One of the biggest movies that I can remember from my childhood, and something I watched atleast a good 25-30 times till very recently, is 1968’s Classic Scifi movie Planet Of The Apes. Starring Charleton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison & based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, the movie stunned a lot of people, who hadn’t read the book, with its fantastic ending that is the stuff of movie legend. Heston stars, as Taylor, a doomed astronaut from 1968 who, with three others, get tossed into the future and crash land on a strange planet in the year 3978 AD. With the female colleague dead before they land, the 3 men go in search of shelter and food and discover a primitive level human population who cannot speak. The apes have taken control and can speak English; the warrior like gorilla are the police & the army, the orangutans are the politicians/administrators and the pacifist chimpanzees are the scientists.
However as they approach the tribe of humans they are all attacked by an upright group of talking gorillas on horseback. The apes are the dominant species and use humans as slaves, target practice and as lab animals. With one of his friends killed and the other lobotomized Taylor gets the help of two sympathetic chimpanzees Zira & Cornelius, one a doctor and her archeologist husband, and escapes along with a primitive human female he calls Nova. Although the gorillas led by the orangutan called Dr. Zaius, finally catch up with the escapees, Taylor forces his freedom with the aid of a shotgun. He & Nova ride off into the Forbidden Zone, in search of more human settlements on the basis of more advanced human artifacts that they find in a cave. And that is when Taylor sees an almost completely buried Statue of Liberty – he was on earth all along. Humans had destroyed themselves in a global nuclear war and now reverted to a more primitive stage while the apes evolved. This is when Heston delivers his famous rage-filled rant – “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. God damn you all to hell!”
The second movie is supposed to be a few days after the ending of the first movie. Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970) sees Taylor & Nova traveling through the Forbidden Zone and becoming close while Taylor tries unsuccessfully to teach Nova to speak and gives her his dog tags. Coming across an illusion of fire, thunder & lightning. Taylor investigates and disappears into a cliff wall. Meanwhile another ship with two astronauts crash land not far from the forbidden zone. While his commander dies from his wounds, Brent (James Fraciscus) survives and finds Nova riding her horse. Seeing her wearing Taylor’s dog tags, he tries to convince her to take him to Taylor. Nova leads him to the Ape City, where Brent see the apes in action and while trying to get away are shot at by gorillas. They then go to Cornelius and Zira who treat Brent’s wounds and gives them supplies. Once again the pair flee the city & are captured but Zira helps them escape and the two run off to the Forbidden Zone.
Meanwhile Dr. Zaius leads the gorilla army on an invasion of the Forbidden Zone. Brent & Nova hide in a cave and discover the ruins of an New York subway, which leads Brent to the truth as to where he is. The next part gets weird – the pair are captured by mutated humans, wearing masks and wielding telekinetic powers and who worship an antique nuclear nuclear bomb, capable of destroying all life on earth. Brent is forced to almost killing Nova and then is questioned by the mutant humans before being reunited with Taylor. The pair of astronauts are made to fight each other before Nova’s intervention distracts the mutant’s hold on the two. They fight off the mutants and the invading gorilla soldiers who start shooting. Nova is killed by a bullet and soon Brent also dies. A wounded Taylor pleads with Dr. Zaius who refuses help and on his last breath, Taylor activates the switch, triggering the bomb which wipes out all life on earth.
That should have effectively ended any chance of a revival of the franchise but the makers had other ideas! We have 1971’s Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, the 3rd movie in the series made possible due to an impossible scenario of Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), Zira (Kim Hunter) and a new character Milo (Sal Mineo), who escape Earth by first salvaging Taylor’s spaceship, getting it started and launching it in orbit. The resulting shockwave caused by the blast of the Earth’s destruction by the nuclear bomb, sends the spacecraft into a rift in time and into earth’s past; specifically 1973 – 3 years after Taylor’s ship was launched. Caught by the military who are stunned to see 3 upright chimps piloting a spaceship, the trio are sent to LA zoo where doctors Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Stephanie Branton (Nathalie Trundy) discover the speech abilities of the apes. Milo is killed soon after by a gorilla in the adjacent cage.
Zira & Cornelius are brought to a presidential inquiry where they tell the humans that they are from the earth’s future and they tell them some of the things that have happened. Bedazzled by the talking chimps, humans soon make the pair celebrities and they are taken to tour the city and lavished with presents & media attention. However Dr. Otto Hasselin gets a pregnant Zira drunk one evening and find out about her experiments with humans. The chimps are taken for further questioning in an army facility and under the influence of a truth serum, Zira tells all to the humans. Paranoia of the apes killing humans takes over and Hasselin wants the baby to be killed. Cornelius and Zira escape from the facility and with the help of Lewis & Stephanie, are taken to a circus, where a sympathetic Armando (Ricardo Montalban) shelters them.
There Zira deliver a boy chimp, who they name Milo, but she switches him with a primitive chimp’s baby girl born just a few days ago. To escape soldiers who are searching for the chimps, the doctors take the pair to an abandoned ship yard. However Dr. Hasselin tracks them down and, while waiting for the army to arrive, shoots Zira and kills the baby. A raging Cornelius kills Hasselin and in turn is shot dead by a soldier. Zira drags herself to die next to her husband and it seems that the threat of an ape revolution has been averted. However as the movie ends we see baby chimp Milo, watched over by Armando, looking out of his cage speaking repeatedly “mama, mama”!
So I guess now you know where the story is headed. In Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (released in 1972), kind-hearted Armando (With Ricardo Montalban reprising his role again) raises Milo, who he re-names as Caesar (Roddy McDowell again) and hides the ape child’s speech abilities and intelligence from everyone. In 1983 a plague wipes out all cats & dogs on planet Earth leaving humans with no pets. It’s then that they turn to apes – chimps, gorillas & orangutans as pets and train them. Realizing the apes’ capacity to learn and adapt, humans train them to perform household tasks. However by 1991 the humans have become racist and treat all apes as slaves, making them do menial tasks & beat them when not efficient enough. The Ape Management center uses brutal force, electricity, batons and whips to enforce the training of apes.
While traveling past the center, Armando & Caesar witness such brutality, causing Cesar to yell out against the humans. Armando takes the fall for him, stating that the ape can’t talk and is later questioned by the authorities. Caesar hides amongst the other apes and is sent to the center for training. Since he scores high, he is auction off and the Governor Breck, whose second in command, African-American MacDonald is much more sympathetic to the plight of the apes. Breck allows the ape to name himself by randomly pointing to a word in a book handed to him and the chimpanzee’s finger rests upon the name “Caesar”, feigning coincidence. Meanwhile Armando is accidentally killed when being interrogated causing rage in Caesar. Secretly he teaches the other apes to go collect weapons, knives, guns, ammo etc, having lost his faith in humans. However he is captured by the Governor’s men, who had tracked down the talking chimp, and is tortured until he speaks. Having left him for dead, Caesar kills the guard and leads the revolt of the apes against the humans.
After lots of violence, apes finally take control of the area, killing most of the humans and holding the Governor as prisoner. MacDonald is spared by Caesar as he is more compassionate & kind. The human pleads to Caesar for the life of the governor. After an angry rant, Caesar relents on the urging of his mate, Lisa, who utters her first word “No” and he orders the apes to lower their weapons, saying:
But now… now we will put away our hatred. Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the night of the fires, and those who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God, and if it is Man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion, and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!
The final entry in the original movie series is Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, which starts off in by a narrator, The Lawgiver (John Huston) tells us about what happened in the last movie and then the movie follows as to what happened later. Now it’s 12 years since the event of the previous film and the world is in a post-nuclear society. Ceasar is the leader of the Ape City where Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans have created a pre industrial civilization and living with the surviving humans. The Ape have mastered language (gasp) and the gorillas, soldiers & war-like, treat the humans with contempt. Caesar has married Lisa and now has a young son named Cornelius, after his father. A gorilla general, Aldo, opposes Caeser and his soft touch towards the humans.
MacDonald’s brother is now his aide, and along with the genius orangutan Virgil, the three go to city to find the archives in which Caesar’s parents words are recorded and stored. They take some weapons from the armory and go on foot to the city. They find the archives and play it and while leaving the city, they are attacked by the remaining humans who are now radiation scarred and led by the crazed Kolp (from the earlier film). The trip escape but soon Kolp leads his men on jeeps, a few bikes and an old school bus,to find the apes and destroy them. They take their weapons but leave word for a nuclear bomb to be set off in case of defeat and only on Kolp’s signal.
Meanwhile Aldo plans a coup to over throw Caesar and unfortunately Cornelius overhears this. Aldo chases the young ape up a tree and cuts the branch on which the boy is standing and the young one falls down and later dies. Aldo then has all the humans rounded up and locked away while Kolp & his men attack the city. Caesar, although devastated by the death of his only child, rallies the apes and fight off the invading humans, until they are victorious. Kolp and some of his men are killed by Aldo and the gorillas but Caesar shows mercy to most of the others. As Aldo approaches the city’s humans to kill them and Caesar shields them, Virgil announces that he knows that Aldo killed the boy. As the general as violated the most sacred of laws, Ape shall not kill Ape, all the other apes turn against Aldo, even his own soldiers. Caesar chases Aldo up a tree and the gorilla falls to his death.
Caesar then attempts to free the humans, but they refuse to leave the pen unless things change. MacDonald insists that freedom is meaningless without being treated as equals. Caesar then realizes the apes are just as despicable as the former slave-owners if they treat the humans the same way. The apes and humans then decide to coexist with one another and begin to make a new society. As the naration ends, we move 600 years into the future and we see the Lawgiver addressing a gathering of children – orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas….and humans! Instead of humanity falling and apes rising to take their place, the two species have continued to coexist. When asked by a human child what the future will hold, the Lawgiver states that only the dead know about the future. A closeup of a statue of Caesar shows a single tear falling from its eye.