Thursday, August 22, 2013

Planet of the Apes

The book was written in the 1960s. It is told as a framing story, with some apes discovering a "message in a bottle" floating in space that tells the story of the voyage to a distant planet and the discovery of the ape society. Here it turns out that the planet once held a human society, but the humans got lazy and eventually the apes took over. The apes were good at imitating, but not so good at original thought. Thus their society had remained largely identical to the human society that it supplanted 10,000 years earlier. The humans had remained, but reverted to a savage state, wandering around naked, and not speaking or communicating. Of the three humans that arrived on the ape planet, one was killed by the apes as part of a hunting adventure and two were brought in to captivity. Of the two captives, one totally reverted to the beast state, not even engaging in conversation with the other man. The other man exposed himself as a man. He acheived noteriety and entered the ape society. However, when it was discovered that he had impregnated another human "beast", plans her made to exterminate him. With the help of some friendly apes, they escaped in their ship to planet earth, arriving 700 years after they had left. There they find earth largely as they had left it 700 years earlier, except now apes were in control.

This is largely a cautionary tale about laziness and degeneracy. Man doesn't take time to exersize his mind or body, and lets others do his work. Eventually, the apes decide they have had enough and take over. Since they are merely copying what existed before, they are no more than apes themselves. The real apes have no problem taking over and doing the copying on their own.

In the most recent movie, (Rise of Planet of the Apes), the cause is switched. Instead of man's laziness, it becomes man's excess intervention that is the downfall. The chemical that helps give the apes intelligence is rushed into trials without sufficient testing. While it does make the apes brilliant, it quickly kills humans. This gradually spreads around the world, leading to ape control.

In the earlier movies there were alternate causes. In the Tim Burton movie, experimental animals from the space ship led to the dawn of the ape civilization. (However, when the humans return to earth, they find a similar "ape society" there.)

In the Charleton Heston version, the ape planet is earth of the distant future. Here the human society had fully decayed and the apes had taken over. It seems to de-emphasize the laziness aspect, and focus on the decay. Could this be the few years that intervened? Could it be the change in the few years, from the early 60s of postwar complacency in France to the late 60s cultural revolution in the United States?

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