Monday, March 17, 2008

Apes Week Day 1: Dr. K's Personal Relationship with Apes

My facination with the Planet of the Apes movies began in 1974, when my parents took 5-year-old Dr. K to see all five movies at the theater on Elmora Ave. in Elizabeth, New Jersey. And by "took to see," I mean, "used as a babysitter." But my parents' neglect proved to be a benefit in the long run, as this event began my early training for watching maraton movie screenings, and it also cemented my love for this franchise.

Of course, now that I think about it, it probably had a greater impact on me than I realized. After all, in the final two films, Caesar, orphaned by his murdered parents, grows up to become the violent revolutionary leader of the apes who then chooses a path of responsibility and equality with the humans. A 5-year-old boy, left alone by his parents at a movie theater, must have felt some affinity there. Feel free to draw other psychological conclusions as well.

The "Go Ape" marathon was a part of the publicity push for the short-lived television series beginning (and ending) that year. I remember getting to watch that series only sporadically because it ran on CBS opposite "Sanford and Son" and "Chico and the Man," two series that were favorites in the K household.

The Apes phenomenon lasted from 1968 until 1975, with the release of the Saturday morning cartoon. I'd have to say that 1974 was the peak year for the Apes phenomenon, despite the fact that the last movie was made in 1972. The films gained new popularity on television, and a ton of Apes merchandise was released that year. It may seem hard to believe, looking back on the films today, but the Planet of the Apes movies were billed as family films, and all but Conquest had a G rating. So, being a 5 year old at this time, I craved the various Apes toys, especially the dolls put out by Mego (and they were "dolls," not "action figures." No male psyche should be so fragile as to require a euphemism for the fact that he played with dolls as a child.).

As with most Mego dolls, however, I had to be content with occasionally playing with those of friends and cousins, many of whom not only had the dolls themselves, but also the treehouse and fortress playsets. My younger brother, though, did have the Galen doll from the tv show, but because our toys were generally community property (another innovative parenting technique), I frequently had Galen teaming up with Mego Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock instead of astronauts Alan Virdon and Pete Burke. (I also had Galen teaming up with my cousins' Cher doll, but that is an entirely different story.) And thus began and ended any interest I had in creating fan fiction.

Here's a collection of all the tv commercials for the Mego Planet of the Apes line. I remember these commercials well.

A couple of comments:
--The second commercial refers to Galen as "the grandson of Cornelius." Was this ever established in the series? I know the series had a lot of continuity glitches, but this one just doesn't make sense.
--That third commercial is brilliant, covering the entire first movie in 30 seconds.
--Other than the third one, every commercial featuring an actual plot ends with an ape victory and human defeat.
--I need to find a way to incorporate "I smell an astronaut!" into my daily conversations.
--The "Action Catapult" with remote controlled horse has to be the single greatest toy ever created. Those were the days when toys were guaranteed to put your eye out.(I must, however, geekily point out that the final ad refers to the human as "Virdon" when it is clearly the Burke doll being used.)

Unlike a lot of the pop culture products from my youth, including most of the comics I read back then, where my nostalgia does not line up with the quality of the product, my appreciation for Planet of the Apes has only grown. Much of this has to do with the fact that the movies develop an extraordinary level of pessimism and misanthropy over the course of the cycle--an attitude I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a child. I'll have more on that as the week progresses.

Today's Link: I'm also going to try to link to some great Apes- related sites. The first is Rich Handley's excellent site, The Hasslein Curve--A Timeline of the Planet of the Apes. This site is exhaustive in its detail, organizing every Apes story (including all the comic book series) into a historical timeline. This is the kind of thing that the internet was made for.

Coming up next: It's the end of the world as we know it.


rassmguy said...

Thanks, man! I appreciate the kind words. :)

rassmguy said...

Sorry--forgot to sign my name to my previous comment. This is Rich Handley, creator of The Hasslein Curve. And I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Jon K said...

Hey, Dr. K... looking forward to the rest of the week's POTA posts! I'm also a huge fan of the series (movies, TV show and cartoons)!

One thing I find interesting about the movie series is how it starts off with the apes being the antagonists/bad guys (for the most part, Cornelius and Zira aside), but by the third one and beyond, they're the protagonists, and we're rooting for them! I particularly remember as a child watching "Conquest" on TV with my younger brothers and sisters, and we were cheering the apes to victory in their revolution!

I post Apes-related stuff in my own blog on occasion (especially in "Found on eBay" posts), I hope you'll check it out sometime!


Phil Looney said...

That sounds awesome - I can't believe there was a time when theaters used to show marathons like that.

I remember I first saw POTA on WACH (the local Fox affiliate) back when they really didn't have much programming on Fox. They had "Planet of the Apes" week, and I watch each movie each night; except the last movie on Friday night. I never did see it.

I'll be adding these to the Netflix now.