A Comparison of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Planet of the Apes (2001)
The Source Novel
One of the things I try to address in each of these Rematches is how the cinematic "remakes" of a short story, novel or play stack up against the original source material. Of the nine properties featured in this thread so far, two come from short stories, one comes from a play, and six began life as novels.
Pierre Boulle published a science fiction novel
in French in 1963. It was translated into other languages, and came to the attention of US movie makers. A novel by Aldous Huxley entitled Ape and Essence
was published in 1948. Whether this work inspired Boulle is not clear. I have read Ape and Essence
, and because it was so long ago I don't recall much of it, except that it was compelling enough to keep a 16-year old kid up past midnight to finish it. My English teacher had put it on a recommended extra-curricular reading list. I was unaware of the Boulle novel until after I saw the 1968 film. What stuck in my head is the scene in the Ape and Essence
screenplay that depicts baboons acting in human ways.
How the Films Changed the Story
Even being aware of the Boulle novel didn't compel me to read it until I accidentally spotted it in the sci-fi books section of the local library in late 2005. Curious about what it held, I brought it home and learned that it reads quickly, especially if you have seen the films. Each of the films that bear the title of the book take parts from the original novel and drop others. Clearly, for the main character in an American film to be called Ulysse Mérou was out of the question, so the name was changed to George Taylor. With the USA in a race to the moon at the time the film was made, no wonder George Taylor became an astronaut, instead of a star-traveling journalist. And instead of leaving in the year 2500 on his journey, Taylor left not too long after the release of the movie. Yep, the film had NASA developing faster-than-light travel in only five years!
The 2001 film keeps the NASA connection, or at least a USAF connection. So, novel and both movies include space travel.
The novel has a shell story about Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy couple who tour space in a ship designed and built by Jinn. They come across a message in a bottle, a set of scrolls written in tiny handwriting on very thin sheets of paper. Neither movie uses this shell story. The shell ends in a sort of punch surprise to the novel itself,
but the manuscript of journalist Ulysse Mérou ends with the same surprise that concludes the 2001 film.
As for the origin of the ape culture in each: in the novel the apes rule a world that orbits Betelgeuse, the red giant star. There are four planets, and the one which the cosmonauts in the novel visit is the second one. They name it Soror. The apes and feral humans are already there. The apes have an advanced civilization, complete with motorized vans in which they haul their captive human prey. The 1968 film has a crash landing on a desert planet, capture by intelligent apes, and, of course, has the famous twist at the end
which probably everyone knows, but just in case, I spoilered it. The 2001 film features a planet visited by Captain Leo Davidson because of a crash landing during a storm in space that sucks him through a wormhole to a non-earth planet where he learns that
the apes haven't always ruled that planet.
Mérou and Davidson never lose their ability to speak. In fact, in the film with Davidson, the humans are not bestial at all. Merely primitive. Mérou has to learn the ape language, but finds that Dr Zira is much better at learning French. The 1968 apes simply already speak English, as do those in 2001. In the novel, Mérou is freed after he addresses the science institute in perfect simian. He is allowed to wear clothing, after that.
Some Direct Comparisons
In re-reading the novel over the past two days I've come to realize that the 1968 film is based rather closely on the Boulle novel. The 2001 film is based on the 1968 film, but borrows a few moments from the novel. I think the reason Burton called his movie a "re-imagining" is because he took the core idea of the novel and first film and had his writers spin a new yarn from the same thread.
The following appear in both the novel and the Schaffner film: the feral human girl called Nova by the main character winds up in a cage with the main character; there are chimpanzee scientists named Dr Zira and Dr Cornelius, who are engaged to be married, and who assist the main character, believing him to be different from other humans; one of the party is killed during the hunt, another is reduced to feral conditions (in the film, by surgery); there is a Dr Zaius, an orangutan, who is ultra-conservative and delusional; there is a trio of orangutans who judge the main character in one way or another; Dr Cornelius is an archaeologist who discovers evidence that humans were once the dominant intelligent species on the planet of the apes; Dr Zaius takes steps to thwart the continuation of the main character's freedom.
In the novel, but in neither film: the apes have a technological civilization, having launched planetary artificial satellites, using trains, jets and automobiles for travel, powering their lives by electricity. They do not speak French (the language of Ulysse Mérou) but simian, which Mérou learns, while Zira learns French. Ulysse Mérou has a contemplative episode after learning of the artifacts that show humans to have once been the dominant intelligences, where he imagines how the transition to simian rule might have taken place, and in this mindset he contemplates the apes' stock exchange in a scene reminiscent of Ape and Essence
. In this chapter (Thirty), which takes place during an airplane flight from the archeological dig back to the capital city, the novel's satirical idea of human activity being nothing but mimicry is pushed to the fore. Thus, Boulle says that humans are nothing but highly polished simians in the first place. In the novel, Nova becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, named Sirius, and this puts all three of these humans in terrific danger from Zaius and his kind. So Zira and Cornelius orchestrate a swap between the man, woman and child crew planned for an orbital satellite experiment, with the Mérou family (Ch. Thirty-six). They dock with the orbiting spacecraft in which Ulysse and his two companions originally arrived at Betelgeuse, from which they return to earth. The same surprise ending that concludes Burton's film is presented in a scaled-down manner as Mérou lands at Orly Field outside Paris.
Whence the Apes?
The manner of explaining the apes' ascendancy differs among the three stories: in the 1968 film it is done with the scene at the archeological site and the surprise ending on the beach. The 2001 film also reveals how this topsy-turvy world came to be in the final scenes, then it adds a stinger in Washington, D.C. But in the novel, Boulle has Dr Cornelius and a brilliant a chimp scientist named Helios involved in experiments on humans in the "encephalic section" of the biological institute. These experiments, which Mérou is allowed to witness, top secret thought they are, result in two humans being induced to speak. One is a woman who seems to have human race memories (Ch. Thirty-four) which she recites during an anesthetic trance. The brief episodes that she recounts are the basis for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
to some extent, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes
to a greater extent. The stories she tells are not exactly the same as the plots of those movies, but the ideas in both those sequel films are embodied in what she says.
An Adventure for the Leisure Class
A good experiment for those who have the time would be to read Boulle's novel, then follow it with the Schaffner film, toping off the trio with Burton's re-imagining. Similarities and distinct differences would become apparent. Boulle puts forth his tale of an inverted society with the same economy of thought that he uses in The Bridge on the River Kwai
. Schaffner more or less follows this directness and economy in his 1968 film. Burton's film becomes a hodge-podge by comparison, with plot threads that are pulled off the spool, then dropped. But you can readily see what Burton retained from the original story that Schaffner and company dropped altogether.
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