Note: This is an up-dated version of an article posted to The Correctness in 2011.
Full disclosure: I love talking ape movies. I absolutely love them. I had even begun the research to study the Planet of the Apes films as my PhD thesis when I abandoned academia. I adore these films.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (the last of the original films) is the second most-purchased film in my collection having picked it up on vhs, 2 versions on dvd and then blu-ray (the first is Die Hard which I had to replace on vhs). And it’s my least favourite!
I put together a series of viewing parties that present the films and related content as a variety of experiences.
All told there were 5 original films (POTA, Beneath the POTA, Escape From the POTA, Conquest of the POTA and Battle for the POTA), a half-season TV series, a half-season animated series, the Tim Burton Remake and now two prequels/relaunch films. Option 1 is spoiler-free, the rest are not.
1) The Classic: 1,2,3,4,5
As originally released, this is the most popular viewing order. You get the two highest-budget films and both Heston appearances at the top. This is the order that is for the newbie and I warn you that you will lose attention as it gets to the last film.
My personal fav of the series is 4 and I find it difficult to keep going into that last one. The budget on 5 was not much more than that of a TV movie and it shows. Watching on blu-ray and a big screen you will start having the uninitiated questioning the make-up effects by 2. To cut costs, background apes were given pull-over masks instead of make-up but the wonders of 1080 make these cut corners obvious.
2) The Chronological: 3,4,5,1,2
The order for those who have already seen the series and want a different experience. This version puts the films in chronological order from the perspective of the apes. 3 opens with the ape astronauts crash-landing on earth in the 1970s and telling our world a wild tale about war, a rebellious ape, and the final fate of some missing astronauts.
We watch as the apes take over our world and the human race becomes a slave species. Then we jump ahead 2,000 years to see the ultimate destiny of our world. Not nearly as hopeful a tale, it is my preferred viewing order.
3) The Chronological by Dehn: 3,4,1,2
Paul Dehn, the screenwriter of Conquest of POTA was told it would be the final in the series so he created a story that would close it up as a loop. It works well to watch them that way and makes a bit more narrative sense.
4) The Nouvea Chronological: Rise, Dawn, 1,2
The latest series of Apes films is designed to work as part prequel, part reboot, part relaunch. Using gene manipulation instead of war as the catalyst, Rise of POTA and Dawn of POTA show the downfall of humans and the battle for supremacy of earth.
The films also weave in a few easter eggs that indicated the events of POTA 1 may still occur, most importantly two references to the doomed flight of the Icarus, Col. Taylor’s space craft.
The new films are incompatible with the events of 3 and do not follow the history of apes and humans as explained by Zira and Cornelius in that film.
5A) A Bit More Apes
You’ve been through the series but still want more talking apes? Well there are the live-action and animated TV series. Be warned that neither lasted even a full season and, consequently, neither has an ending.
The live-action has it’s moments, and there is an episode with Marc “Beastmaster” Singer. The animated series features characters from 1 and 2 but doesn’t fit into the timeline set out in those films.
The animated is also the closest adaptation to the original novel, Monkey Planet. It features a full Ape City with mid-20th century technology including apes driving cars.
5B) The Tim-Burton-is-All-Style-and-No-Substance: Remake
Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of POTA is a testament to how he just puts stuff together that looks impressive and doesn’t pay much attention to coherency, plot, characters, etc. It was an early sign of what post-Alice In Wonderland many more people have accepted – he’s a bit shite.
That said, it sure does look pretty. The ending will likely confuse and you will be left wondering what it meant. Well look no further than the commentary track by Burton who tells you with all pride that it means … absolutely nothing. He just thought it was an interesting visual and had no concern for the complete failure of the film to close on any sensible note.
6) The Long-Staycation: The whole thing
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, TV, Animated, Remake, Prequels, that episode of The Simpsons where Troy McClure is in POTA:The Musical, the fan-edit of POTA that makes it a Twilight Zone episode, and the grown-ups-only XXX parody Playmate of the Apes
As I said, the live-action and animated don’t fit easily into the series, but the original films had quite a few contradictions too so it can be forgiven. The biggest negative is that you get the best stuff early.
There is some very cool apes side content. The Simpsons bit was great (and I just found out there are magnets of those characters which is on my ebay wishlist now). POTA was written by Rod Serling and a clever fan made a terrific fanedit of the film that cuts it to 20-odd minute Twilight Zone episode, black-and-white including opening narration and credits.
And not for all ages is the 2002 porn parody Playmate of the Apes. It was shot mostly outside and the apes live in what looks like a 1970s basement rec room. No talking apes are involved in the *ahem* action. It isn’t art, but it makes more narrative sense than the Burton film so it gets its place.
With more films to come, it’s a good time to be an Apes fan.
Get your stinkin’ paws on some damned ape movies.