Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review - Planet of the Apes

1968’s Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movies. I’ve already gushed about how good it is. The POTA franchise was one of the first movie franchises I talked about here.  I’ve also seen the rest of the original movies, the lackluster reboot from 2001, and the pretty good prequel/reboot/remake from 2011. What I haven’t done till now is actually read the original novel from 1963. I was pretty interested in reading it, but I couldn’t really find it anywhere. Eventually, I just decided to find it on Amazon.

For those who don’t know, La Planete Des Singes aka Monkey Planet aka Planet of the Apes was written by Pierre Boulle. Boulle was a French writer and he wrote a ton of books including The Bridge Over The River Kwai which was also adapted into a movie. POTA was later translated to English by Xan Fielding. One of the things I’ve heard about the book was how different it was from the movie. I know that the 1968 movie script was reworked a few times by its writers. One of them was Rod Sterling, the man behind The Twilight Zone. I also knew about some of the original novel including the ending (thanks Wikipedia). So, I went into this little read with some trepidation.

Planet of the Apes
Author: Pierre Boulle

BRIEF BLURB: A group of astronauts land on a planet that is inhabited by talking, civilized apes. 

The book starts out with a couple of astronauts finding a bottle floating in space. The bottle contains a manuscript written by French journalist Ulysse Merou. The manuscript details Ulysse’s account of his adventure to Betelgeuse, a faraway star in another system. He and his companions left Earth in the year of 2500. In Betelgeuse, they  find a planet similar to Earth in the system. On the planet which they name Soror, they’re shocked to find out humans are mute animals. The humans end up destroying their equipment and a small shuttle they brought to the planet. They then find out that apes have gained the power of speech and are running things. During a hunting party, one companion (Arthur Levine) is killed while Ulysse and Professor Antelle (another companion) are captured.

During the year Ulysse is on the planet, he gets acquainted with the locals. In his cage, he gets paired a human woman whom he named Nova. He also meets scientists like Zira and Zaius as he tries to tell them that he’s a talking human. Eventually, he’s let out of his cage thanks to some help from Zira and her fiancé, Cornelius. During his freedom, he finds out that Professor Antelle has regressed to that of an animal. Ulysse along with Cornelius learn that Soror was once inhabited by talking humans long ago. He later finds out that humans had used the apes as servants and the apes eventually gained speech and rebelled. The humans were either killed or forced to live out in the wild where they lost their speech and reason.

Things take a turn for the worst when Ulysse finds out that Nova is pregnant. The child is born and is able to talk three months later. With Zaius and other apes wanting to experiment on all of them, Cornelius and Zira realize that Ulysse and his family need to get off the planet. They send the family up in an experimental satellite and Ulysse is able to gain access to their ship which was still in Soror’s orbit. Once they’re in, they head back to Earth. When they make it back to Earth (700 hundred years after Ulysse first left), they’re shocked to find that Earth is now inhabited by civilized apes. At the end of the manuscript, the two astronauts who are apes discard Ulysse’s account as being fiction.

I thought this book was a nice read. While there were a couple of places that didn’t work for me, I really enjoyed the book. The book (or at least the parts not about the ape astronauts) is entirely told from Ulysse’s perspective. The book feels like a documentary or an article and that makes sense because the main character is a journalist. I liked the main character of Ulysse. He’s really different from the character of Taylor from the movie, so seeing Ulysse approach his situations was interesting. I also liked his interactions with Nova, Zira, and Cornelius.

I also liked the detail that went into creating the apes’ civilization. It’s really similar to human civilization in a lot of ways. I liked the humor that was in the book. It’s about talking apes and mute humans, so you know there is going to be some humor in it. I was also a little taken aback at how Zaius is portrayed here. He’s not much of a villain here as he was in the movie. He was pretty much a nonbeliever in talking humans and a little antagonistic. I also liked the ending and how it was kind of foreshadowed towards the end. I’m going to save my look at the differences between the movie and book for a later post though.

One thing I didn’t like about the book was what happened to Professor Antelle’s character. It was unclear on how Antelle regressed back to an animal state. Did he mentally break down? Was he experimented on? The book doesn’t give an answer. He’s akin to Landon who got lobotomized courtesy of Doctor Zaius in the movie. The book also drags at a couple of points especially at the beginning. Ulysse would get too detailed with some stuff to the point where I wondered what I just read.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it since it’s pretty different from the movie. I was going to look at the differences between the movie and book here, but I’ll save that for another post. Until then, Peace and God Bless.

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