Friday, March 18, 2011

The Greatest APES

After my last post, I figured I may as well stay in the geek realm for just a little bit longer. If you're a "Zaki's Corner" regular, you already know quite well that the original Planet of the Apes from 1968 remains unchallenged as my "favoritest movie ever," as manifested in a veritable fortune showered on toys, posters, and various other artifacts of Ape-eana (remember this thing?). What you may not know is that back in high school I even created my very own Apes fanzine called The Sacred Scrolls, that I self-published along with a buddy and distributed to a subscriber base of forty or so fellow Ape-ophiles.

The 'zine, featuring articles, original fiction, and even comic stories by yours truly, didn't make it past two years, mainly because in the pre-blog, pre-job wilderness of the early-'90s I was going broke dropping a couple hundred bucks at Kinko's four times a year, but also because I realized pretty quickly that proudly trumpeting one's Planet of the Apes fandom wasn't exactly a pitstop on the Dale Carnegie roadmap for high school success. Regardless, those early efforts left enough of a mark to merit a brief mention in film historian Eric Greene's book Planet of the Apes as American Myth, so there is that.

Anyway, I bring all that up as preamble to this great piece by Gerardo Valero posted to Roger Ebert's blog on why that first Apes flick manages to retain so much of its appeal even forty-plus years after it first hit theaters. Reading Valero's recollections of viewing Apes for the first time, I'm reminded of my own initial reaction -- equal parts horror and fascination -- that birthed a lifelong affinity for the brand (well, except for the misbegotten Tim Burton version ten years ago, my initial schizophrenic reaction to which I discussed here). I think Valero really hit the bullseye with this graf:
Planet of the Apes first and foremost is a film about intriguing ideas, a feature that allows us to view Man in a situation where he's become the lesser species and to feel what it must be like to suddenly be discriminated as such. One that sets a rather believable example of time travel that lets us understand the consequences of moving to a future time in which all we care about in this world has long since vanished. By fast-forwarding us there, we are able to witness the consequences of mankind's irrational actions. It is also a movie about a man disenchanted with the human race who is put in a situation where he has to defend it from these outsiders, whose idea of safe-guarding their faith is censuring anything new that contradicts it, only to later conclude none of the parties here deserved to be defended in the first place.
It's that wonderful, gritted-teeth cynicism (perfectly embodied by the late, great Chuck Heston) that spoke to my ten-year old-self far more than the sunny optimism of Star Trek and escapist fantasy of Star Wars, and it gives Apes 1.0 a primal power that has allowed it to remain a memorable and important film in the decades since. It's the same power that home studio Twentieth Century Fox has striven mightily to recapture through sequel, spin-off, remake, and now prequel to lesser results each time (though the jury is still out on that prequel, obviously). Check out the rest of Valero's article here, and if you haven't watched the original Planet of the Apes yet, what the heck are you waiting for?

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