The 'Planet of the Apes' Phenomenon Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The 'Planet of the Apes' Phenomenon

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Two apes torturing a human

Planet of the Apes is probably best remembered as the film staring Charlton Heston, in which his character explores a strange world inhabited by talking apes, and which has a shock ending. However, this film is only a tiny part of the cult and many people may not know that it was not the beginning of the phenomenon, and is far from the end.

Planet of the Apes began life as a novel by French writer, Pierre Boulle, entitled La Planète des Singes. It was later published in English, and in 1968 a feature film Planet of the Apes, was produced. This spawned four sequels, a TV series, a cartoon, various comics and a new, reimagined1 film in 2001, along with a whole host of merchandise.

The Basis of Planet of the Apes

Although the ideas and stories differ in each version, the basic premise of Planet of the Apes remains pretty much the same.

Planet of the Apes is set on a world where apes are the most intelligent species of the planet; they talk, dress and behave much as humans do on Earth (as we know it anyway). Humans, on the other hand, are little more than dumb animals.

The apes are divided into three separate factions; gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans. Gorillas tend to be more aggressive and in the military, the chimpanzees being scientists, and orang-utans the bureaucrats.

In each version humans land on the planet and discover that apes are the dominant species and can talk, and that the humans are dumb animals.

The Original Novel by Pierre Boulle

Pierre Boulle

Pierre Boulle was born in Avignon in 1912. He spent some time in the French army and was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War but managed to escape. After the war he returned to a previous profession in the rubber industry before taking up writing. Besides The Planet of the Apes he also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

The Novel

Planet of the Apes was first published in France in 1963 as La Planète des Singes, and a year later an English translation was published in Great Britain as Monkey Planet, which later became Planet of the Apes in 1985.

The novel is considerably more slow moving than the films, as can be expected, and it has little of the social commentary or the action that exists in the films. The interest lies in the study by the protagonist, Ulysse, of the way apes live and how similar and yet different it is to our own society. It depicts how man exists on the planet Soror. There are three different parts of the book and it is in the last where the mystery is dealt with, the questions Why has ape society not progressed in the last 10,000 years?, and Why does there exist no evidence of ape society before this?. The end is truly remarkable, the discovery of the truth of the origins of the apes society and the same fate befalling man on Earth, makes a more shocking end than that of the first film.

Story Line Based on the English translation by Xan Fielding

It begins with two people travelling in a spaceship and seeing a bottle drifting in space, they manage to catch it and inside they find a manuscript. It tells of a man, Ulysse Merou, a French journalist, one of three people who travels on the first spaceship on course for the nearest star to Earth. Once arriving on the star they land a small shuttle on an inhabitable planet they name Soror. Soon they encounter dumb humans (one being a female which Ulysse names Nova). To their surprise, apes on foot and horseback attack and in trying to escape, the three get separated.

Ulysse, along with a number of other humans, including Nova, is captured and taken into the city. Ulysse realises that apes are the intelligent species and have a society much like his own. He spends the next few months in a cage (along with the other humans to be used in experiments) and his relationship with Nova strengthens as she is put with him. He begins to communicate with some of the apes, Zira and Cornelius, a couple who work experimenting on the humans, and after learning their language, he is presented at a congress. Proving he is intelligent, Ulysse is accepted as an equal and is given a job.

The apes have found, and are examining, ancient ruins. They find a human doll and evidence that humans could have been the dominant race on Soror at one time. They also find, on experimenting on live human brains, that humans can talk and they talk about times when apes were the slaves and when the apes took over and forced the humans into the woods.

Nova becomes pregnant, and the apes become scared of Ulysse and his life, along with that of his child, becomes under threat. A probe is due to be sent into space with three humans on board to test the effects that it will have on them. Zira and Cornelius help Ulysse to escape by switching him, Nova and the baby for the three that were to be used. Once on the probe and in space, they dock with the space ship and travel back to Earth.

On arriving on Earth, they find that apes have taken over, just like they did on Soror. Ulysse takes off again, in the hope that they will find a planet inhabited by humans.

We discover the couple reading the manuscript are in fact apes who disbelieve this fantastic story.

The TV Series

The TV series was made in 1974, and ran for only one season, comprising 14 50-minute episodes. The TV series was based upon the original film version of Planet of the Apes, and it followed on a similar story and theme, that being two astronauts arriving on Earth aeons in the future and finding it inhabited by talking apes, that humans are dumb animals.

The Cast

  • Galen - Roddy McDowall
  • Alan Virdon - Ron Harper
  • Pete Burke - James Naughton
  • Zaius - Booth Colman
  • Urko - Mark Lenarda


  • 'Escape From Tomorrow'
  • 'The Gladiators'
  • 'The Trap'
  • 'The Good Seeds'
  • 'The Legacy'
  • 'Tomorrow's Tide'
  • 'The Surgeon'
  • 'The Deception'
  • 'The Horse Race'
  • 'The Interrogation'
  • 'The Tyrant'
  • 'The Cure'
  • 'The Liberator'
  • 'Up Above The World So High'

Ten episodes of the TV series were later edited into five 90-minute films, which included introductions by Roddy McDowell. The titles of these films are:

  • Back to the Planet of the Apes
  • Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes
  • Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes
  • Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes
  • Farewell to the Planet of the Apes

The Cartoon Series

Return to the Planet of the Apes, was a cartoon series made in 1975, and like the TV series only lasted for one season, this time, 13 episodes, 25 minutes each, and it was made by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises Productions. Again it re-explored the themes and story of the first film and TV series.

The Cast

The cartoon featured the voices of2:

  • Judy Franklin and Nova - Claudette Niviens
  • Austin Stoker - Jeff Carter
  • Bill Hudson - Tom Williams
  • Cornelius - Edwin Mills
  • General Urko - Henry Corden
  • Dr Zaius - Richard Blackburn


  • 'Flames of Doom'
  • 'Escape From Ape City'
  • 'The Unearthly Prophecy'
  • 'Tunnel of Fear'
  • 'Lagoon of Peril'
  • 'Terror on Ice Mountain'
  • 'River of Flames'
  • 'Screaming Wings'
  • 'Trail to the Unknown'
  • 'Attack From the Clouds'
  • 'Mission of Mercy'
  • 'Invasion of the Underdwellers'
  • 'Battle of the Titans'

A 14th episode 'A Date With Judy', is rumoured to have existed, but in actual fact this was the original title of 'The Unearthly Prophecy'.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

This version made in 2001, and was again based on the original novel and on the original film. The plot however was almost entirely new, a few notable similarities include:

  • With the original novel - The way apes used both feet and hands equally and the ending.

  • With the original film - The ape city and technology being mostly the same, the lines ’Get your hands off me you damn dirty human(ape)’ and ’Damn them (you), damn them (you) all to hell’. There's also the forbidden zone and the skeleton/scarecrows.

  • In all three - The human and ape kiss, the landing and running away as the apes attack through the jungle, the nice female ape and human girl love interest.

Although the 2001 version is an interesting film in itself, it fails on several levels; one is that it is neither a totally new version, a re-make nor a film of the novel. The links with the previous versions are all too apparent, and do little more than distract from the plot. The plot itself is also not an original one, and the ending, however close to the original novel, merely confuses the film and bewilders the audience. Some of the social commentary is there, but not in the outstanding way in which it appeared in the original film. This version is far from what it could, or perhaps, should have been.

The Re-imagining

This was directed by Tim Burton, written by William Broyles and stared Mark Wahlberg as Leo, Helena Bonham Carter as Ari, and Tim Roth as General Thade. It also has cameo appearances by Charlton Heston, who played Taylor in the original film, and Linda Harrison who played Nova, also in the original film.

Story Line

Captain Leo Davidson, is training monkeys to pilot space shuttles at a small space station, when a wormhole opens up near by. Sending a chimpanzee in first, they soon lose contact, and Leo, against orders, goes after him. Leo finds that he too is in trouble and gets pulled through the hole. Time jumps forward and crashes in a jungle on a strange planet.

Almost immediately he encounters humans, wearing animal skins, running away from something, and so runs too. He finds that they are running from talking apes, but he and several others humans are captured and are put into cells to be sold off as slaves. A female ape Ari - a human sympathiser - objects to their treatment, and Leo manages to talk her into buying him and a girl from the jungle.

At Ari’s home Leo is to be a slave, but as night falls, Leo, the girl, the girl’s family, the rest of the household's human slaves, Ari herself and her ape friend escape the city. This is much to the annoyance of General Thade, who is in love with Ari, and he mounts an attack to stop them.

Leo has a homing beacon and it shows that his friends from the spaceship have landed nearby. They need to travel through the forbidden land to reach them. Once there he finds the ruins of their spaceship, and discovers that his friends arrived centuries ago and are all dead.

All the humans around the area gather round and when the apes attack, a huge battle takes place. During the battle a small shuttle lands, and inside is the chimpanzee who went through the wormhole first. This helps to defeat General Thade, and Leo takes off and heads back to Earth, with another shock ending.


As with most films of this nature, merchandise is widespread, the most prolific being the magazines and comics which have ran irregularly over the years. Also there have been belts/buckles, T-shirts, polo shirts, costumes, lollipops, models, records, posters, puzzles, stickers, toys and various books, to name a few.

2001 and on

With the new film having been released, and with the confused ending, a sequel (at time of writing) looks quite likely, and conceivably a new TV series. There is always the possibility of another 'new' film, perhaps the one that the 2001 should have been, or even a re-make of the original film. There's even the possibility of a direct film of the original novel. However, with the interest in Planet of the Apes re-awoken by the new film, the future for the Ape phenomenon is definitely looking - Planet of the Apes is unlikely to be forgotten.

1Tim Burton, the director, insisted it was not a remake.2It is possible that these are not correct, as they may have played more than one, and or, different characters.

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