Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Planet of the Apes #01 - Planet of the Apes

My childhood consisted of watching the Planet of the Apes movies, and the television show, on cable syndication repeatedly. My parents saw the original 1968 film at the drive-in and became big fans of the franchise. As I write this, I just finished watching War of the Planet Apes (2017) with them while on vacation and I’m headed into the theater shortly to see the newest film, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024).

As much as I love this series, my fandom has strictly been dedicated to the screen. I’ve never delved into the labyrinth of literary presence the franchise commands. I decided to try the original novel that launched this blockbuster franchise, Planet of the Apes, authored by Pierre Boulle and published in 1963.

The book was written in French with the title La Planete des singes, which translates to Planet of the Apes in English. The book was published in the UK as Monkey Planet. As one can imagine, the book differs from the movie. Surprisingly, the adage of “the book is better” doesn’t fit this scenario.

The book begins with Jinn and Phyllis, wealthy lovers, living in a far-flung future where space travel is available. Phyllis discovers a floating bottle containing a manuscript and the two begin reading it. From there, the narrative becomes an epistolary novel as the manuscript is presented in a first-person narration by the main character, French journalist Ulysse Merou.

In 2500, Ulysse is invited by a French scientist named Antelle and his protegee to join a long star trek through the galaxy to a place called Betelgeuse. The trip takes two years and because of the time difference, these years are the equivalent of centuries passing on Earth. As they get into the vicinity of Betelgeuse, they land their ship on a planet called Soror. The bulk of the story takes place here as the three explore the planet and become accustomed to its unique lifestyle.

The book and the film version are very similar in the first act. The three men are shocked to discover a naked human female running through the lush forest. They deem her “Nova” due to her golden sheen. Fast-forward a few pages and readers get the iconic scene where gorillas arrive on horseback and begin netting Nova and other naked human “savages” in what appears to be a wild-game hunt. Ulysse and the professor are captured and the protegee is killed. Unfortunately, the narrative’s only action is terminated as well.

The rest of the book is a slow-burn as Ulysse is placed in a laboratory and ran through a series of tests by a combination of apes, chimpanzees, and orangutans. On this planet, humans are like animals with no language skills and very little intelligence. The “monkeys” run the show and are in the place of humans in a weird reversal of evolution. Thankfully, Ulysse’s wherewithal puts him in a situation of impressing his superiors with excellent speech and physical prowess. The professor declines to a Neanderthal state after months of caged life. Ulysse also develops a romance with Nova, who is a fellow prisoner.

Like the film, a chimpanzee scientist named Zira takes an interest in Ulysse and is eventually able to free him. In the book’s finale, Ulysse, Nova and their young child escape the planet and return to Earth to discover…well I can’t ruin the surprise for you. In fact, the author has two surprises at the end, one of which I wasn’t aware of.

Circling back to my original statement, the movie is better than the book. I believe that is a popular opinion shared by many. To be fair, if I read the book with no knowledge of the films, then it is a satisfactory science-fiction novel that has a lot to say about the human condition and the decline of civilization. It’s a cautionary tale that has a mix of social commentary, a small dose of action, and an emphasis on character development (and refinement?). In that regard, the author’s vision is superb and his writing acceptable.

Living with the curse of seeing nine of the series’ high-budget films, the book left me a little winded. I still want to read more novels associated with the franchise, but keep in mind that the later novels aren’t written by this author and are all based on the film and television productions – similar to other big franchises like Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and Predator.

Get the book HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment