Friday, February 26, 2010

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

"Time can only be fully understood by an observer with a god-like gift of infinite regression."

- Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) discusses the dark, turbulent corridors of time in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.

One of the finest and best-written horror blogs haunting cyberspace in 2010 is
Kindertrauma, a site dedicated to the film and TV productions that scared (and scarred...) us all as children.

In the spirit of that blog's dedicated mission statement, I've been thinking much lately about a disco-decade era movie that disturbed me tremendously as a kid. It's not exactly a traditional pick, I grant you. I certainly wouldn't classify it as horror, per se. But it was...horrific. And it certainly rattled my young mind.

The year was 1976 when I first viewed Escape from the Planet of the Apes on ABC Channel 7's 4:30 Movie (during Planet of the Apes week). I was six or seven years old at the time. I was in kindergarten, if I'm remembering it right. The movie itself concerned three ape-o-nauts hurled back from the future of 3955 AD (the era of the Earth's destruction in Beneath The Planet of the Apes [1969] to 1973; to now, essentially.


But Escape from the Planet of the Apes blazing, go-for-broke valedictory images -- especially following the film's easy-going, fish-out-of-water humor -- proved utterly traumatizing to me.


Specifically, at the film's climax, the audience is exposed to a number of really disturbing images. Kindly ape-o-naut doctor, Zira (Kim Hunter) is shot in the back several times while running away from her assailant.

A villainous scientist, Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) empties his gun into the body of Zira's baby (presumably), and we see the bullet-ridden, bloody blanket in close-up.

Then, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira's husband -- standing atop a high deck on a rusty ship -- kills Hasslein and we see the blood erupt out of his chest as a bullet strikes.

Next, a police sniper shoots Cornelius, and we watch in agonizing close-up as this beloved character, this pacifist chimpanzee, gasps repeatedly for air, plummets from his perch, and smashes hard onto the deck below. He lands with an unforgettable thud.

The most disturbing portion of this death scene is the close-up: Cornelius's lungs have been punctured apparently, and we see him register, shock, confusion and pain as the terminal nature of his wounds take effect, and he struggles for more air.

Finally, the bloodied Zira -- after dumping her baby's corpse into polluted-looking water -- crawls desperately to her husband's side and quietly dies beside him. Then there's a dramatic pull-back -- the cinematic equivalent of a "Holy Shit" -- as the camera retracts in horror from this orgy of violence perpetrated against, unarguably, the franchise's most beloved and likable characters.


And yes, this move is Rated G. For "General Audiences." Take the kiddies...

I've never forgotten this brutal climax to Don Taylor's third entry in the POTA franchise, and it's probably the reason I don't watch this film as often as I do the original 1968 film, or Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Cornelius and Zira are such kind, innocent, loving beings and throughout the film, they literally wear their hearts on their sleeves. This quality of sincerity makes them very open with strangers ("I like you," Zira tells one of their captors, the kindly Dr. Lewis [Bradford Dillman]). Yet it also makes them impulsive.


This quality of total honesty and openness means Zira doesn't know any better than to tell her human captors EVERYTHING about her work in the distant future, including her experimentation on dumb and mute humans. And Cornelius also reacts impulsively (but protectively) when Zira -- following a torture session by Hasslein -- is insulted by an orderly. Cornelius kills the boy in an instant of fleeting rage. Considering all of this now, I still can't believe how unremittingly, how authentically dark Escape from the Planet of the Apes remains.

What I hadn't taken full notice of, perhaps, in my previous viewing of the film, is just how skilled and yes, how artistic, the film remains, in the support of such a rather bleak story. I had always boasted an unspoken bias against Escape since it is the only Planet of the Apes entry set in "our time," meaning no need for much by way of special effects, make-up or futuristic production design. The film also features less action than both of its silver screen predecessors. Having seen the film for so many years on television (in Pan-and-Scan), and not the more impressive wide-screen version, I had often considered the film ugly-looking, especially in respect to the other impressive films in the franchise.

Now, however, I see it a little differently. Don Taylor makes great use of the rectangular frame in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, forging a number of remarkable compositions in the process. One of the finest examples of his work opens the film. We start with a landscape view of a timeless ocean, bracketed on the left by a jagged mountain. This image plainly recalls the post-apocalyptic Forbidden Zone, rocky shore-line and Statue of Liberty-ending of Planet of the Apes. But before we can contemplate this particular (and familiar...) vision for too long, a contemporary helicopter unexpectedly juts into frame from the left, making audiences aware that we have returned to our Earth of the present. This is a great tie-in to the previous films; one of great visual consistency for the series. It's exactly the opening shot we would expect of a Planet of the Apes sequel...but with a twist.

In terms of visualizations, Taylor's direction also makes a case for our eyes that the human world (soon to die in a nuclear conflagration...) is already half-dead. The Apes from the future are welcomed to this world as heroes and celebrities, but soon are tortured and mistreated by agents of the U.S. military-industrial complex. Accordingly, Zira and Cornelius go from luxurious hotel rooms to utilitarian military bases, finally to a forgotten, rusted ship-yard that represents the wasteful, ruined, industrial infrastructure of a bloated human society living on borrowed time. Zira attempts to nurse her baby inside an abandoned ship there, and the vessel is a total wreckage. So what we get is an odd visual conjunction of birth and dying in the same frame.


In terms of visuals, Taylor also evidences a preference for images which note the apes' entrapment and ultimate doom here in our 20th century culture.

A preponderance of shots reveal the endangered apes through bars, window frames, door-frames or other enclosures that suggest, at least implicitly, their snare. Even the film's final shot adopts this stance; an appropriate touch since it occurs at the prehistory of ape enslavement in human culture. I should add, the shot also adopts the high-angle perspective frequently and in film grammar, that is also a signifier of doom.

Thematically, I also appreciate the way that Escape from the Planet of the Apes is structured as a mirror-image of the original, only flipping the ape/human dynamics. Three astronauts travel through time in both stories. Kindly "animal" psychologists tend to the astronauts in both stories -- in direct contradiction to the rules of the prevailing, cruel society -- and there are also early casualties amongst the space travelers in both Escape and Planet. In Escape's presidential commission or "panel of inquiry," there's even a resonance of Ape's famous "See/Speak/Hear No Evil" Tribunal.

What's even more genuinely commendable about Escape from the Planet of the Apes is the film's central theological and philosophical argument. To wit, Hasslein discusses the nature of time...and destiny. "Time is like a freeway, a freeway with an infinite number of lanes. All leading from the past into the future. However not the same future." He tells us. "It follows that a driver -- by changing lanes -- can change his future."

But then in a conversation with the President of the United States (William Windom in a terrific, ultra-slick performance), Hasslein admits that he wonders about his next course of action. Apes will take over the world if Zira and Cornelius are allowed to raise their baby. Hasslein thus wants to sterilize the parents and abort the baby. But -- as he aptly puts it -- "which future has God -- if there is a God -- chosen for our future?" In killing the Talking Apes, is Hasslein an instrument of God's plan, or an enemy of God's plan?

The President brings up the famous Hitler time-travel conundrum in response. Would we kill Hitler in the womb, knowing what we know of the man and his war crimes? Would he kill his remote ancestors? The President's answer is one of political buck-passing. When told that talking apes will dominate Earth's future, he notes sardonically, "I doubt that we shall still be in office by then."

This thematic conceit sees a deliberate reflection in a character introduced in the final act, the circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban). Armando states that he despises those who try to intervene in destiny, and act against God's plan. And furthermore, that if it is man's fate to be dominated by intelligent apes, then he hopes those apes are as kind as Zira and Cornelius. Essentially, we have two opposing points of view here: pre-determinism (Armando) vs. free will (Hasslein). Or to put it another way, Hasslein desires to "change lanes" in order avoid a terrible future for human beings. Armando prefers to believe that we're not even driving the car. That God has us on cruise control of sorts. Changing lanes is futile, if it isn't in God's scheme.

Interestingly, the very words of Zira and Cornelius, regarding "future" ape history, inform us a bit more about the shape of this argument. The two kindly chimps insist that, according to their Sacred Scrolls, pet apes went from doing tricks to performing services in two centuries. And that they turned the tables on their human oppressors in another three centuries. In other words, in the world that Zira and Cornelius arise from (and which Taylor visited) it takes 500 years for harried apes to develop the power of speech and become conscious to the philosophical concepts of slavery and freedom, unity and corporate action. This long period of "dawning realization" may occur because there is no real intelligent leader of the movement. Insurrection, revolution and a new order must arise through the crucible of experience; through evolution. Through generations of slavery.

But by "changing lanes," by traveling back in time, Zira and Cornelius have altered destiny (and their own history). Now, their child -- an intelligent ape -- will bring about the same pro-ape revolution in decades, not centuries. So the future has indeed been changed. It has been hastened.

But the irony of this is Hasslein's role. He acts to kill the baby of the taking apes, and the world believes he has succeeded in his quest. Thus the hunt for Zira and Cornelius's child ends permanently...at least until a paranoid governor named Breck picks it up twenty years later...when it is too late. By acting to destroy the threat now, by believing he can "change lanes," Hasslein has also hastened the very future he hoped to avoid (the pre-determined future?). The apes will take over his world; and they will do it much sooner than they would have without his witch-hunt. Perhaps God has played a trick on the vain scientist. The outcome was never in doubt; only the scheduling of it.

Critics are always quick to point out the pointed social commentary in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and indeed, there's much there. Zira gives a bra-burning speech to a Bay Area Women's Club, striking a feminist chord right at the time that second-wave feminism was really entering the American bloodstream. "The marriage bed is made for two," she declares to rousing applause, "But every damn morning it's the woman who has to make it."

Similarly, Cornelius attends a boxing prize fight, and is horrified by the overt brutality of the event. By contrast, the humans don't seem to be horrified by this violence in the slightest. They cheer as the fighters pummel one another. Oppoistely, the humans do take great exception to the violence Zira inflicts on human experimental subjects...in the year 3955 AD. The same humans who decry Zira's lab experiments in the distant future are also the first to decide on her draconian personal disposition: sterilization after a state-enforced abortion. Given this scenario, Escape from the Planet of the Apes involves human hypocrisy. Or as Zira notes. "We've met hundreds of humans since we've been here. And I trust three."

There's also some underlying commentary in Escape from the Planet of the Apes about the American media and pop culture, and how it is so damn fickle. At first, Cornelius and Zira capture the hearts of "the voters" (as the President states). For a while, they are the toast of the town. Why, they even go to Disneyland to dedicate a "new boat " in the "jungle cruise."

Within a few weeks, however, the apes are spirited to an undisclosed location, and eventually murdered. The culture that worshipped them has apparently forgotten about them; moved on to different bread and circuses, apparently. The message: souls as honest and gentle as Zira and Cornelius get snuffed out in this media "circus" (as opposed to Armando's more compassionate circus, a place of sanctuary).

Ultimately, Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a bridge between the first two films in the series and the last two. It is the only one not set in the future. It is also the movie, in a sense, that makes the entire Planet of the Apes series possible, since it "resurrects" characters from a destroyed Earth of the future and delivers them (and young Caesar...) into the 20th century timeline where the ascent of the Apes will soon occur. For all these reasons, Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a strong entry -- and a necessary one -- in the five-strong franchise. But more than that, it's a pretty damn fine film in its own right.

And I still find it intensely traumatizing. Cornelius and Zira are golden hearts, to steal a descriptor from Lars von Trier. We have witnessed their decency and humanity in Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and here in their last film too. To kill off such sweet, beloved characters in such brutal, unblinking fashion is almost sadistic. But the point about the cruelty of the current human culture is made.

In truth, the enduring power of Escape from the Planet of the Apes probably arises from the vivid, unforgettable, bloody ending that spawns nightmares in the young. This is a Fin de siècle film. The human world is ending; a rusted, industrial nightmare of decay and bloat, and soon to take even further hits (the death of pets by space plague is just ten years off in this time-line, for instnace).

Even the film's final image is haunting, bizarre and a little surreal. A baby ape -- the real child of Zira and Cornelius -- is behind bars at Armando's circus. Shouting plaintively. Calling for "Mama." (And voiced by the late, great Walker Edmiston).

A sad baby searching for his murdered Mama? Not exactly a barrel full of monkeys.



31 comments:

  1. Fine breakdown of this pivotal film in the POTA series, John. I agree that the demise of these two characters (perhaps, the most likable in the series story overall) was shocking, especially for the manner presented. Also, I think your fate vs. free will comparison is very thought-provoking and apt. But tell me, given this is "... a mirror image of the original, only flipping the ape/human dynamics", doesn't it follow that the ape society of 3955 AD went on to repeat the failings of human kind and ended up no better? And the end result, nuclear obliteration for both, could be interpreted as God/Fate/Nature's way of wiping the slate clean (to start all over)? This has always played on my mind with this series. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

    As always, reading your reviews and analysis is always something I look forward to. Many thanks.

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  2. LeOpard13:

    You raise a great point. The apes -- in a deliberate example of monkey see/monkey do -- repeat in 3955 AD the self-annihilation of the human race, centuries earlier.

    But, here's my opinion. God's divine plan is Zira/Cornelius and that spaceship!

    They are sent back in time to hasten the rise of the Apes and -- through Caesar's "humanity" (maybe decency is better world") -- his people attempt to build a world better than the one that Taylor saw, judged and destroyed with the Alpha Omega Bomb in "Beneath."

    I think that there was a "lane change" a third future at work here (leading up to the end of the film series): Caesar's future. The one where he frees the humans, and as late as 2600 AD (as we see in Battle), humans and apes live together in peace. It is possible that when Taylor arrives "again" (so-to-speak) he will find a world where apes and humans co-exist, and there is no need to destroy it.

    Divine reboot?! With pacifist chimps as the mechanism!

    best,
    JKM

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  3. Oops, I meant to say that "decency is a better word," not a better world in my comment. Hope my point still makes sense...

    JKM

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  4. I understood what you meant. And, I like that interpretation! It gives it a somewhat karmic view to the series, yes? Thanks.

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  5. Yes! Exactly! That's my optimistic take on a dark, brooding film series -- and my sense of justice for Zira and Cornelius :)

    best,
    JKM

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  6. Mr. Muir,
    Great essay! A few months ago Fox Movie Channel had a letterboxed Escape in heavy rotation, and I wound up catching it a few times, genuinely watching the flick for the first time. It's got lots of food for thought, especially Hasslein (who was mentioned in both Ape 1 and Beneath) and the President's philosophical arguments.
    Jerry Goldsmith's main theme is a rockin' number, as well.
    I think the movie is so bleak because we should hate the human world by the end, and be praying for the ape baby's revenge.

    I look forward to what you have to say about Conquest!

    BTW, Hooray for the 4:30 Movie shout-out! God, I used to live for that show...

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  7. John,
    Thanks for the endorsement, it means a great deal coming from you.

    Me and my brothers were very into The Planet Of The Ape series growing up and I too was heartbroken by Zira's death. It makes sense that I would be as I remember being practically in love with her. She was just so sweet and Kim Hunter was able to express so much from beneath all that make-up. So much of Sci-Fi asks us what it means to be "human" but this series goes one step further and asks us what it means to be a civilized human.

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  8. Totally underrated sci-fi movie and much better then that James Franciscus nonsense. The 'sequel' or sorts (or maybe a prequel. . .I dunno) is just as good.

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  9. Kindertrauma:

    I love your blog! It's easy to say nice things about it because it's so damned good.

    I love the idea behind Kindertrauma. Everybody has a memory of some movie that scared or upset them as a child; and part of our quest as an adult is to find out what it was called; who was in it; and why it worked its dreaded magic on us.

    Your blog fulfills some basic human need to go back to that which frightened us as little ones. I don't want to say it's like a public service, but you know...it kinda is! :)

    Anyway, you are right about Zira, it's just heartbreaking what she goes through in this movie. I mean, how can you not be in love with her? After the way she helped Taylor and Brent and the way she stood up to Ursus and Zaius.

    That's part of the brilliance of these Planet of the Apes movies: we come to view the apes as people, as individuals, not as animals or creatures.

    And William: This is an underrated film, no doubt about it. I had always considered it to be a somewhat less than substantial addition to the canon, until watching it again recently and being floored by how good it was.

    best,
    JKM

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  10. Hey John,

    Looks like you and I are compatriots on the Back to Frank Black website. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my website, http://secureimmaturity.com, if you ever get a chance. Troy turned me on to your blog and I have to say I've loved going back and looking at some seminal films from my childhood/high school days. Your article on Tales from the Hood was spot on brotha!

    Keep in touch and keep up the good work (and thanks for the fast reply on my last comment).

    Will

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  11. Hey Will,

    I will check out your site! Thanks for the message, and glad you've enjoyed the blog.

    All my best,
    JKM

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  12. Hasslein is the only sane person in the movie. 'Escape' marks the political about-face in the Apes franchise. We go from the rational, Darwinist framework of 'Planet' and 'Beneath', to the naïve, pacifist, even self-loathing 'Escape'. Any clear-thinking human would clap and cheer when the baby chimp is terminated, but in the theater, the cheers came at the death of the very one trying to save US ALL!!!

    However, I grew up with these movies (saw each one on its original theatrical release), and i still enjoy them, mostly for sentimental reasons, like hanging out with old friends.

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  13. Overall a good commentary on the film but you have one detail dead wrong. Cornelius & Zira did not 'change lanes' and create a new timeline. Screenwriter Paul Dehn often stated that he was writing a circular timeline (ala the original Terminator). The 500 year history is little more than a continuity error that doesn't jibe with the two previous films that established a nuclear war which destroyed human civilization and led to the rise of apes in the 20th century, as well as a line in Escape where Cornelius states that apes had been speaking english for 2,000 years. So you're taken what is a continuity error and extropolated it into something that is not directly supported by a single line of dialogue in any of the five films.

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  14. Webmaster,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I believe art is open to
    interpretation, and also extrapolation, if evidence exists. And evidence is extremely important, as your comment rightly notes.

    But we disagree on a point. There are plenty of lines of dialogue about altering the future in this film franchise.

    Battle for the Planet of the Apes virtually obsesses on the idea of the future, and whether we can change it. This is the information Caesar is desperate to glean (he questions Virgil and even goes to the dead city to get it...).

    Escape itself -- the subject of this review -- meditates on this idea at great length with Hasslein's predicament. Should he kill the apex now, to prevent the future? Or should he allow them to live and see what happens? He chooses to act decisively, NOW.

    But this conceit -- altering the future (switching lanes) IS discussed in a scene between Hasslein and the President (using Hitler as a basis for the discussion). It also comes up in the TV interview Hasslein gives.

    Given that this concept is indeed explicitly pondered in at least two of the five Ape films (in more than a single line of dialogue...in whole scenes and plot lines), I think we can rightly contemplate two possibilities based on the events we witness from Escape through Battle.

    These are:

    1) The future can't be changed. We're stuck.

    2.) It can be changed. We can switch lanes.

    Since Zira and Cornelius's dialogue about ape history explicitly contradicts the events we see occur in Conquest, a legitimate question to ask is: why is this the case? What's changed? Why is there no mention of Caesar in the Sacred Scrolls? Why isn't he revered as the father of Ape Culture?

    One possible answer (but not the only possible one...) is that Caesar wasn't present before. Without Zira and Cornelius changing lanes (and time traveling), it took 5 centuries for dumb apes to acquire intelligence and turn the tables on their masters.

    By traveling back in time, Cornelius and Zira have indeed changed lines. Again: that's the very subject of Escape's overriding narrative. This isn't wild speculation, it's applying the tenets of the argument, established in Escape and furthered in Battle, to the five-strong film series.

    Now, your answer is about filmmaking process: nuts & bolts; a continuity error. I accept that as a possible and likely explanation. Sure.

    Yet when we ultimately leave the apes universe in 2600 AD (approximately), apes and humans ARE living peacably together. Caesar's act of freeing the humans has apparently made for a more equitable future than the one we saw in POTA.

    Will this detente last to 3955, or will we see the world Taylor visited in the first POTA film come about? I don't know.

    But I don't think you can explicitly rule out the possibility of the former (a world of peaceful co-existence), given Caesar's intense grappling with the subject of changing lanes in Battle, and Zira and Cornelius's journey through time.

    Thus I think the extrapolation is valid. The dialogue supports this. True, no character steps up and says "we've created an entirely new time line!!!" But who, on Earth (outside of Spock in the new Star Trek) ever WOULD say such a thing? What the characters (Hasslein, Virgil, Caesar, etc.) do discuss explicitly -- in a great deal of dialogue -- is whether our actions today can alter the future; or whether the future is written in stone.

    (And just to add another point: The Terminator series is in no way perfectly circular either. The events of T2 delay Judgment Day and the Rise of the Machines: the equivalent of "changing lines." The result is that judgment day is delayed till 2003 or thereabouts, and that Skynet takes a different shape than it did in the original time line).

    Regardless, interesting food for thought...

    best,
    JKM

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  15. Mr. Muir,

    Thanks for your quick response but I still have to disagree.

    I believe art is open to
    interpretation, and also extrapolation, if evidence exists. And evidence is extremely important, as your comment rightly notes.


    Art is open to interpretation but to a point. When the intentions of the original artist are contradicted or changed that become revisionism. As far as Paul Dehn's (who wrote or co-wrote all four sequels) feeling on the subject: http://www.potamediaarchive.com/images/dehn2.jpg
    http://www.potamediaarchive.com/images/dehn3.jpg

    But we disagree on a point. There are plenty of lines of dialogue about altering the future in this film franchise.

    Yes there are plenty of lines about altering the future but not one stating that the past had been altered. There are really two different and separate arguments here that should not be conflated. The first is did C&Z create a new timeline by traveling to the past. The second is can the future be altered. The first is where I disagree, not the second.

    Battle for the Planet of the Apes virtually obsesses on the idea of the future, and whether we can change it. This is the information Caesar is desperate to glean (he questions Virgil and even goes to the dead city to get it...).

    Yes it does and I don't disagree with you on that. But again there is not one line of dialogue that states the past had been altered. And Caesar believes that he has to alter the future because he believes that they are already on the road to the future his parents came from. He even tells Aldo, "I went looking for my past, but found our future". Why is that? If the past had already been altered by C&Z then the future will have changed as well. Surely Virgil would have stated that if that were the case.

    Escape itself -- the subject of this review -- meditates on this idea at great length with Hasslein's predicament. Should he kill the apex now, to prevent the future? Or should he allow them to live and see what happens? He chooses to act decisively, NOW.

    But this conceit -- altering the future (switching lanes) IS discussed in a scene between Hasslein and the President (using Hitler as a basis for the discussion). It also comes up in the TV interview Hasslein gives.


    Exactly, Hasslein is convinced that C&Z will create the future they came from, not that they have already 'changed lanes' by virtue of C&Z traveling to the past.

    Given that this concept is indeed explicitly pondered in at least two of the five Ape films (in more than a single line of dialogue...in whole scenes and plot lines), I think we can rightly contemplate two possibilities based on the events we witness from Escape through Battle.

    These are:

    1) The future can't be changed. We're stuck.

    2.) It can be changed. We can switch lanes.


    I don't disagree on this but that is still stating that the future can be changed. Not that the past has already been changed.

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  16. Part II...

    Since Zira and Cornelius's dialogue about ape history explicitly contradicts the events we see occur in Conquest, a legitimate question to ask is: why is this the case? What's changed? Why is there no mention of Caesar in the Sacred Scrolls? Why isn't he revered as the father of Ape Culture?

    One possible answer (but not the only possible one...) is that Caesar wasn't present before. Without Zira and Cornelius changing lanes (and time traveling), it took 5 centuries for dumb apes to acquire intelligence and turn the tables on their masters.


    Or another possible answer is that like the Bible the apes' Sacred Scrolls had been rewritten and altered over the centuries, especially considering what was established in the two previous films. In the cave scene in Plant of the Apes, Cornelius dates the artifacts from human civilization as 2,000 years old, not 1,500. In Beneath, all the ruins seen are from the 20th Century, not the 25th. Taylor even calls the Alpha-Omega bomb a "souvenir from the 20th Century". Here's Paul Dehn's thoughts on the subject: http://www.potamediaarchive.com/images/dehn1.jpg
    Even in Escape, Cornelius states that apes had been speaking English for 2,000 years. So C&Z's history (which the audience never witnesses nor is witnessed by the characters relating it) contradicts not only what is seen in Conquest but what had been previously established. Thus the most logical assumption to make that doesn't revise the author's intentions is that said history is inaccurate.

    By traveling back in time, Cornelius and Zira have indeed changed lines. Again: that's the very subject of Escape's overriding narrative. This isn't wild speculation, it's applying the tenets of the argument, established in Escape and furthered in Battle, to the five-strong film series.

    No it is not. It is exactly the opposite. C&Z have traveled back in time and in doing so have set in motion a series of events that will lead to the future they came from. That is what Hasslein believes. That is the whole point of his conversation with the President. That is also what Caesar believes in Battle, that C&Z set the world on a path that will ultimately lead to the world's destruction and they are trying to 'change lanes' from that path.

    Now, your answer is about filmmaking process: nuts & bolts; a continuity error. I accept that as a possible and likely explanation. Sure.

    Yet when we ultimately leave the apes universe in 2600 AD (approximately), apes and humans ARE living peacably together. Caesar's act of freeing the humans has apparently made for a more equitable future than the one we saw in POTA.

    Will this detente last to 3955, or will we see the world Taylor visited in the first POTA film come about? I don't know.

    But I don't think you can explicitly rule out the possibility of the former (a world of peaceful co-existence), given Caesar's intense grappling with the subject of changing lanes in Battle, and Zira and Cornelius's journey through time.


    Again I'm not disagreeing that the films present the narrative that the future can be changed, just that they never state that the past had been changed by C&Z's journey. So let's not conflate what is two separate arguments.

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  17. Part III...

    Thus I think the extrapolation is valid. The dialogue supports this.

    No it doesn't. Ther is not one like of dialogue that stated or even infered that C&Z created a new timeline.

    True, no character steps up and says "we've created an entirely new time line!!!" But who, on Earth (outside of Spock in the new Star Trek) ever WOULD say such a thing?

    And outside of many Star Trek episodes, Stargate episodes, the Back to the Future films, Terminator 2 & 3, etc. But never once is it stated in any POTA film that C&Z created a new timeline by virtue of them traveling to the past.

    What the characters (Hasslein, Virgil, Caesar, etc.) do discuss explicitly -- in a great deal of dialogue -- is whether our actions today can alter the future; or whether the future is written in stone.

    Yes, again, they talk about altering the future but never that the past had been altered. Thus that is their motivation. They all believe that C&Z set them on a path that will lead to the future C&Z came from and thus need to 'change lanes' to alter that future.

    (And just to add another point: The Terminator series is in no way perfectly circular either. The events of T2 delay Judgment Day and the Rise of the Machines: the equivalent of "changing lines." The result is that judgment day is delayed till 2003 or thereabouts, and that Skynet takes a different shape than it did in the original time line).

    To me fair, I said the original Terminator meaning Terminator I, not the entire series.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Webmaster:

    Stop the planet of the apes...I want to get off!

    Thanks for the comment (and comment, and comment...)

    Also, thanks for sending the links. You have a great Apes website and I seriously want to spend a lot of time reading everything there. The links made for an interesting read on Dehn's intentions as screenwriter, certainly.

    Although -- as any screenwriter knows too well -- a writer's original intent rarely survives first contact with the ground (or the filmmaking experience). Film is a collaborative art form, so there are other inputs, other ideas, other thoughts to consider.

    And that's why we can't limit a reading of any film simply to the writer's original intent.

    I dig your idea about the Sacred Scrolls being written and rewritten over time...that certainly fits human history too. It's another tantalizing possibility concerning Caesar's apparent absence from history.

    But wait a minute, is there one line of dialogue in the films to fit THAT theory? Or is that revisionism too?

    I thought it all was a series of continuity errors!? :)

    Thanks for dropping by!

    Regards,
    JKM

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  19. Mr. Muir,

    Also, thanks for sending the links. You have a great Apes website and I seriously want to spend a lot of time reading everything there.

    Thanks. I hope you enjoy it.

    The links made for an interesting read on Dehn's intentions as screenwriter, certainly.

    Although -- as any screenwriter knows too well -- a writer's original intent rarely survives first contact with the ground (or the filmmaking experience). Film is a collaborative art form, so there are other inputs, other ideas, other thoughts to consider.

    And that's why we can't limit a reading of any film simply to the writer's original intent.


    OK. That's very true. So are there any quotes from any of the other filmmakers who worked on Escape that state they were changing Paul Dehn's original intent?

    I dig your idea about the Sacred Scrolls being written and rewritten over time...that certainly fits human history too. It's another tantalizing possibility concerning Caesar's apparent absence from history.

    Thanks!

    But wait a minute, is there one line of dialogue in the films to fit THAT theory? Or is that revisionism too?

    I thought it all was a series of continuity errors!? :)


    Unfortunately, the Planet of the Apes films are riddled with continuity errors; 3978 vs 3955, ANSA vs. NASA, etc.

    And of course any attempt to explain or reconcile these discrepancies is a form of revisionism. But there is a very big difference between coming up with an explaination for the error that still preserves the writer's intent vs. one that ignores the writer's intent and changes the nature of the story the writer is trying to tell.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Can't we all just get along?...

    If I may express my opinion here, for me personally, discovering the original intent of the artist often times leads to disappointment. With no disrespect, I don't think that the original intent of the writer is relevant to anyone but the writer. And this is because once a work of art is released into the world of public consumption it essentially becomes the property of the consuming public, with many examples of artwork taking on a life of its own in the hands of its adoring fans. A good example of this is the incredible work being done by the lovely people at Back to Frank Black.

    For me personally, half the fun of “consuming” any form of art is establishing my own interpretation of its meaning and its purpose. Using the example being discussed here, because there is no clear back and white statement in the films that the past/future has or hasn't been changed, then it is open to interpretation. To corner it into a definition of simple continuity errors (presumably incorporated due to the business demands of Hollywood) then this seems like a very dreary resolution to me. I personally do not see how Dehn could have stated that he wanted a circular story, yet such a gaping hole in the continuity has been blatantly applied to the structure.

    So that brings me back to the point that any form of art is open to the interpretation of its viewers/listeners/readers, etc. Otherwise its creator will need to be an omnipresent entity that is prepared to spell out his/her intentions where conflicting interpretations arise; and let's be fair, different people will interpret different things differently. If it is not clearly stated, then it is open to interpretation. That’s just my opinion anyway, all are open to interpret it as they see fit.


    On the subject of Escape from the POTA, John you are absolutely right, the closing moments are exactly what stayed with me for years after first viewing. And witnessing those horrifying final moments was when I truly fell in love with the series. That might seem a bit morbid and twisted, but true nonetheless. It is those shocking moments that led to me watch the films countless times, as though searching for some purpose and meaning to the violent deaths of Cornelius and Zira.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your insights into this gem, as well as your essay on Conquest a couple of weeks back.

    The only question that remains now is, do I dust off the old VHS? Or finally get myself the DVD version of these films?

    All the best
    Henry

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  21. Escape was, and remains, my favorite Apes sequel, for all of the reasons you outline, John. The humor, the mirroring of the first film, the sincerity of the characters, the phenomenal villain, the oh-my-freakin'-god ending...it's all perfect (well, almost perfect...the stuffed giant gorilla looks a bit ridiculous). I love this film, and ever get tired of watching it.

    --Rich Handley

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  22. If I may express my opinion here, for me personally, discovering the original intent of the artist often times leads to disappointment. With no disrespect, I don't think that the original intent of the writer is relevant to anyone but the writer. And this is because once a work of art is released into the world of public consumption it essentially becomes the property of the consuming public

    Current copyright laws would completely dispute that. Star Wars fans don't own Star Wars, George Lucas does. Unfortunately too many fans assume a mantle of ownership that they are not legally or morally entitled to. They didn't do the hard work of writing a script or book or of getting a film made. It is disrespectful to those that did do that work to say that their intentions mean nothing and that their work is no longer their property.

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  23. Escape was, and remains, my favorite Apes sequel, for all of the reasons you outline, John. The humor, the mirroring of the first film, the sincerity of the characters, the phenomenal villain, the oh-my-freakin'-god ending...it's all perfect (well, almost perfect...the stuffed giant gorilla looks a bit ridiculous). I love this film, and ever get tired of watching it.

    --Rich Handley


    Are you the same Rich Handley that wrote the great "Timeline of the Planet of the Apes" book?
    I heard you're doing a new Planet of the Apes book. When is that coming out?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Current copyright laws would completely dispute that. Star Wars fans don't own Star Wars, George Lucas does. Unfortunately too many fans assume a mantle of ownership that they are not legally or morally entitled to. They didn't do the hard work of writing a script or book or of getting a film made. It is disrespectful to those that did do that work to say that their intentions mean nothing and that their work is no longer their property.

    Surely you must know that I did not mean ownership in it's strict legal definition. Is that not stating the obvious? Yes, the writer did the hard work for writing the script, shooting the film, generally creating the artwork, etc, but without the consuming public, or potential customers if you will, the artwork would be nothing, no? If an artist draws in the forest and no one is around to see it, is it still art?

    Clearly what I meant by ownership was that I dont want the writer or the creator or the lawgiver or whoever to sit next to my ear and command what I should or shouldn't take away from the movie, book, song, etc. That seems rather oppressive, wouldn't you say? Surely it should be up to me what I take away from the movie.

    I'll go back to what I said before, if it is not clearly stated in the narrative, then it is open to interpretation. Sure, I may interpret it drastically different from how the creator intended, but is that really relevant?

    Yet another example of the public claiming ownership to the art is that a collective paying public with cash just dying to be spent will override any writer's personal intentions. If you are familiar with ABC's Lost, then the character's Nikki and Paulo is a very simply example of this.

    So yes, the public do have ownership of an artist's work to a certain extent. No, I can not simply walk into a WallMart and pocket a copy of the DVD boxset of POTA because I legally "own" it. But I do play a role in making it what it is, just like everyone else who views it, reads it, buys it, etc.

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  25. Henry:

    As much as I respect Webmaster (and I do), I am much more aligned with your thinking on this matter. I cherish the chance to interpret art.

    I find it dreary and sad to relegate gaps in movie narratives simply to continuity errors (even if that may be, technically, what they are).

    Besides, how can we really divine Mr. Dehn's intent? He wrote the words regarding Ape future history in Escape; and then wrote a different future in Conquest. Something changed in his thinking. So who which intent are we to honor, the actual scripts (which reveal the change in history explicitly, one movie to the next), or a printed interview, which simply claims the author was going for something circular?

    My feeling is you can have Zira and Cornelius changing lines, honor the thematic conceit of the franchise, and the future STILL can be a circle; maybe the circle just contracted or expanded a little bit...

    All my best, and peace to all...
    JKM

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  26. Okay dokey...

    I think that everyone has gotten their say on this particular aspect of the debate in a substantial manner, so I'm not moderating in any further comments on this particular thread.

    I appreciate Webmaster and Henry both putting in their commentary with so much specificity and intelligence and adding much to the discussion.

    But this could go on forever, especially when viewpoints are so far apart.

    best to all
    JKM

    ReplyDelete
  27. Okay dokey...

    I think that everyone has gotten their say on this particular aspect of the debate in a substantial manner, so I'm not moderating in any further comments on this particular thread.

    I appreciate Webmaster and Henry both putting in their commentary with so much specificity and intelligence and adding much to the discussion.

    But this could go on forever, especially when viewpoints are so far apart.

    best to all
    JKM


    Or in other words you are cutting off debate and censoring my last two responses. How very Zaius of you.
    I must have make some really good points in those last two responses for you to be so afraid to post them.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Here's the first one you left:

    Webmaster has left a new comment on your post "CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Escape from the Planet of the A...":

    Surely you must know that I did not mean ownership in it's strict legal definition. Is that not stating the obvious? Yes, the writer did the hard work for writing the script, shooting the film, generally creating the artwork, etc, but without the consuming public, or potential customers if you will, the artwork would be nothing, no? If an artist draws in the forest and no one is around to see it, is it still art?

    Yes it is. Whether it is something like Avatar or a poem that someone writes in their private diary, it is still art. Just because no one consumes an apple doesn't make it any less an apple.

    Clearly what I meant by ownership was that I dont want the writer or the creator or the lawgiver or whoever to sit next to my ear and command what I should or shouldn't take away from the movie, book, song, etc. That seems rather oppressive, wouldn't you say? Surely it should be up to me what I take away from the movie.

    Well someone may watch 'Dr. Strangelove' and take away that it was promoting nuclear war, but that just means that they missed the point of the film. That doesn't change that it is a anti-war film which is what the filmmakers intented. That's not oppressive, that's just reality.

    I'll go back to what I said before, if it is not clearly stated in the narrative, then it is open to interpretation. Sure, I may interpret it drastically different from how the creator intended, but is that really relevant?

    It is relevant when it turns into revisionism. It may not be stated clearly in the text of Hamlet that he wasn't gay. But once you start saying he was, you are revising it beyond Shakespeare's intentions and changing the narrative that he was telling.

    Yet another example of the public claiming ownership to the art is that a collective paying public with cash just dying to be spent will override any writer's personal intentions. If you are familiar with ABC's Lost, then the character's Nikki and Paulo is a very simply example of this.

    Just because someone buys a ticket to a movie or watch a TV show doesn't give them any right of ownership. Many fans think so but that is just arrogance on their part. Fans don't make something art, they don't make a book a book, they don't make a movie a movie. They merely make it profitable.

    So yes, the public do have ownership of an artist's work to a certain extent. No, I can not simply walk into a WallMart and pocket a copy of the DVD boxset of POTA because I legally "own" it. But I do play a role in making it what it is, just like everyone else who views it, reads it, buys it, etc.

    No it is what it is whether you buy it or not. The act of buying a can openner doesn't make it a can openner. It already is a can openner from the moment it is made.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Here's the second:

    Webmaster has left a new comment on your post "CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Escape from the Planet of the A...":

    I find it dreary and sad to relegate gaps in movie narratives simply to continuity errors (even if that may be, technically, what they are).

    I find it dreary and sad that some fans use a continuity error as an excuse to revise someone else's work. They should write their own story instead of trying to change someone else's.

    Besides, how can we really divine Mr. Dehn's intent?

    Well reading what he actually said on the subject is a good start.

    He wrote the words regarding Ape future history in Escape; and then wrote a different future in Conquest.

    Actually what he wrote in Conquest is fairly consistant with what he wrote in Escape the only that differs is the timeframe. Go back here and read his remarks about the plot of Conquest: http://www.potamediaarchive.com/images/dehn3.jpg.
    Plus the timeframe in Escape differs from what had been established in the previous two films.

    Something changed in his thinking.

    Or maybe he realized that made an error in Escape based on what had been established in Planet & Beneath and what the wrote in Conquest corrected the error to bring things back in line with what had been originally established.

    So who which intent are we to honor, the actual scripts (which reveal the change in history explicitly, one movie to the next), or a printed interview, which simply claims the author was going for something circular?

    Well it doesn't explicitly reveal anything other then Dehn made a continuity error which can be explained several other ways. Ways that do not revise the writer's stated intent.

    ReplyDelete
  30. This is why I love your blog (and its followers)...what starts out as a "look-back" critique on a seemingly inocuous film from the early 1970's turns into this huge debate on metaphysics, free-will, destiny etc.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous3:07 PM

    I always found the end, besides touching, to be as good a mark of continuation from the first movie as the opening scene.

    The baby ape calls 'mama' just as the broken doll calls 'mama' in the first movie.

    ReplyDelete

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