can be such a thing as milking a good idea too far, and 20th
Century Fox milked its Planet Of The Apes license until
its teats turned blue, then black, and then fell off
altogether. Based upon the novel by reluctant Frenchman
Pierre Boulle, Planet Of The Apes spawned fives movies, an
animated TV series, and a live-action TV series. By the
law of diminishing returns, the quality of the franchise
deteriorated the more it was watered down by the salty
piddle of subsequent installments.
in 1968, the original Apes movie had been considered a
risk by all but its determined producer, Arthur P Jacobs.
Even Boulle considered the novel to be one of his worst
books, and everyone viewed the central premise – talking
monkeys interacting with humans – as a recipe for
disaster. Indeed, Fox’s previous beast-o-speak flick,
Doctor Dolittle, was a vast flop for the studio. The fact
it had been produced by one Arthur P Jacobs wasn’t lost
on Fox’s money men. Also, the only sci-fi movie to have
done moderately well during the Sixties was Stanley
Kubrick’s impenetrable 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nobody
except for hippies knew what that crap was all about…
but it did feature some monkeys.
spent three years pitching the book around Hollywood,
Jacobs enlisted Charlton Heston, and Oscar-winning make-up
artist John Chambers, to help him create a test sequence
featuring Heston, as the human astronaut Taylor,
interacting with Dr Zaius, the orange-u… oringootan…
the ginger monkey. Satisfied that people weren’t going
to laugh at what was intended to be a serious piece, and
impressed by the make-up tests, Fox greenlighted the
movie, hiring Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling to pen the
screenplay. Due to budgetary restrictions, Planet Of The
Apes differed significantly from the novel, in which the
apes live on a potentially budget-busting, high-tech
Earth-like planet, drive cars, fly helicopters, watch
television – basically everything we humans do.
Including, presumably, falling over in kebab shops after a
particularly heavy night on the ale. Therefore
the future earth of the Planet Of The Apes was kept
relatively primitive to ensure the budget remained viable.
Helicopters were replaced by horsies, skyscrapers by
stucco abodes, and high-tech televisions were replaced by
spectator sports where horsie-riding monkeys chased after
humans and shot them in the neck. As is our understanding
it was an expensive movie to make, primarily due to the
make-up demands. Throughout the duration of filming, other
Hollywood productions ground to a halt due to the fact
that the majority of the town’s make-up personnel were
busy making hundreds of extras into un-cheeky monkeys.
first Apes movie was a huge success, and remains a sci-fi
classic to this day. Among the most memorable sequences
was the scene where Taylor reveals his secret with the
line: "Take your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty
ape." Heston’s throaty rasp wasn’t just good
acting – it was the result of a throat infection the
actor contracted during filming. Yet it’s the final
iconic shot of the bombed-up Statue Of Liberty which most
film-goers remember. However, presumably because he’s an
idiot, Pierre Boulle practically disowned the movie due to
this one element.
things went down hill for the series from there. Heston
reluctantly agreed to return for the sequel, Beneath The
Planet Of The Apes – but only as a favour to Jacobs -
though chirpy chimp Roddy McDowell refused to reprise his
role as Cornelius. The movie was nevertheless a success,
but the element of surprise was gone, and attempts to
recreate the shock ending of the original by destroying
the Earth, proved too much of a downer, no matter how
amusing you may have found the previous 90 minutes of
ape/subterranean bald-headed human mutant shenanigans.
by the promise of all the bananas he could eat, McDowell
was back in the second sequel, Escape From The Planet Of
The Apes, in which Cornelius and his wife escaped from the
detonating planet by travelling through time to the past.
Suffice to say, seeing a couple of chimps strutting around
in 1970s flares and wide-collars went way beyond the
absurd. Even the traditional downbeat ending failed to
wash away the stench of farce. The subsequent movie,
Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, saw monkeys employed
as slaves, and rebelling against their human captors. It
was rubbish, but not as rubbish as the low-budget final
instalment in the big screen series, Battle For The Planet
Of The Apes. One final desperate effort to recreate the
shock ending of the original movie, by having a massive
stone phallus rising up through the desert sands,
emblazoned with the legend “HERE LIES AMERICA”, was
considered a failure.
short-lived live action and animated series returned to
the far future setting of the original movie, and reprised
the basic premise, with a couple of dishy human astronauts
arriving to wave their willies at ape society.
Unfortunately, there was something less appealing about a
couple of funky 70s dude strutting around in suede
trousers and waistcoats, than there was in watching
Charlton Heston dart about in his flapping loincloth.
the apes may have soured, without their success it’s
unlikely that 20th Century Fox would’ve given
George Lucas the go-ahead to make Star Wars. In fact,
rumour has it that Lucas included Chewbacca in order to
appease studio heads intent on producing yet more films
featuring “Those amazin’ monkeys!”
rumours of an Oliver Stone-produced, Arnold
Schwarzenegger-starring Apes remake continue to rebound
across Hollywood. Suffice to say, the prospect of an Apes
conspiracy movie about the horrors of war in which
Schwarzenegger puns his way through swathes of gorillas
isn’t particularly appealing.