the shows were getting better — it had run out of steam.”
Planet Of The Apes (2001)
Aperaham Lincoln That’s all that comes to mind when we think of this remake of the first film directed by Tim Burton. Mark Wahlberg is astronaut Leo Davidson, who accidentally finds himself on an alien world inhabited by (wait for it) talking apes. Once there, and captured by those apes, Leo eventually leads a revolution of that world’s humans who aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but are certainly further along than those featured in the original Planet. Tim Roth is fairly effective as chimpanzee general Thade, as is Michael Clarke Duncan as Thade’s closest adviser, the gorilla Attar. The ending will likely make you go ape (but not in a good way).
Mark Wahlberg (actor, “Captain Leo Davidson”): “Working with real chimps was the worst. They wanted us to get acclimated with the chimps, and anytime I would go near [co-star] Helena Bonham Carter, the chimps would start attacking me. They’d start, like, trying to punch me in the nuts, like my five-year-old son. Like, really bad. Nonstop.” Of the movie itself he added, “I think we kinda set the franchise back a little bit.” (Screenrant)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)
With the taste of Burton’s remake still there a decade later, there wasn’t a great deal of optimism greeting news that 20th Century Fox was giving the apes another shot at life. Little did we know at the time that we would be getting a brilliant reimagining. A cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, which does have miraculous short-term effects for humans but eventually becomes lethal, has an evolutionary impact on the apes that are used for experimentation. The first to be born from an affected chimp, is Caesar, brought into the home of Will Rodman (James Franco), the scientist who developed the formula. Long story short, Caesar is ultimately sent to an ape sanctuary, where residents are being cruelly experimented on. Like the Caesar from Conquest, he’s an innocent forced to not only grow up, but to lead a revolution. Using the drug, he increases the intelligence of the apes around him to help them escape. By film’s end, we learn that the effect of the drug is viral, spreading across the globe and killing humans. What we don’t find out until later is that it’s impacting the intelligence of apes everywhere.
A powerful reboot, with a grounded, realistic approach, led by Andy Serkis as Caesar. No make-up anywhere, these photo realistic apes are created by motion capture technology, showcasing the performance of each of the actors fully.
Director Rupert Wyatt: “This is about opening Pandora’s Box, and the results of that. I’m by no means a conservative; I do believe in the great things we’ve achieved as a civilization and the great strides made by taking risks and pushing the envelope. But this story is a cautionary tale, I would say, and it’s striking that balance where we see a scientist, a man who is driven to becoming this Dr. Frankenstein, and the reasons behind why he does that. The personal reasons as well as the hubris. It’s also the story of his relationship with his creation. As such, I think it makes it a much more personal story than what's come before."
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)
It’s 10 years following Rise. The apes believe that humans have become extinct as a result of the virus, and in the meantime Caesar (Andy Serkis) has built an impressive, peaceful society. That is until human survivors of the virus do show up, seeking the help of the apes. They need access to a hydroelectric damn in ape territory. Wanting peace between their people, Caesar agrees, but everything goes to hell when Koba, a chimp with a deep-seething hatred for humans, instigates a war between both sides, and tries to kill Caesar. It all becomes a true Apespearean drama, presenting itself as Battle For The Planet Of The Apes on steroids and paving the way for War.
Director Matt Reeves: “The idea was not to have any overt villains, but to have every character kind of arrived at their point of view through their life experience and their point of view, that they knew or didn’t know, so that you could have empathy for everyone. You felt that you agreed with everything that everyone did, but you could feel where these things were coming from, so it didn’t feel like they were easy choices."
War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)
With this one being released on July 14th, we’re not saying too much about it, beyond the fact that it’s set two years after the events of Dawn. Okay, the only other thing we’ll say is that apes and humans are already at war, and it’s a savage battle. Damn it, quit naggin’! Caesar (Andy Serkis) is attempting to keep his people safe, but doing so may require his regressing to a similar darkness of the soul that seems to drive his opponent, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
Director Matt Reeves: “In Rise, Caesar comes from humble beginnings and he rises to become a revolutionary. In Dawn he’s confronted with having to become a leader and trying to lead in difficult times. He tries to bridge the two populations to see if he can find peace and that failed. That thrusts you into a huge escalation, which is War, but we didn’t want it to just be an escalation in action. Like, ‘Oh, it’s the apes fighting the humans.’ We wanted it to be an escalation in terms of character dilemma. We wanted to take Caesar and really push him to places that were more extreme than anything. Already his arc has been, in the first two films, huge. We wanted to push that further and to find the way to cement his status. If there were a human analogy to this, that person would be considered a god. We felt like we wanted Caesar to become the ape Moses.”