HomeArticlesThe Story Behind The Planet of the Apes | The Reel Story
The Story Behind The Planet of the Apes | The Reel Story
December 9, 2019
In 1963, French author Pierre Boulle published his sci-fi masterpiece “Planet of the Apes” (La Planète des singes) a title we have all now come to know and love. And while the 1960s film franchise and the book share the same story root, the book is pretty different from its beloved adaptation. As we all know, the movie starts with Charlton Heston and his team crash landing on an unknown planet. In the book, however, the story begins when a space traveling couple named Phyllis and Jinn pick up a manuscript floating in a bottle. Inside, the message is a testament of Ulysse Merou, a member of a French space expedition which landed him on a planet named Soror, in the Betelgeuse System. Similar to Heston’s George Taylor Ulysse is shocked to find this unusual planet occupied by human-like creatures who act like wild animals and are unable to communicate. These humans are rounded up and taken prisoner by a group of apes riding horseback armed with machine guns, knives and nets. This scene is also included in Tim Burton’s 2001 version of the film, where Mark Wahlberg’s Captain Leo Davidson crash lands on Earth and is immediately attacked by a team of armored apes. Both Ulysse and his film counterparts Taylor and Davidson are tied up and taken back to the apes’ city to be experimented on. Unlike the 1968 film, where Taylor ultimately impresses his captors – namely Zira – with his ability to speak That bright-eyes is remarkable! in the book Ulysse faces some difficulty convincing the apes that he’s not one of the feral humans, as he speaks French and the apes speak an advanced Simian language unlike anything he’s ever heard. When Ulysse does speak, his Zira thinks he’s just “aping” them (no pun intended) and brush him off. It takes stealing her notebook and drawing out complicated mathematical diagrams to convince her and her team that he’s actually pretty smart. After some hard work and patience, Ulysse eventually learns to speak the Simian language and in return Zira learns French allowing them to communicate with each other. This approach is a little less dramatic than Heston’s Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape! But equally as effective.
And while George Taylor is basically forced to stand trial against an assembly of apes all keen on castrating and lobotomizing him, Taylor’s book counterpart gets to give a well thought-out speech in front of the ape government, calmly making a case for his freedom and earning the support of the public. Not exactly the same vibe.
Another important part of the book is Zira’s fiancé Cornelius’ discovery that apes didn’t naturally evolve into intelligence but copied an older more advanced civilization. This backstory is revealed in both the 1972 Conquest of the Planet of the Apes Some 2000 years hence their descendants will have all but exterminated the human race on the face of the earth. and in the more recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011. Both films include (different) histories for the ape known as Caesar effectively the patriarch of the ape uprising, and in Conquest, the son of Cornelius and Zira. Two talking apes arrived on Earth and conceived a baby whose survival could threaten the future of the entire human race. Cornelius’ discovery leads us to the end of the book as Ulysse’s life is put into danger suddenly, as a member of the ancestral race, he’s a threat to the apes and he’s forced to leave the planet on a spaceship with his wife, son, Zira, and Cornelius a space ship which takes him back to Earth. Taylor on the other hand has a much worse fate in store, quickly exiled and taken to The Forbidden Zone only to find out he’s been home on Earth all along. This is also similar to 2001’s Captain Leo Davidson attempting to time travel home only to find he never left Earth in the first place. Dissimilar to the book, the original movie’s theme (and its remakes) is one of hubris leading the audience to believe that if Taylor could escape, he could safely return to Earth and rightfully take his place once again at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, mankind’s tendency towards self-destruction and xenophobia eventually leads us down a path of near-extinction, allowing the apes to step in as our replacements. While Rod Serling was writing the original screenplay adaptation of Boulle’s 1963 work, he noted that, while Boulle is a talented and creative author, his book was simply a prolonged allegory about morality rather than a fully thought out sci-fi piece. Serling saw within it, however, the potential for what he called “a walloping science fiction idea.” By the time the 1968 film finally went into production three other writers had altered Serling’s script, with all three deciding to keep Serling’s famous ending with Lady Liberty in the sand. To this day the image of Charlton Heston on his knees in the surf screaming in front of the statue is one of the most iconic pieces of film in history.