“The mother ducking humans are talking!?”
That was the fourth note I took about the Planet of the Apes TV show pilot. My iPad has an annoying habit of autocorrecting “fucking” to “ducking”. This is especially bothersome given that I’ve convinced it “Lovecraftian” and “Batmanny” are words. Stop censoring me Apple. Barnyard animals aside, the point, and the tone of surprise, still stand. The Planet of the Apes gave me a uniquely specific nerdy experience I’d previously avoided – being actively annoyed by continuity. Sure, I’d noticed it before, but this time I gave a shit. The 1974 TV show is just so grandly, obstinately wrong.
The first thing that struck me was the dog. In the opening scene of the episode an ape child runs through the woods with his pet dog trying to catch or kill something. Some of you may not know or recall why that’s maddening. According to the continuity put forward by the films all cats and dogs died off. Specifically it happened between Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This is how the apes start to get smart. They’re adopted as the pet of choice, then discovered to be effective slave labour, and then they Dawn and Rise and Battle and Conquer until they get the planet. So right off the bat there was a dog. I’d so internalized the continuity that it took a second to register why the mere sight of a dog was so surreal.
Then two astronauts arrive. Three technically, but only two survive. A human saves them and the apes start investigating. Then the human talks.
“Is this mother fucker talking?”
That was my third note. I wasn’t too distressed, just surprised. They’d made the actor do a lot of silent movie acting in the first scene – to then reveal him as speaking was weird. I figured he was probably some extra clever human, and that would explain away the error. The apes, however, go to check out what Dr. Zaius thinks about this whole human thing. He makes it clear all the stuff with Taylor has happened in the show’s timeline. I guess except for the part where he destroys the planet? Well this show could easily take place between the first two movies. It’s fudging the implied timeline a bit, but still acceptable. Of course, I doubted this creative excuse when a human slave opened a door for an ape and said something butler-like. Said. Something.
“The mother ducking humans are talking!?”
Then, just piling on the anachronistic nonsense, the show reveals it’s set ten years after the first movie. Ten years! I don’t think much more than a month, realistically speaking, could have passed between Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Beneath the Planet of the Apes ended when Taylor nuked every living thing on earth into oblivion. It’s kind of hard to set a show after that, let alone one with a collection of the same characters. Well one character.
The show isn’t post-post-apocalyptic either. The set design is remarkable consistent with the first film. Even the courtroom looks the same. The establishing shot of the village too, but I did wonder if it wasn’t cribbed from Beneath.
Which would be weird because I’m fairly certain no one involved in the TV show made it all the way through the first film, let alone through to Beneath. They picked up on the twist through cultural osmosis – it might be the most spoiled movie twist ever, but never actually made it that far through the first film. Certainly they never watched any of the sequels. The truly remarkable thing about the Planet of the Apes series is that it would have presented solutions to all their problems had they stuck with it. It would’ve completely negated the need for the kind of clumsy solutions they attempted.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes actually has talking humans in it. Sure they’re mutants, but we never learn they’re all psychic, and they wear realistic human masks the majority of the time. If the show was so desperate to incorporate unmasked actors in speaking roles why not use these characters. Once you establish that they’re wearing masks you can keep them in it for as long as you want. They could blend in with the subhuman humans if need be. Sure it becomes harder to have humans and apes interact, but other than submissive formal exchanges none of the humans and apes really interact in the pilot either.
Of course they would’ve done even better if they’d set the movie after Battle for the Planet of the Apes. It’s the clear, obvious, solution. And yes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes came out before this show started. In the world presented by Battle for the Planet of the Apes there are talking human and apes living in uneasy harmony. There are ape villages, but also the remnants of human society. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes wasn’t set so far into the future that you couldn’t just use preexisting sets from other shows that were made to look like the present – you could even use real world locations. Of course you could still write in a science fiction MacGuffin whenever you felt it was needed.
Just doing a vague sequel to the first one doesn’t work. Despite none of the films really being designed for sequels one of the things that really elevated the Apes franchise is the consistency. The movies don’t contradict or rewrite each other; instead they create a tight and consistent world. The TV show just seems to think it can count for anything if it clumsily forces itself into the series. Maybe it’ll tell some interesting stories in its crude little approximation of Planet of the Apes?
Hope you enjoyed this little diversion while I wait for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to open and my copy of Tim Burton’s film, chronologically the next movie, to arrive. Beware more Apes reviews are on the way!