Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1353, (20 - 26 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Welcome to another planet

Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes

Seeking some relief from this human planet? Why not head to the nearest movie theatre and spend a few hours in another planet, the Planet of the Apes? Apes? Why not? We are practically cousins and this last sequel, War of the Planet of the Apes, the ninth in this remarkable franchise is the summer’s blockbuster, breaking all records of previous films, receiving praise from critics and viewers alike.

This science-fiction drama directed by Matt Reeves is a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Apes, (2014), starring Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson. It follows the confrontation of Caesar, leader of the apes forced into a deadly battle with humans led by a ruthless colonel for control of the planet Earth. Caesar and the are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of their species and the fate of the planet.

A deeply provoking film emphasising the concept that there will never be peace.

The film was released 14 July to thunderous applause. Critics highlighted the acting, the story, the musical score and direction. One of the strongest ever film conclusions, War of the Planet of the Apes is supposed to be the last of the trilogy, but we have heard that one before.

The Planet franchise debuted in 1968 with Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston. It so fascinated audiences and is still going strong half a century later. This is supposed to be the strongest, most powerful and most profitable of the franchise. It is also supposed to be the last, but that remains to be seen. Studios find it hard to overlook such profits.

Why were we so enchanted when the apes hit the screen in 1968? The story of astronauts who stumble on a strange and desolate planet “Bergeuse” inhabited by a highly civilised society of apes with human — like intelligence and possess the ability of speech while humans are slaves to the dominant apes. Why did we fall in love with the apes and rooted for them? Could the reason be that we share with them 98-99 per cent of our genes?

There are 4 kinds of apes — chimpanzees, gibbons, gorillas and orangutans. They all have hairy, tailless bodies, longer arms than legs, and long fingers and toes. They are not to be confused with monkeys — that is another story.

The first film was an adaptation of a science-fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle, which launched a franchise of five more films.

It was not the end of our romance with the apes. In 2001, 20th Century Fox commissioned director Tim Burton to remake the first version of the 1968 Planet of the Apes. It became the highest opening weekend that year behind Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Again no sequel was planned, but money is irresistible. A decade later The Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 and now The War of the Planet of the Apes terminates the trilogy, so they say.

Ape-human connection is a subject frequently discussed between evolutionists and creationists.

Evolutionists’ evidence is the remarkable genetic similarity. Skeletons are similar in structure. Various races of man as well as various species of apes make the evolutionists’ task of determining ancestry difficult and confusing. Man’s uniqueness is not just in the skeletal structure but intangibles such as language, culture, religion etc. In real life it is easy to distinguish between human and ape but fossils prove difficult in distinguishing one from the other. 

The concept of the man and ape relationship has enjoyed a long-standing fascination in history. It was not invented by French author Pierre Boulle, an engineer who joined the war, was captured, tortured, tried to escape, finally ended home and started to write. Among his novels was Le Pont de la Riviere Kwai (Bridge on the River Kwai) a screen classic which won several Oscars. His first venture into science-fiction drama was his 1963 La Planete des Singes, or Monkey Planet. It was translated in the US as “The Planet of the Apes” but in the UK as “Monkey Planet”. A decade later, following the success of the movie, the new English title was changed to “Planet of the Apes”.

Between legend and history, it has always been implied, but rarely, precisely described that man and ape share more than the air they breathe, but doubtlessly they share a common ancestor.

In several legends there are traces of a cousin ape-man and an imaginary animal between two species.

In fables about Alexander the Great, it is mentioned that he reached “Land of the Apes” where he found two kinds of apes, one fierce and hairy, one mild and less hairy.

Yeti of the Himalayas is famous, so is Big Foot of North America. Trapped between truth and fiction, the reality is questionable, yet where did the idea come from, way before Darwin and his “Origins of the Species”? 

In Hindu mythology, Hamaan was a monkey god; in Greek mythology, Hermolyeos was conceived of an ape and a human. Even in A Thousand and One Nights, there is the story of a princess who risks death for protecting her lover, a man in the form of an ape.

Before the movies, before Boulle, before Darwin, the affinity is inherent between man and ape.

 A quick trip to their planet may be just what the doctor ordered.

“Darwinian man, though well-behaved, At best is only a monkey shaved!”

W S Gilbert (1846-1911)

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