Book Review / Planet of the Apes


It is really, really hard to separate what is a brilliant franchise of films spanning from 1968 to the present day from this (except Beneath... and the Tim Burton one even though Tim Roth is in it). But then people tend to only do that when the film is so bad we have to try and justify it by saying, 'oh, but in the book...!' somehow saving the original work some semblance of respect. Unfortunately for the book it swings the other way this time.


The films managed to pull from what is a really unbalanced and cringeworthy text on the surface level, all the most important aspects, plus throw in some eternally cool quotes, some epic scenes, and a smack in the face ending which is still chilling. That kind of shiz is meant to come from the original text in my opinion, then be battered to death in the script and put in its grave on screen. This is like some kind of topsy-turvy world. From what I recall of the time the Tim Burton version came out a large selection of people were saying 'oh, what a stupid ending, it's not like the original.' Although, it was the actual original...awkward... What is nice is the Liberty ending in the first film, when intended or not, does give a shout out to the book/author. The Statue of Liberty being French and all. Maybe they were gloating though, trashing a French creation...gosh, poor taste.


If you scrape beneath Planet of the Apes (see what I did there?) there are some really great touched-upon questions about humanity: exposing of our species' flaws and astonishing arrogance, a fearful legacy which would be one great kick in the arse, the lack of appreciation we have for our environment and how we take everything for granted. But they're utterly suffocated under the jarring prose. Jarring, jarring, jarring prose. An inconceivable situations (I bloody love SF and fantasy, so the inability to suspend my disbelief didn't bode well). And only one character that's likeable (Zira) and interesting (Cornelius was alright, too, but I have a soft spot for Roddy McDowall's version). And the constant use of the word 'monkey' (see below). I just really didn't like it.


I cannot believe I'm saying this, because when does it ever happen, but the better thought-out and more rounded Hollywood version is far superior. It's clear and concise, has a main character (Charlton Heston's Taylor) who is very disillusioned and fairly arrogant, but actually has some very perceptive things to say about humanity, and his story arc comes full circle to a satisfying end (even though the ending doesn't bode well for him or us). I can't remember the lead's name in this book now because I've been trying to block it out, but any character that can lack charm to a degree higher than Charlton Heston is a seriously flawed human being. He doesn't have anything remotely useful in his existence as a person either, so nothing to look forward to in his progression - or lack of - in the story. Even Patrick Bateman, one of the most detestable human beings in prose, had an utterly absorbing personality, even though it was psychopathic and all-other-negative-traits-ever.


There is another problem though. I'm not entirely sure if Boulle's perception of humanity was so tarnished by the wartime experiences I read he had, that he had his lead character embody all the things he hates about this race. I hate all the things about the character (except a misaligned sense of adventure, I guess, maybe there is hope) and his unfortunately human traits of which he seems to possess all the negative ones, so something rings true in characterisation I guess, of a man who is the only 'intelligent' (termed loosely) human left in the universe, so he thinks he's the best. I recall a very perceptive film with Luke Wilson called Idiocracy that explores this particular theme in detail. This reporter is also constantly calling the great apes 'monkeys', which as the more educated will understand are a different species entirely, but this may be a hint at the way the character imposes his proposed superiority on actually more superior beings, by using term he knows is incorrect - or he is just too stupid to know the difference. Thing is, they don't seem very insulted as far as I recall, so that theory seems to fall on its head. He is mostly accepted once he proves he can do all the things apes can, and so is respected in that aspect, proving that our perception (or the apes' perception) is actually changeable once they open their minds to the possibility of a specimen as able as they are. An excellent and valid theme and point, if only it had been the actual running theme through the story. When all these things come up, they're never mentioned as such. If he was using the term ignorantly, he should have got his comeuppance for it from a species that is currently superior to him. He didn't. If he was mistreating characters (see below) he should have got his comeuppance for that too, to show that he is just an arrogant arse that deserves all the shit he gets. He didn't. And so hoping that these themes mean something deeper seems to be trashed at every moment they are introduced.


The character in the end seems to find that having a family consisting of a mute brutish human woman who was the focus of this running perviness throughout the text (used purely to get to a point where Nova has a child that carries the possibility of speech and free thought - used far better in Escape...), is the way to happiness. Not quite sure what he wanted to say with this theme except that perhaps this character is so atrocious he'd take any woman on earth rather than be alone. After perving over her, insulting her, having sex with her, rejecting her because he's better than her, hitting her because she won't listen to him, he decides there's no other women so she'll do - oh and she's carrying his child by that point, he seemingly isn't so great that he can breast feed in space. Suddenly he's a changed man and flying off into the sunset. Alright, not that changed, because rather than stay and fight for his and his child's right to exist (I presume he doesn't really give a hoot for Nova) he jumps ship and leaves the planet. Somehow. Even though there are no astronauts or scientists left in his group but the ship can be manned by any old idiot.


The whole thing could have come off as satire I expect in another incarnation, and if it had been satire wouldn't have felt such a chore because there would have been some humour in our uselessness to grasp. Maybe in the original French the writing and execution were superior. I just couldn't get into it, I found nothing remotely amusing or really enjoyable about it (except the part where Zira forcibly shoves him away for trying it on with her because he's too ugly. That was the only memorable quote from the book which made it to the film, I concur). At every turn there was something that was half interesting and then that annoying reporter would do or say something requiring a slap. Maybe that was the point of the book! Maybe, truly, Boulle wanted to show us we are all doomed because we cannot see what is truly important through our inability to shut up for five seconds and assess the situation. It came through in some degree, though I was on the side of the apes the entire time, even Zaius, humanity be damned. I wouldn't want that toxic man polluting the society I lived in either. Maybe that was the point of the book, too! All these amazing concepts that have been successfully transferred to the PotA film and TV franchise, given the right amount of time and attention, were just fuddled through originally. Which is unfortunate, because I really, really wanted to love it. Usually that's enough to pull me from the doldrums and enjoy something that's not quite right. But no. It's not a totally rejected book either, probably because it spawned one of my favourite franchises ever.


It certainly made me think. But mostly about how much better all the films are. Except Beneath... and the Tim Burton one. Yes, even apes on horses fighting tanks is acceptable in comparison because it's fecking awesome!