In the 1970s, there were few fandom manias more intense among kids than Planet of the Apes. Star Trek couldn’t really hold a candle to it for those of us of a certain age, and, really, what else was there? Planet of the Apes offered a scenario of apocalypse that was also one of adventure, within a world that invited an intense level of world-building, but also devoted a section to satire and social commentary. Charlton Heston’s Taylor became a hero for a generation, an outspoken rebel who refused to shut up even when his throat was cut. Cornelius and Zira also captured kids’ hearts as the heroes who changed their mind, turned their back on the establishment, stood their ground as best they could. It was a as subversive a film for kids as you will find back then.
It’s the iconic ending that forever plays in the minds of the kids who saw it then, but the desire for other people to relive the experience their first time has made it one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood film. Everybody seems to know, and yet there are so many who don’t, and my generation has kept it as a secret passed down, to be passed onto our own kids, and so on, a revelation to be experienced after a fable of mankind’s descent if they don’t change their ways.
Metaphorically, little about the ensuing decades have made the Apes series seem less current, and the new entries couldn’t have come at a better time. Once again, we seem to make ourselves victims of our own demise, and the Apes films, old and new, reflect this.
In this new book (Amazon, Powell’s) covering the expanse of the series Joe Fordham and Jeff Bond takes you through the pre-production, production, and aftermath of each entry, gloriously illustrated with set photos, some beautiful storyboards, and behind-the-scenes peeks at models, make-up, costuming, sets.
A more comprehensive book about the Apes series I can’t imagine, with Fordham and Bond taking the time to delve into the creative process of story development as well as the technical points, mapping out how each film ended up as the film it was — and the previous versions of the plot that sometimes sound more thoughtful and altogether better than what ended up on the screen. Battle for the Planet of the Apes in particular is revealed to have this problem – earlier ideas were more in service of creating a direct continuum not only from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes but in many ways circling back into the first. The script iterations for all the films, though, are fascinating, and some regretful that they never happened.
Fordham and Bond also take us through the two television off-shoots, rightfully giving the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes a little more credit for trying hard than the rather dull live-action version, and then into the Burton version, with a little history of what lead up to that — including a reunion buddy movie for the characters of Taylor and Cornelius. While I don’t think the Burton version was great, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest, but much like so many things Burton touches, it lacks anything personal, any real passion, and, as such, is mostly notable for its production design, which the book certainly reflects.
Fordham and Bond take great pains to reveal the development and processes behind the new films, which have revived the series with a wonderful emotion and sincerity behind it, and is interesting as it relates some of the philosophy behind technical and story decisions, and explores the manner in which the character of Caesar is built. Since so much care was taken with plot discussions, I do wish there had been some section addressing the filmmakers’ thoughts on continuity with the earlier films — fans certainly have their own theory, I know I do, but the writing of the films seems so thoughtful that any insight would have been interesting. But that doesn’t make this book any less thorough or fascinating, with a strong visual component that should make this a must-have for anyone enthralled by the Planet of the Apes.