Planet of the Apes: A rare work | Sunday Observer

Planet of the Apes: A rare work

3 January, 2021

Planet of the Apes is an American science fiction media franchise consisting of films, books, television series, comics, and other media about a world in which humans and intelligent apes clash for control. The franchise is based on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des singes, translated into English as Planet of the Apes or Monkey Planet. Its 1968 film adaptation, Planet of the Apes, was a critical and commercial hit, initiating a series of sequels, tie-ins, and derivative works. Arthur P. Jacobs produced the first five Apes films through APJAC Productions for distributor 20th Century Fox; since his death in 1973, Fox has controlled the franchise.

Four sequels followed the original film from 1970 to 1973: Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. They did not approach the critical acclaim of the original, but were commercially successful, spawning two television series in 1974 and 1975. Plans for a film remake stalled in ‘development hell’ for over ten years before Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes was released in 2001. A reboot film series commenced in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 and War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017. The films have grossed a total of over US$2 billion worldwide, against a combined budget of $567.5 million. Along with further narratives in various media, franchise tie-ins include video games, toys and planned theme park rides.

The Planet of the Apes has received particular attention among film critics for its treatment of racial issues. Cinema and cultural analysts have also explored its Cold War and animal rights themes. The series has influenced subsequent films, media, and art, as well as popular culture and political discourse.

Planet of the Apes TV series

As well as their profitable returns at the box office, the films earned very high ratings on television after their theatrical runs. To capitalise on this success, Arthur P. Jacobs conceived an hour-long live action television series to follow the films. He first had the idea in 1971 during the production of Conquest, which he then anticipated would be the final film, but he shelved the project once Fox ordered a fifth installment. Jacobs died on June 27, 1973, bringing an end to the APJAC Productions era of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Former Fox executive Stan Hough took over as producer for the television project, titled Planet of the Apes. CBS picked up the series for its 1974 autumn lineup.

Ron Harper and James Naughton played Alan Virdon and Peter Burke, two 20th-century American astronauts who pass through a time warp to a future where apes subjugate humans (unlike the original film, the humans can speak). Roddy McDowall returned to the franchise as Galen, a chimpanzee who joins the astronauts. Booth Coleman played orangutan Councillor Zaius and Mark Lenard played gorilla General Urko. The episodes portray Virdon, Burke, and Galen as they search for a way home, aid downtrodden humans and apes and avoid the authorities. The show premiered on September 13, 1974, filling CBS’s 8–9 p.m. time slot on Fridays. It earned low ratings during its run, a fact the production team attributed to repetitive storytelling and too little screen time for the apes who made the franchise famous. Given the considerable production costs, CBS canceled the show after 14 episodes, the last airing on December 20, 1974.

In 1981, Fox reedited ten of the episodes into five television films. Each film combined two episodes and (in some markets) added new introductory and concluding segments starring McDowall as an aged Galen. The films were given what scholar Eric Greene calls “the most outlandish titles of the Apes corpus”: Back to the Planet of the Apes; Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes; Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes; Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes; and Farewell to the Planet of the Apes.

Greene finds the show’s position in the Apes timeline significant: set in 3085, it occurs about 900 years before Taylor’s crash in the original film and 400 years after the Lawgiver’s sermon in Battle. By depicting a future where apes dominate humans, it implies the Lawgiver’s message of equality between man and ape has failed, giving weight to the more pessimistic interpretation of Battle’s ending. Greene argues that the show emphasised the theme of racial conflict less than the films had, though the episodes The Trap and The Liberator made it a central focus.