Saturday, August 13, 2011

Planet Of The Obvious

All the hoopla over the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie got me to reminiscing about the original. Planet of the Apes is a genuine classic with top notch writing, an all-star cast and Oscar-winning makeup. It's a thrilling sci-fi adventure story with a side dish of social commentary thrown in.

That said, I never understood everyone's startled reaction to the so-called surprise twist ending. At the end of the film (50 year old spoiler alert!) Taylor, the human hero, and his girlfriend Nova ride a horse down the shoreline until they come upon the ruins of a decimated Statue of Liberty. Taylor freaks out and starts chewing the scenery as he realizes that he didn't land on an alien planet ruled by apes after all, but has been on Earth all along.

My reaction upon seeing this for the first time (at age 11 or 12) was, "Yeeeah, so?"  I couldn't understand Taylor's reaction. I thought maybe he was upset because the Statue of Liberty had been damaged.

The next day at school my friends were all talking about the brain-melting twist ending. I thought, "Huh? That was supposed to be a surprise? Was I not supposed to know he'd been on Earth the entire time?" It honestly never occurred to me that Taylor was a moron who didn't even know what planet he was standing on.

Understand that I'm not saying I was a genius or prodigy who saw through Rod Serling's well crafted screenplay. Nor am I implying that anyone who was surprised by the twist is an idiot. It just never dawned on me that I was supposed to think he was on another planet.

I very naturally assumed Taylor and company had crashed on Earth in the far future, after apes and man had switched places. Taylor's obsession with the year at the beginning of the movie was just one thing that made me think that. There were many shots of him looking at the ship's chronometer, which showed that, thanks to the magic of relativity and time dilation, they were thousands of years in the future. He was constantly talking about how everything and everyone they knew were dead, buried and forgotten. Why would the year matter unless they were on Earth? 

I'm aware that Taylor makes some weak argument that he and his crew have crash landed on a planet 300 light years from Earth, orbiting a star in the Orion cluster. But even the other characters don't buy it and dispute his theory. I know how they feel.

Let's examine the rest of evidence in the movie, shall we?

First of all the movie's called Planet of the Apes, for poop's sake. It's not called Planet of the Sentient Alien Creatures Who Resemble Terrestrial Simians. There were chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas living on this planet. OK, so they were talking apes, but they were apes just the same. Why would you put apes in a movie and then expect the audience to think it took place on an alien planet?

There were also humans running around. They couldn't speak, but they looked and acted like men, and the apes even called them "humans." So we've got humans and apes. Again, why would I not think they were on Earth?

The apes also rode around on horseback. Last time I checked, horses were native to Earth. And when the apes were hunting the humans they rode through a large corn field. I believe corn grows mainly on Earth.

Taylor could understand the apes' speech and once he regained his voice, they could understand him. OK, so this happens in pretty much every sci-fi movie and TV show, but still. The apes could also read Taylor's handwriting. So everyone was speaking and writing in English. Earth!

Many of the ape characters had Earthly names. Cornelius, Julius, Lucius, Maximus and Galen. Those aren't just Earth names, they're Roman names! Now we're getting specific in our Earthiness!

The apes also used slightly altered Earthly phrases as well, such as "Human see, human do" and "He never met an ape he didn't like." Would anyone say things like that on any planet but ours?

When you add up all that evidence, I just don't get why anyone (including Taylor himself!) would think for even a minute that the story took place anywhere but on Earth. I suppose it's possible that the audience was meant to think Taylor crashed on an Earth-like planet, one that was very close to Earth, but with a few differences. The original Star Trek used to do that kind of thing all the time. But that never occurred to me either.

Sorry, Rod Serling. You were a beloved and respected writer known for your twist endings, but you lose this round.

5 comments:

  1. I love the original movie (and the ending really surprises me, when i saw the movie in my childhood), but i think "Rise" is the best in the series, and the best movie of this summer (and, perhaps, of the year).

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  2. I remember telling you the same thing. I had no idea it was supposed to be another planet.

    It's an odd choice to put the crumbled Statue of Liberty on the cover of the dvd box. Doesn't that give away the surprise to whoever didn't already know?

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  3. This is what I'm talking about:
    http://www.amazon.com/Planet-Apes-Charlton-Heston/dp/B00004W21Q/ref=sr_1_23?ie=UTF8&qid=1313259368&sr=8-23

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  4. Juan: Haven't seen "Rise" yet, due to my work schedule. I hear good things about it, so I will try to go see it before it disappears.

    KW: I forgot about the video box! Yes, that is a very poor design, to make a cover that gives away the ending. For the record, I saw the movie for the first time on TV, way before there was home video, so the box didn't tip me off.

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  5. English is a universal language and humans are its dominant species. Just watch Flash Gordon, Queen of Outer Space, or Mars Needs Women. TV shows produced by Irwin Allen also bear witness to this sci fi fact. If you were used to cheesey sci fi, the ending was a suprise.

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