Monday, August 31, 2015

Planet of the Apes (series)

I was curious about the Planet of the Apes series. The originals, not the remakes. This is a supplement to my Seek the Original of the first movie.

Now for the sequels:

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes is so weak. Another astronaut is sent on a rescue mission to find Taylor and his crew, but the ship also crashes in the distant future. How could Earth know Taylor was in trouble; his ship hadn't reached its destination for centuries!

In the process of finding Taylor, this other astronaut finds a race of humans living underground, presumably descendants of the survivors of the nuclear war that decimated the Earth centuries ago. It's not stated or implied anywhere in the movie who they are, or what they do, so who the hell were those humans and why do they have telekinetic powers?! They worship an atomic missile, and when threatened, instead of using their mind powers, they elect to launch the missile on the apes. But that fails, leaving Taylor himself to press the button that damns them all to hell.

You can tell someone wanted to make a cold war statement and didn't know how to say it, so they repeated what politicians of the time kept saying: "we are a peaceful people" and "it's a weapon of peace." Whatever it wanted to say, it failed to say or even show. The film ends with the implied destruction of Earth. Kinda pointless, but the sets are impressive.

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes is so much better. Our two favorite apes from the last two movies, Cornelius and Zira, somehow got the crashed spaceship working again, despite their civilization being pre-industry and pre-electricity, and end up back in time to 1970's Earth.

Finally we find out what happened to the human race, and how the apes rose above them. Cats and dogs all over the world will die of a plague, and apes will replace them as pets. They will be trained to do various tasks, but will eventually be enslaved, and then they will rebel against their masters. It's very close to what the original book implied--it took us 3 whole movies to reveal this critical detail!

The movie is interesting, the humor is actually funny, and I really felt for Cornelius and Zira. Especially Zira. She's outspoken and feisty, while her husband is quiet and reserved. They're perfect for each other. And Ricardo Montalbán can make any movie awesome.

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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is almost as good. The story has taken the next logical direction: in the 1980's, all the cats and dogs died of disease brought here by Cornelius and Zira, setting in motion the events that will lead up to the first film. Apes are the new pets, and crossbreeding has yielded bigger, more humanlike apes, chimpanzees and orangutans. It's actually a brilliant way to tie everything together. Caesar, Zira's and Cornelius' son, leads the revolt against their human masters.

I watched this with my roommate, and we both noticed the ending was altered. The audio quality on Caesar's second speech is different, there is no lip synch, shots are reused. His decision to show mercy on the human captors is obviously not how the movie was supposed to end. A quick glance on the internet confirmed the movie was supposed to be the last in the series, bringing the story full circle, ending with kill all humans and setting itself up to be the beginning of the first movie. Audiences weren't ready for that, so it was changed to Caesar showing mercy on the humans who oppressed them, and now the bleak future can be altered. Cowardly, but audiences were tired of race riots and assassinations and nuclear threats. They wanted to believe the future destruction of the human race was not inevitable. Be that as it may, the original ending is so much better, nullifying the need for the final movie.

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Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a confused mess. It's supposed to be about peace, but it's all about a battle. Between movies 4 and 5, humans used the Bomb to try to quell the ape rebellion, destroying much of Earth. The human survivors living in the ruins are starving, angry, and heavily irradiated. The apes live on the surface, away from these forbidden zones.

Caesar and his closest aids venture into the nearby ruins of the human city to find the tapes the government made of his parents talking about the future. The humans there follow Caesar back to his settlement. A battle ensues, the humans are exterminated, a rebellious ape is killed, but somehow humans and apes live in harmony hundreds of years in the future.

It's supposed to be another "if you choose peace, you can change the future" message, but the writers didn't know how to show it. Characters keep saying it, but that's not what happens on screen. Caesar learns about the future he should avoid, but he never negotiates with the humans. He doesn't even hint of a coming dialogue with them, which is important to ending the hatred and changing the future.

It implies where the humans in the second film came from, but the fourth film was supposed to conclude the series. Audiences didn't want such a bleak ending. They wanted to believe the future can be changed, and thus we have a forced happy ending. This film was unnecessary.

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I'm glad I watched the whole thing. The movies are not masterpieces, even the first one, but they are memorable. The ape makeup is still convincing today. Much like the Wizard of Oz, it's a cultural experience.

As far as I'm concerned, the series concluded with the alt ending of the fourth movie. That would have been a more powerful way to get the message across, by showing the results of making the wrong decision. Forcing Caesar to change his mind at the last second, for no apparent reason, isn't nearly as impactful.

None of the satire was in the first movie, and it was just barely hinted at in the book, but the sequels did address how man fell and why the apes rose. That's what the book should have been about, and I'm glad the movies finally did something with the idea. They actually did more with it than the book. Disjointed as it is, this makes the series as a whole better than the book in almost every way.

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