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THE PLANET OF THE APES


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Jerry Pournelle
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Award, New York, 1973
(price: 35p; 160 pages)

dedication: To P Schuyler Miller and L Sprague de Camp

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John Jakes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Award, New York, 1973
(price: 35p; 192 pages)

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David Gerrold
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Award, New York, 1973
(price: 35p; 160 pages)

dedication: For Harlan Ellison, who will appreciate the thought



The blurb on the backs:

Escape from the Planet of the Apes
The time indicator raced back through the years - from 3955 to 1973. The spacecraft held the Earth's future inhabitants - three survivors of a devastating cataclysm.
The capsule's occupants included Cornelius, his mate Zira, and Dr Milo - three Apes, the thinking, speaking descendants of the species that had dominated Man and the Earth for centuries.
The world of 1973 welcomed them at first, pampered them when it realized their unusual qualities, threatened them later when it was learned that Zira carried the seed of the future ascendance of Ape over Man.
They had to be killed! But first...

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
The time: 1990.
The place: A gray, tightly computerized city-state, somewhere in North America.
The inhabitants: Apes who serve as terrified slaves, Men who function as brutalized masters.
Until the Apes revolt ... in a battle as savage and monstrous as the bondage they'd been forced to endure for decades!

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
The City of the Apes.
It was a quiet, peaceful city.
It was a city ruled by apes and served by men.
It was a city unaware of an angry band of vicious gorillas anxious to revolt and an insane cadre of mutated humans hungry to kill.
It was a city on the brink of an horrendous destruction that had happened once - and was suddenly, inexorably, happening again...


opening lines:

Escape from the Planet of the Apes
It was two o'clock in the afternoon with bright sunshine and cloudless skies over Omaha.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Under a red-tinged moon, the dark towers of the central city thrust against the sky. Black glass facades caught the moon's reflection, sectioned it like so many endlessly repeated blank faces.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Many years, many centuries, after the fact, an orangutan sat on a hillside and taught a class. He read to his students from a large handwritten book. And in this manner does history become legend and legend become myth.


We start from the position that the Planet of the Apes movie cycle is the best sci-fi series in American cinema. Given that its major rivals are the utterly unnecessary Star Trek films and the primary school nonsense of Star Wars, this is perhaps damning with faint praise but is meant as a genuine compliment: there's an intelligence at work in the five Ape movies that survives despite the typical overkill administered by American capitalism (TV series, animated series, merchandising, remakes).

The problem with all that additional baggage was it was yet another case of seeing a goose lay a golden egg and promptly treating the poor creature like a battery hen. Even by the end of the original movie series there was a discernible loss of quality, an over-simplification that ran counter to the way in which the mythology had been continually adapted and amended - you could never be sure where you were going next, because it was never quite clear what the relationship between human and ape was intended to symbolize.

Running briefly through the films: the first, in which a space crew is stranded in an alien culture where apes rule over a dumb enslaved human population, is a decent piece of work but somewhat spoilt by over-exposure and by Charlton Heston's misguided belief that gurning is an acceptable alternative to acting. The first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes features some of the most bizarre sequences in cinematic history (the version of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' is downright scary in its vision of an hallucinogenic holocaust) but doesn't quite gel. Then you hit the snow-clad heights of Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, before ending with the Saturday morning matinée of Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

The two real classics - Escape and Conquest - form a coherent unit in their own right, and chart the separation of human and ape, the growing tension that will ultimately end in the destruction of human culture; there's a real mythic charge to these pieces that becomes increasingly dark and intense. The story starts with the return of three apes from the future to 1970s America, and - at least initially - the tone is one of swinging satire. The portrayal of modern society through the eyes of outsiders is not a startlingly original device, but it works nicely enough in the movie (assisted by Jerry Goldsmith's score) and it sets the scene for when things turn nasty.

Because when it's discovered that Zira is pregnant and that her unborn child could grow up to become the leader of the ape rebellion that will overthrow humanity, the establishment decides to eliminate the threat before it can become reality. Not dissimilar to The Terminator really.

The movie's full of good things. The central pair are played by the best ape actors of them all, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, assisted by Sal Mineo in his last big screen appearance, and by Ricardo Montalban; the script is as intelligent as you'd expect it be, given that it's from Paul Dehn, who'd adapted The Spy Who Came In From The Cold; and the direction is from Don Taylor, who may not be celebrated as an auteur, but did give us Damien - Omen II before sinking into the lethargy of Sexpionage.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes sees the return of McDowall, this time playing his son - i.e. baby Milo from the previous film - who's been renamed Caesar and has grown up in Ricardo Montalban's circus as the only talking ape on the planet. Meanwhile in the wider society, a plague from outer space has killed all domestic pets, leading to primates first being adopted as pets and then being trained to do menial labouring tasks. In short, America has reinvented slavery, safe in the knowledge that this time there won't be any of that civil rights nonsense to disturb the power structures. Until, of course, Caesar, inaugurates the rebellion that begins the fulfilment of his destiny.

Both Conquest and the final film, Battle, were directed by J Lee Thompson, who had earlier made the original Cape Fear and who could therefore be assumed to know something about intelligent movies and about scaring an audience. Conquest is genuinely effective, with its strong political themes proving particularly resonant in Nixon's America, but Battle really shows the signs of budget-cuts, and starts looking like a Disney boys' adventure show (albeit one with Paul Williams in an ape costume). The lack of money was exacerbated by the absence of Paul Dehn who'd done a fine job on the three previous scripts: he's credited with the story, but the screenplay wasn't his and wasn't much cop.

More to the point, there wasn't much point. There are a few decent fight sequences, but, as the sleeve notes point out: 'It was a city on the brink of an horrendous destruction that had happened once - and was suddenly, inexorably, happening again...' Which does make one wonder why they bothered making the film and why they think we should bother watching. Who reheats a TV dinner?

The Apes of Wrath
The Supreme Court hands down its historic judgement that the constitutional right to bear arms doesn't extend to risible right-wing ham actors

So having got this far, you might reasonably ask: what about the bloody books? Well, they're much, much better than you might imagine they would be, largely because they've been given to proper writers. The original inspiration - as I'm sure you know - was Pierre Boulle's Monkey Planet, which predates the movie by a long way and therefore doesn't really fall within our remit, but the next four movies were novelised. Beneath was by the ubiquitous Michael Avallone, but I haven't got that one yet, whilst the other three are by established and respected writers. Escape and Conquest are examples of that rare thing, a novelization you can read as a novel, whilst even Battle is as good as it could be, given the source material. (Though the more astute reader will notice that the cover illustration actually comes from Conquest, suggesting a certain lack of confidence on the part of the publishers.)

The best, of course, is Conquest, partly because it's the most interesting story and partly because it's written by our old friend John Jakes, who emphasizes the political edge. Here, for example, is his reworked version of Caesar's climactic speech, his classic rallying call to the oppressed that promises fire next time:

'We will not win everywhere. Perhaps not even in a majority of cities. But fire brings smoke. And in that smoke, from this night onward, my people will crouch. And conspire. And plot and plan against the inevitable day of man's downfall. Because, you see, we have valuable allies. The savage ape that lives inside each man. There will come a time when our struggle will be aided by your own kind. Turning your own weapons desperately, self-destructively against your fellow human beings.
'We both know that day is inevitable, Mr MacDonald. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under the radioactive rubble. When the seas have become dead seas, and every land a wasteland. That is the future - which my parents saw. In that future, I will lead my people out of their captivity. And we shall build our own cities, where there will be no place for humans - except to serve our own ends.' (pp.186-7)

Tremendous stuff.



Escape from the Planet of the Apes
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
5/5

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
ARTISTIC MERIT: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
5/5

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
5/5


visit Jerry Pournelle's homepage
visit John Jake's homepage

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