Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend

by Graham Edwards

Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the LegendHere’s the bad news. Your treasured shelf of movie books is going to groan in protest when you append this weighty tome to your “making of” collection.

The good news is you won’t regret the addition.

Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend tells the story behind what is not only a popular series of science fiction films, but a true-blue cultural phenomenon. The book’s authors – Cinefex’s own Joe Fordham and Jeff Bond – clearly both adore their apes, with their enthusiasm for all things simian evident both in the incisive yet readable text, and the wide selection of lavishly presented photos and artwork.

Every film in the franchise to date – from the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes to this year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – is here. The stories behind the movies are illuminated by a wide range of interviews, some contemporary, many conducted specifically for this volume. Considerable attention is paid to the relationship of each film to the others, giving the book a pleasing sense of coherence.

There are a few surprises, too: an entertaining section on memorabilia and fandom, and an in-depth analysis of the musical scores. Nor will effects fans be disappointed: there’s a whole chapter devoted to the groundbreaking work of creative makeup designer John Chambers, who won an Academy Award for the ape makeup he developed for the first film.

It’s tempting to argue that, without Chambers and those like him, this book wouldn’t even exist. At Chambers’ 75th birthday party – attended by a veritable who’s who from the effects industry – makeup designer Michael Westmore is quoted as saying:

“One thing I remember that John always taught me, which I have passed on, is ‘don’t keep any secrets.’ And I haven’t. John told me one time: ‘The day that you can get better than me, bless you: go do it.’”

By challenging studio traditions of secrecy, Chambers fostered an atmosphere of openness that was applauded and pursued by those around him, and especially by the makeup effects artists followed in his footsteps – Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston to name but three – artists who have always championed the sharing of skills and knowledge, just like their peers and protégés working across the entire field of special and visual effects.

It’s this culture of sharing that enables authors like Fordham and Bond to do the work they do, and tell the stories they uncover. Books like Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend are the result. And although studios still sometimes offer resistance, driven as they are to their PR machines, the urge of effects professionals to share their experiences remains as strong as ever.

Long may that continue.

Caesar Woz Ere

Authors Jeff Bond (left) and Joe Fordham in Century City, Los Angeles, standing at the western end of the pedestrian footbridge seen in “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”.

An Interview with the Authors

How long were you working on the book?

Joe Fordham – Titan approached me January 20, 2014. We delivered our last fragment — or rather John Landis sent me his foreword, which he wrote himself — June 22, 2014. So I was involved for six months, all told. Of course, we had to do a lot of research, chasing interviews, images and planning, so we weren’t writing that whole time.

Jeff Bond – I believe we had about five weeks as our writing deadline, but we may have added another week or two towards the end of the schedule.

How did you divide the workload?

Joe Fordham: We pretty quickly decided Jeff would handle the “old apes” — meaning Pierre Boulle through to Battle for the Planet of the Apes — as well as the chapter on the music in all the films. I would handle the ‘new apes’ — meaning everything else — and we met in the middle.

I also interviewed visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, who shared his historical knowledge of the early films’ matte paintings and photographic effects. Craig was friendly with effects supervisor L.B. Abbott and matte artist Matthew Yuricich. And I spent a wonderful afternoon at the home of makeup artist Dan Striepeke, former head of the 20th Century Fox makeup department, who shared his memories of his friendship and long association with Apes makeup designer John Chambers.

Jeff also gave me his perspective on what we called the “Forbidden Zone” of Apes projects that fell in between the classic movies and the more recent productions, including the unmade screenplays that led to the Tim Burton remake.

What was the most memorable thing you found during your exploration of the 20th Century Fox vaults?

Joe Fordham – Sadly, that a lot of archival material has been stolen. The Fox archivists are very careful about this now, and have strict security measures in place, but years ago there was a time when unscrupulous people with “sticky fingers” would check material out of the vault and not return it, claiming it to be lost. That material would later turn up in auctions, or end up being offered for sale at conventions — great for that collector, but bad for film history and future generations of film scholars.

Here’s an example of that. Jeff and I were determined to locate producer Arthur P. Jacobs’ original conceptual art. He commissioned it to gain interest in the first Planet of the Apes film, but it was only through the generosity of documentarian Kevin Burns – who had scanned the art back in 1998 for his wonderful documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes – that we were able to provide Titan with those images. Jeff and I searched high and low, but neither Fox nor the custodians of the Jacobs estate, nor any other archives knew what happened to that art. It was heartbreaking.

Jeff Bond – The most unexpected thing for me had nothing to do with the Apes movies. While going through the Arthur P. Jacobs archives at Loyola Marymount University, I found some big sheets of artwork for Jacobs’ movie project Voyage of the Oceanauts, which would have starred Eric Braeden and had visual effects by Douglas Trumbull. Jacobs had also planned a production of Dune back in the day, and I only regret I didn’t stumble across materials for that project.

I had never seen the photos of the unused mutant designs for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and even though production designer Bill Creber has been interviewed about Apes many times, I had never heard him talk about the design of the big hunt sequence, and how they planned the look of the first shots of the apes on horseback.

How did you make the picture selections?

Joe Fordham – Fox asked Jeff and me to be their emissaries into the Fox vaults. We supplied a wish-list to Fox archivist Jeffrey Thompson, so that he could pull material from their Raiders of the Last Ark-style storage facility.

Then when we went to visit Jeff’s office in Century City — not far from where they filmed parts of “North America 1991” for Battle. Jeff’s team members kept wheeling out trolley after trolley stacked high with cartons and file boxes of photographs and slides. We focused on color images that we had not seen before. There is still a vast ocean more of black-and-white material.

Jeff Bond – We went to the Fox photo archives, which I had been to before while working on soundtrack album projects for Film Score Monthly – I believe I had even looked through some of the Apes photos on those projects. Our editor at Titan also gave us access to a huge digital collection of photos, and Joe and I each made selections based on what we knew we’d be writing about (or had already included) in our chapters.

Picking the photos was actually easy; the hard part was dealing with our budget, because we could not have everything we wanted. One thing I desperately wanted to include was the painted artwork from Jacobs’ original presentation for Fox, which showed things like the apes in helicopters and the human astronauts driving around in this big bubble-topped tank. Kevin Burns, who made the great documentaries included in the original Apes Blu-ray sets, very graciously gave us access to his scanned artwork so that we could include those.

Which is your favourite ape movie, and why?

Joe Fordham – The first. It had Schaffner’s brilliant, witty vision of an extraordinary idea, with a terrific script by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, perhaps Charlton Heston’s best performance — I kept telling Jeff that Taylor was a “protean” hero, but he wisely avoided my flowery adjective.

To cap it all, it had a spectacular score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the 20th century’s most imaginative film composers. I also have a fondness for Escape, which was the first Apes film I saw in the cinema, possibly during its re-release. And I loved Dawn.

Jeff Bond – The first one will always be my favorite. I love Charlton Heston’s performance, I love the screenplay and all the actors playing the apes, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is probably the ultimate science fiction movie score, the production design and costuming are brilliant … and I love it because it’s about ideas, and the suppression of ideas.

I think that Conquest is also an incredible achievement, especially in its original form, unseen by the public until Fox put it on their Blu-ray set. It’s possibly the most subversive movie ever made by a major studio, one that argues very eloquently on the side of armed rebellion. It may also be the most violent movie released by a major studio in the ’70s.

I also very much enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: it’s a beautifully made movie with some of the most convincing digital characters I’ve ever seen.

The concept behind the Planet of the Apes films is clearly an enduring one. Why do you think audiences continue to be fascinated by these stories?

Joe Fordham – There have been books written about the Apes series’ socio-political overtones and interpretations of the films’ meanings. Jeff and I decided to let those speak for themselves and focus more on how the films were made, as that was already quite a challenge.

What I admire about the movies – in particular Franklin Schaffner’s first one – is that all that stuff is implicit, swimming around under the surface. It’s not overt. You can take the movies as simply an adventure story, or just focus on the characters; but there is a deeper resonance, and I think the best films in the series have walked that line.

Jeff Bond – There’s always a fascination with finding some kind of humanity in animals, or even inanimate objects. We project human thoughts and feelings onto all sorts of things – especially animals – so to see that portrayed so convincingly is compelling. I think the newer movies push that concept to new heights because you really do feel like you’re watching real simians and not actors in makeups.

Which ape character would you like to be, and why?

Joe Fordham – Galen, in the TV series, was quite an urbane young chimp, and I liked his sense of humor.

I was pleased to discover, while researching the later TV movie presentations of the Apes TV series, that Galen lived to quite a ripe old age. It was apparently Roddy McDowell’s last time in ape makeup, when he recorded introductions and TV bumpers as a grey-haired old chimp, sitting in his study and speaking into camera, reflecting on his adventures with Virdon and Burke, the two astronauts who came in search of Taylor.

Jeff Bond – It might be odd to say, but Zira is really the hero of the early Apes pictures. She’s the one arguing for understanding and compassion, and I would aspire to be as outspoken and idealistic as her.

Which ape character do you think you actually are?

Joe Fordham – Koba!

Jeff Bond – I’m probably Cornelius – a bit more cautious and less daring.

TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

3 thoughts on “Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend

  1. For the stuff that was lost. Yes its sad but again how when you put in a warehouse somewhere it doesnt get lost as well? Since its not used and who knows where it is? I do agree we need to archive everything and let people see it and use it to create there own worlds and such. But it happens and you mourn it and move on.

  2. I think part of the renewed interest in the Planet of the Apes storyline is that, with increasing artificial intelligence, people are curious about what it really means to be human. What role will humans have in a world increasingly taken over by intelligent machines? The ape/man conflict is a metaphor for the coming man/machine struggle for control, power, autonomy and independence.

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