Monday, February 11, 2013

Ask JKM a Question: A Different Ending for Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001)?

Regular reader, SGB, wrote this on Friday, during Go Ape Day!:

As you celebrate the anniversary of the release of the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, what would be your opinion regarding Tim Burton's Planet of The Apes 2001 if the film’s opening scene had instead been the crash landing of Leo at the Lincoln/Thade Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

That means that the film would have been examining what happened on Earth and had plenty of social commentary regarding apes inserted into our modern technology society? I think this would have been fascinating.

Thank you, John.”

SGB, that idea sounds preferable to the film we actually got in 2001.

The Burton film played the Lincoln/Thade Memorial ending as a kind of gimmicky punch-line that was largely unrelated to the central narrative.  It plays as a gimmick, an attempt to (lamely) match the original’s Statue of Liberty imagery.

Now, if the last shot had been the first shot as you suggest -- an astronaut returning to Earth in our present and finding an advanced simian society -- we would have been a lot closer to the Pierre Boulle book, which still hasn’t been adapted faithfully.  I still hope that a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes) takes this approach. It could, technically, because the prequel script makes mention of a missing space mission as Caesar plans his revolution.  You just know it’s going to return to Earth in 3000 or thereabouts to find ape supreme.

I believe that original Boulle book could be adapted faithfully, even today, with a few new flourishes to account for developments like the net and social media, and a splendid satire would emerge side-by-side with the requisite action elements.  

The thing is, Burton’s film was actually close in some ways.  The Boulle book ended with Ulysses (the Taylor figure) returning from a distant world to find Earth populated by intelligent apes.  The idea was that apes were destined to rise everywhere, wherever intelligent life existed.

So the Lincoln Memorial Ending isn’t that different from the ending of the book, except the book had the opportunity to contextualize its conclusion. Ulysses and Nova escaped from Earth and desperately went looking for a world, any world, where humans would be supreme.  The final joke?  His words were being read by space-faring chimpanzees, ones immediately dismissed his story as a fairy tale.

I really wish Burton had found a way to go with that ending.  Some may not have liked it in comparison to the Statue of Liberty ending, but it would have had the cover of being faithful to the original text.

In short, however, I would love to see a Planet of the Apes (not unlike the animated series) where a technologically-advanced ape culture is featured.  That is, in fact, what Boulle intended in Monkey Planet.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. Anonymous5:54 PM

    John, thank you! Excellent points, if only Tim Burton had then or the current film sequel to Rise would listen now.


  2. SGB,

    Thank you for your excellent question. One of these days, I'd love to see a faithful adaptation of Pierre Boulle's novel. It seems to me that a faithful adaptation may be the only way to compete, in terms of quality, with the 1968 film.


  3. I've long held that the ending of Apes '01 was undone by trying to outsmart itself. The bit with the state of Thade/Ape Lincoln was the equivalent of forcing the audience to do long division just to make sense out of how it happened, lacking the simple "Wham!" impact that the half-buried statue of the original offered. I think a more effective ending would have been to eliminate the Thade angle entirely, but still retain the notion that Leo has returned to an Earth that's a monkey planet. That gives you Boulle's ending, still gives sort of a twist, and also offers something for a sequel just-in-case. Instead, in looking to the franchise first, they ended up with a film that fails to be satisfying on its own.

  4. (Here's my retro review of Apes '01, BTW:

  5. Simply put, this director, Mr. Burton, was overpowered by the material. I know he has fans, I am not one of them, let me state my opinion, I think even Uwe Boll makes better films. Planet of the Apes introduces the viewers to wonderfully mature themes, and that is where the hiring of Tim Burton was a pure mistake. I cannot imagine what infinitely, supremely more talented filmmakers like C. Nolan or a P. Jackson would have done with this film. Burton does not possess the requisite attributes or skill to make a film for anyone over the age of 12. Dumbed down and fantastical is Burton's only m.o., and on that note he did not fail.

    Apes is one of the few historical film franchises that spans both feature film and tv. Movies are a director's medium and the hiring of...or mis-hire of...a director is the first step into making a successful film. So in that regards, this film was sunk as soon as they hired Burton.


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