Reflections on the Planet of the Apes

I am a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes series. The movies, the television show, even the cartoon. Growing up, I had all the action figures, the play sets, the Marvel Comics magazine, the record album (they had a live tour show to promote the album, and I went to it three times while it was at the Morris County Mall; “Cornelius” signed my album, as I recall). And of course a crush on Linda Harrison. By the way, there as no 2001 film, as has been widely reported. Never happened. Nope.

On Thanksgiving weekend, Fox Movie Channel played nothing but Apes. All of the original films, multiple times. The movies they made by mashing two of the television episodes together. Tons of mini-documentaries in between. I was in hog heaven. But it also got me thinking about some issues with the Apes time-line, and what do you know? I happen to write a blog that might be a good fit for those thoughts.

As with most things involving time travel (occasioned by when Cornelius, Zira, and Milo go back in time to 1973) there are two timelines in Apes. T1 is the “original” timeline, created before the paradox of the three apes time-travel was introduced. In T1, we know that Taylor et al take off from Earth in the spaceship Icarus in 1972. Brent does too, on his rescue mission. Cornelius tells us (in “Escape”) that sometime after that, the dogs and cats of Earth would be wiped out by a plague, and eventually replaced by apes. Eventually those apes would be enslaved, and revolt on an historic day when an ape named Aldo dared to speak up and say “no”, sparking the ape revolution, presumably the nuclear war that wiped out human civilization, and leading to a time when humans were mute and their glorious history forgotten. That’s the time we see in the original film, in the year 3955.

However, that timeline is thrown into chaos, and a new timeline (T2) created by the time-travel of the three apes as recorded in “Escape”. The introduction of the baby Milo (aka Caesar) changes everything. No longer is it Aldo who leads the ape revoltion, but Caesar. The dog and cat plague happens on schedule, in 1981, but the revolution happens in 1991. We get the impression that in T1, the apes were enslaved for much more than ten years; Cornelius seems to imply that it lasts for centuries. But in T2 the whole process is accellerated; Caesar leads the ape revolt after only a decade of servitude (less than that, as it would have taken some time to ramp-up the whole institution of Ape Management).

Aldo is still there in T2, but now he is forced to play second bannana (heh) to Caesar in the post-nuke ape/human society we see in “Battle”. Given the glorious role he seemed destined to play in T1, it turns him into a somewhat more sympathetic figure. His thunder was stolen by Caesar, even if he had no way of actually knowing it.

The events at the very beginning and ending of “Battle” show the very different direction that T2 has taken. Rather than being persecuted and descending towards mute savagery, humans and apes seem to be at a rough level of equivalancy. This, I think, is where the television show come into play. Apes are in charge in the year 3085, but humans are at least equal technologically. The change of Caesar for Aldo as leader of the ape revolt has set history on a different course.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on the Planet of the Apes

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movies, so my memory of specific events is a bit fuzzy, but… If, in T1, the ape enslavement lasted for centuries and was finally ended by Aldo’s revolution, how can Aldo be a contemporary of Caesar in T2 where the revolution takes place after only a decade? Might it not make more sense if the revolution happened at approximately the same time in both timelines, and that the story of the event that was handed down to Cornelius was distorted over 2000 years of retelling?

  2. Yeah, that was a puzzle to me, too. Then again, in “Battle”, we see the character of Virgil, who claimed that Nicademus was his teacher when he was a boy. There doesn’t seem to be nearly enough time for that to have happened, though…

    I think the bottom line is that they weren’t too concerned with such consistency when they wrote the scripts. It’s very possible that Cornelius’ history in T1 was distorted, or perhaps the tides of history simply required that Aldo was going to be around at the revolution.

  3. I hate to be the “the book was better” guy, but have you ever read the orginal (well the translated) book for PotA? It is very, very cool. The society of apes is quite a bit different, as far as technology goes. Many, many differecnes between book and film adaption, as I highly recommend it, if you have not read it yet.

    IMO, the film is really better, only because it was all I ever knew until a few years ago. Those old ape films are part of my childhood, that I carried over far into my adulthood. I loved them as a kid, and I love them still.

    I absolutely luuuuv the films too. PotA and Beneath are my faves, but I do like them all. I too have them all on DVD, along with the TV series, and the animated series. I had all of the figures back in tha day, too….just no album signed by Corn…now I’m jealous…ah!

    They have been playing both the original PotA, and the “nonexistent” Marky-Mark version, recently on TV, as recent as yesterday and today, in fact. I couldn’t resist watching the original, even though it’s sitting right here on my bookshelf…hehe. My wife thinks I’m completely insane. Probably so.

  4. Its a bit scary to think that I remember the TV series. Gads,that was a long time ago. I also remember when Fox just kicked off their TV channel and had a special Planet of the Apes week. I never did see the film.

  5. In my current campaign my characters are in search of “the keys of time”. Which takes them to all sorts of interesting locales.

    One of these I’ve been thinking of I call “Planet of the Elves.” A alternate timeline based loosely on the first PoTA movie.

    Humans have lost the use of magic and now live in small tribal bands that are hunted and enslaved by the elves. Different subraces of elf/fey take the roles of orangutans, apes, and chimps.

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