The Planet of the Apes Primer


Fox’s big reboot of the classic Planet of the Apes series hits theaters this Friday, and if you’re unfamiliar with the classic science fiction franchise; allow me to bring you up to speed.

The Planet of the Apes film series is actually based on a French novel titled La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. The original 1968 movie is based on this book, but alters the story in the end to reveal that the Planet of the Apes is actually Earth in the future. The much-maligned Tim Burton “reimagining” actually uses the ending from the book (although in Washington D.C. instead of Paris), but that’s unfortunately one of the most hated elements of that movie.

In this feature I’ll give you a quick summary of each movie in the series while pointing out the must-sees and the ones best avoided.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The original movie released in 1968 is more than just a science fiction classic. It saved 20th Century Fox, who at the time was struggling, and established the franchise model of multiple sequels. Co-written by Rod Serling, with its famous twist ending, its almost a Twilight Zone episode on the big screen as fans of that show will recognize some of the tone that Serling added to the film.

Of the original five movies, this is obviously the most well known and in most opinions the best. It’s been parodied so many times some parts may feel like a joke, but it still holds up even after all these years. If you only watch one Planet of the Apes movie before seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it must be this one.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

A much weaker sequel than the original deserved, and in my opinion one of the two worst in the original five movies. Again a spacecraft crash lands on the future Earth ruled by apes and a different astronaut comes out, who is looking for Taylor. Eventually a group of telepathic mutated humans living underground is introduced and they have a nuke they want to set off.

Charlton Heston does show up in the movie, in something of a glorified cameo. In the end, Taylor sets off the nuke and wipes out all life on the Planet of the Apes. It could have been the end to the series, but with the movies making so much money; Fox couldn’t let it end. But with the future destroyed, where do they go from here?

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

The third movie in the series is definitely the most fun, and one of my personal favorites. In this one, Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo escape the future Earth before the nuke goes off and somehow end up back in time in 1973. Three talking chimps in 1973 Los Angeles. How can you resist that?

Sure, some of it may come off as extremely goofy; especially the montage where Cornelius and Zira go shopping for clothes. But of all of the original movies, the third comes second only to the original for pure entertainment value. It also sets up the entire franchise as although Cornelius and Zira don’t survive the movie; their talking son Ceasar does…

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

About ten years following the previous movie a disease wipes out all the dogs and cats on the planet, so people adopt apes as pets. This quickly escalates to keeping apes as slaves, and the main portion of the movie is set in 1991 where Ceasar is working with a circus and no one knows he is the son of the two talking apes who crashed in the 70s.

The new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, actually began as a remake of sorts of Conquest. Many feel that Conquest is one of the strongest of the original movies where it shows how Ceasar leads the ape rebellion against humans. If you plan on watching Conquest, be sure to check out the Blu-Ray edition that includes the original ending to the movie that was cut after it was determined that ending the film with apes beating humans to death with rifles was a bit too dark.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

It’s commonly said about the Apes movies that despite each one being more popular and making more money, the budget for each one went lower and lower. That’s never more apparent than with the fifth and final of the five original movies.

Battle was filmed with a paltry $1.7 million, and it shows. The movie looks barely better than a TV movie from the 70s and the whole thing looks like it was filmed in someone’s backyard. Still, it’s better than Beneath the Planet of the Apes and the 2001 reimagining, and the recent Blu-Ray version includes the famous “bootleg” extended cut.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Tim Burton’s horribly flawed reimagining of Planet of the Apes from 2001 has two things going for it that makes it worth checking out at least once: Danny Elfman’s awesome score, and Rick Baker’s unbelievable make-up effects. It is an eternal crime against Rick Baker that he was not given an Academy Award for his work on this movie. His Ape make-up effects are still jaw-dropping to this day and they help disguise what is otherwise a remake that is best forgotten.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

And that brings us to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Again it’s sort of a remake of Conquest, although with Ceasar’s origin being changed. Early worth of the movie is very strong after it was released internationally in some countries over the past week, and it’s currently “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes.

Hey, it can’t be worse than Tim Burton’s attempt…