Thursday, March 20, 2008

Apes Week Day 3: There is just one reality left

First, I'd like to thank everyone who's been reading this week for the great response that Apes Week has had. I think it's highly likely that this might go longer than a week, as more material keeps working its way through my transom.

Here, for example, is a recent Planet of the Apes reference that appeared in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Fantastic Four 555.

Reed Richard's college girlfriend, Alyssa (and, by extension, Millar), got the movie reference wrong. If more idiots have children than smart people do, you don't get Planet of the Apes, you get Idiocracy, which is where Millar swiped that idea from.

So says the childless academic.

Speaking of children: today, I was having a conversation with a colleague who was planning a monkey-themed birthday party for her four-year-old daughter, but the plans were going horribly wrong. I just happened to have my Planet of the Apes boxed set with me in my office, as I was using it for "research."

I pulled the box out and said, "Here--you can just show these for the party. They're all G-rated family movies."

"Really?" she responded.

"Yeah, but the first one ends with the hero discovering that the human race has been virtually wiped out by a nuclear war; the second one ends with the complete destruction of earth; the third one ends with the monkey heroes getting shot to death while a monkey baby gets shot like five or six times; the fourth one, which is actually rated PG, ends with a violent monkey revolution where they take over Los Angeles....So, now that I think about it, these aren't really family movies. Maybe the G-rating stood for 'gorillas.'"

But now I really want a monkey-themed birthday party for myself--and by that I mean more than just poop throwing, because that happens at every one of my birthday parties.

Gauging from the responses I've received to the discussion of the ending to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, this film was clearly a traumatic experience for anyone who watched it as a child. As commenter Nik wrote, "It's got to be the bleakest ending for a 'G' rated film ever, and it's amazing they got away with it."

I couldn't agree more. Once the Alpha/Omega bomb goes off, the screen goes blank, and a voice-over narrator comes in to say,
In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.
Then, to make the situation even bleaker, the credits roll completely silent, without any music. It's a wonder most moviegoers didn't leave the theater and step in front of the nearest bus.

But before the detonation, the movie's finale is pretty action-packed, with Brent getting shot in the head and riddled with bullets after killing General Ursus. Taylor gets shot, too, and while dying, he pleads with Dr. Zaius for help. Zaius responds, "Man is evil, capable of nothing but destruction." Taylor then lurches forward, grunting, "You bloody bastard," and then dies with his hand outstretched.

Watching this scene carefully, I think the movie leaves some ambiguity open as to what exactly happens next. Does Taylor lurch forward with his hand outstretched at Zaius, only to die while his hand accidentally falls on the detonator? Or does he intentionally push the detonator with his last bit of strength?

And who was the design genius that built the control panel for the Alpha-Omega device in the first place? All it takes to set the bomb off is to push down on a large, red, cylindrical crystal. It's a wonder that one of the altar boys in the Church of the Holy Bomb didn't accidentally push it down while cleaning.

Anyway, my pessimistic view, as expressed in yesterday's post, leads me to believe that Taylor does this intentionally, but there is enough ambiguity for me to see the possibility of other interpretations.

And, while doing research for Apes Week, I was struck by the different ways this scene was represented in the comic adaptations of the film.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was adapted in comics form at least three times: once by Gold Key in 1970 (coinciding with the release of the film), once by Marvel in the black and white Planet of the Apes magazine and then in the Adventures on the Planet of the Apes series from 1976 (a year or so after Apes-mania had peaked), and a third time by Power Records.

The Power Records version of the ending, which can be found here, is completely fucked. One of the Underdwellers sets off the bomb instead of Taylor. And Nova is still alive when it goes off. It also ends with an appeal to the reader to avoid this particular future, instead of the bleak comment about the death of an insignificant planet.

(A scan of the Gold Key comic can be found at Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive . All of my images from that issue come from that site. Click on the images to enlargen them.)

Here's the final page of the Gold Key comic, written and drawn by Alberto Giolitti, according to this site:

This is a pretty liberal interpretation of the scene, with Taylor clearly falling on the detonator by accident after getting shot. This is also some crappy storytelling on the artist's part, as Taylor lands facing the direction opposite of the way he is facing when he's shot. But I do like the touch in the final panel, with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground looking out on the explosion.

The Marvel Beneath adaptation was written by Doug Moench and drawn by Alfredo Alcala. The final scene runs over several pages and takes considerable liberties with the film's ending.

Prior to this page, Ursus wounds Brent and then the two proceed to wrestle, with Ursus taking a bite out of Brent's arm. Zaius picks up a stray gun and aims it at Brent, but Taylor then steps to the detonator and threatens to set it off if they don't let Brent go.

Ursus then picks up Zaius's gun and shoots Taylor four times.

It's pretty clear how Doug Moench and Alfredo Alcala interpreted the film's ending: they leave little doubt that Taylor presses the button intentionally. Alcala also does a reasonable redesign of the control panel, but would it have killed somebody to spring for some labels on the buttons? (He also redesigned the bomb to make it far less phallic than the one in the movie.)

I also like this little touch that Moench gives at the end: the final words spoken before Earth's destruction are an expression of what a badass Taylor is.

By the way, Leonard Rosenman, who provided the score for Beneath, died just a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83. Here's his fantastic, bizarre, and beautiful "Mass for the Holy Bomb" in my favorite scene from the movie, other than the ending. (This scene also gives you a good shot of the detonator and the bomb, in case you need to refresh your memories.)

Rosenman also did the scores for Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Rebel Without a Cause, Fantastic Voyage, Star Trek IV , and Robocop 2. He won Oscars for Barry Lyndon and Bound for Glory.

True Fact: According to the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, producers originally wanted to cast Burt Reynolds as Brent and Orson Welles as General Ursus. Had that happened, Beneath the Planet of the Apes would be the greatest movie of all time.

Instead, they cast James Franciscus (wasn't he "The Finder of Lost Loves"?*) as what Linda Harrison described as a smaller version of Charlton Heston and the great, underrated character actor James Gregory as Ursus.

*Before people start commenting, I know that Anthony Franciosa was "The Finder of Lost Loves." This is a reference to a joke from Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Mike and the robots keep confusing James Franciscus, Anthony Franciosa, and Tony Lo Bianco.


Anonymous said...

Beneath has always been my favourite Apes flick. It's just so screwed up in the great tradition of a lot of seventies sci-fi. I dread to think what sort of terrible fate today's focus groups would wreak on it.

Anonymous said...

Dr. K said...

Anonymous--Thanks for the link. I hadn't heard of that story. I'll have to check it out.

Phil Looney said...

I must be the exception, becasue I loved the ending to Beneth the Planet of the Apes as a kid. Maybe it was becasue I knew there were still 3 more movies to follow.

Nik said...

Wow, that Gold Key comic is awesome. Charlton Heston would NOT go out screaming "Aieee" like some little bitch, damn you!

Anonymous said...

Taylor is a hateful, arrogant prick. Of course he set the bomb off on purpose. He wasn't going to let some damn dirty apes dust him and live to tell about it.

googum said...

Yeah, I saw Beneath when I was maybe 8, at a kid's matinee. After the earth dies, I remember sitting there, all furrow-browed, thinking, "I hate those apes." Still do, to this day.

If for no other reason, that's why I hated the remake: I wanted humans to rise up and fight back and whup some ape ass, which I don't think has ever happened.

Marc Burkhardt said...

Taylor set the bomb off on purpose to get the final word on those @#$%^ apes.

And yeah, the ending really creeped me out as a kid.

Anonymous said...

The Internet is an amazing thing. I rewatched "Beneath" last night and got to thinking about a comic adaptation I read as a kid (before ever seeing the movie) and thought, "Didn't that comic show Taylor falling on the detonation panel after being shot?" A quick Google search and BAM! There's the Gold Key comic pages I haven't seen in 35 years. Cool. And I remembered correctly! The artwork is pretty good, although the artist has a weird style of not actually drawing lines around his panels. Nova's outfit was much less revealing in the comic. Anyway, it was fun seeing that part of childhood again. What an great information age we live in.