In anticipation of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I was initially going to compose a straightforward feature reflecting on the original films and their scores. After sitting through all five of these films again, however, I’m in too much of a stupor to put together a standard series of mini-reviews. While I can intellectually understand the historical and social circumstances that made these films so popular in their day, it is still absolutely insane to me that a pitch-black series about monkeys and nuclear holocaust became a massive franchise. This is a series of films in which Part Two ends with [SPOILER] Charlton Heston shouting down a guy in a monkey costume and then wiping out all life on this planet. And then the series still produced three more films, a live action TV show, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a slew of toys and lunchboxes. For perspective, imagine trying to pitch these films to a studio today. In fact, don’t imagine – I’ll do it for you! The little one-act play below is my hypothetical attempt at pitching the original Planet of the Apes franchise at a modern day studio executive. It’s “kind of” a review of the original films and their scores, but it’s mostly for fun. So without further ado:
Scene: Interior. Office of a prominent Studio Executive.
Me: So I know everyone’s looking for the next big franchise – something that adults and kids will flock to, something from which we can squeeze out multiple films, tv shows, toys, and other merchandise. Well, I think I have it!
Studio Exec: Did you just say, “from which”?
Me: It’s grammatically correct!
Studio Exec: Yeah, but nobody actually says that in everyday speech.
Me: Look do you want to hear the pitch?
Studio Exec: Yes. Kind of. Not really. But tell me anyway. Can you make it quick?
Me: Oh, god no! [sits up in chair, leans forward] So it starts with a trio of astronauts who travel into the far distant future and land on a planet where … ok and get ready for this … everything is run by monkeys!
Studio Exec: … um …
Me: Basically in this world, monkeys are in control – they talk, wear clothes, live in cities, and have their own government and religion. People are dumb and can’t talk. They’re basically treated the way we treat other animals; they’re hunted for sport, kept in zoos, and experimented on for science.
Studio Exec: Ok… Ok, I think I’m getting it. I was expecting something a little more serious, but I can see this as a CGI animated comedy for families. We’ll scrap the scientific experiments, but I can see a kind of Shrek with monkeys. Wacky pratfalls, banana jokes, you know the drill. Let’s see if we can get some A-list comic actors to voice the astronauts. Now I think Will Ferrell is committed to a Land of the Lost sequel, but maybe Ben Stiller – there are three astronauts you said?
Me: Um, yeah, but two of them get killed off in the first act. Well one gets killed and the other gets a lobotomy. So essentially, only one astronaut.
Studio Exec: Wait, what? One gets a lobotomy?! What kind of movie is this?
Me: Yeah, I should have finished – this isn’t a kids’ comedy. It’s a live action movie, and it’s going to be like, super dark.
Studio Exec: It’s a super dark movie … about a planet run by monkeys?
Me: Yeah! I want to call it, “Planet of the Apes!”
SE: … planet of the “apes”?
SE: Couldn’t we call it, “Planet of the Monkeys” or “Monkey Planet,” or something like that?
Me: Well that would just be silly. Monkey is a silly word. Who would take “Planet of the Monkeys” seriously? “Ape” though – that’s a word that just sends shivers down your spine. Ape. Oh man. [shivers, clearly affected by the term’s gravitas]
SE: But “ape” is such a comically archaic term. When was the last time you heard someone refer to a monkey as an “ape”? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the word “ape” unless it accompanied by the words, “Great Grape,” and even that was from an ancient Saturday morning cartoon.
Me: Look, it’s called “Planet of the Apes.” That’s non-negotiable. So getting back on point, the main character is this misanthrope named Taylor. Taylor hates people, so he who volunteers to go on a big space voyage into distant lands where he can maybe – maybe – find something better than man. But when he lands in this ape – or fine, “monkey” – planet, he finds himself treated an animal. First he’s hunted, and then he’s shoved into a lab where he’s treated like an experiment. He finds a planet where people aren’t in control, which is what he thought he wanted, but he finds out that he has it even worse on a planet controlled by monkeys.
Studio Exec: Ok … ok, so maybe we can sell this as a horror/thriller movie?
Me: Well … not really. I mean it’s thematically dark, but we’re going to shoot most of the scenes in super-bright exteriors. And yeah, there will be a few action scenes – including one awesome chase through the monkey city – but it’s mostly just this guy and a bunch of people in monkey costumes sitting around talking. It’s more of a morality tale, I guess.
Studio Exec: So … to be sure I’m following along. You want to launch the next big franchise with a super-dark morality tale about a guy who lands on planet full of monkeys. And you want most of the movie to consist of this guy and people in monkey costumes sitting around talking about … what? I don’t … what would the moral of this movie even be? Does Taylor learn that that he didn’t really have it so bad with people after all? Does spending all of this time with these awful monkeys make him realize that people aren’t so awful and that he actually misses them?
Me: Um … maybe a little, but really I think the moral is that people are exactly as awful as this guy thinks they are. I mean, in the first act you see him treated like a lab animal, so there’s a big animal rights message there about how people are so much worse than all other animals because we treat other animals like dirt.
Studio Exec: But aren’t the monkeys in this movie themselves just as nasty and abusive as people?
Me: Well … yeah, but …just let me finish. So at first it seems like the monkeys are being really awful to this guy, and once they find out he’s smart and can talk, they pretty much treat him like he’s the anti-Christ. But then at the end he escapes and finds out … and here’s the big twist, so I can stop if you don’t want it spoiled.
Studio Exec: What? No, you’re … you’re pitching this to me. Obviously you’re going to tell me how the movie ends.
Me: Just making sure. You REALLY don’t care if I spoil the ending?
Studio Exec: Yes, spoil the ending! How does it end?
Me: So Taylor escapes from the apes and flees along this deserted beach. He’s got a mute girlfriend and he’s all excited about starting a new life when he comes across – get this – the remains of the Statue of Liberty, buried in the sand!
Studio Exec: Ah.
Me: Get it? See, all this time, he thought he was on a different planet run by apes, but it turns out that it was really Earth in the distant future! Mankind apparently nuked itself into near-extinction, so monkeys evolved to be the primary sentient creatures in the intervening years! So really, the monkeys had every reason to fear and hate a smart human like Taylor – smart humans are self-destructive idiots who blow up the planet if you give them half a chance!
Studio Exec: Ok, but I’m trying to … did the guy not realize he was in the future?
Me: No, he always knew he was in the future. He knew that the laws of space travel meant that thousands of years would pass for the rest of the universe while only half a year had passed for him. He just thought he had traveled to a distant planet.
Studio Exec: So he thought that this planet – with deserts and oceans and oxygen just like on Earth – with horses and people and monkeys – monkeys who speak English – was somehow not Earth?
Me: Well … yeah. But look –
Studio Exec: And what exactly happened with his spaceship? Did it just stay in one place while also traveling at light speed for half a year? Did it somehow circle the entire universe and end up back where it started? Did it spend all of that time just running loops around the Earth at light speed? How would this even work?
Me: Look, you won’t be thinking about any of that in the moment. Wait until you see the guy pounding his fists in the sand, screaming “Damn them all to hell!” And then the credits roll and all you hear is just cold, cruel sound of the waves hitting the beach – I mean, this is going to be powerful stuff.
Studio Exec: Wait, the credits roll – the movie ends here?!
Studio Exec: So it’s a talky, serious movie about a planet run by monkeys, and the moral at the end is that people are terrible and they should all be damned to hell. … Why, exactly, do you think this is going to be popular?
Me: Because monkeys! People love monkeys! And I mean, isn’t the idea itself cool enough to get you to want to see the movie? Look, I know that when I talk about it, it sounds ridiculous, but this one really is going to be a legitimately great movie. A lot of it’s going to be ham-fisted, and it will get talky at points, but it’s also going to be full of some of the most iconic scenes in movie history. And even though the message is dark, the film will have enough of a campy sense of humor to keep things from getting outright depressing. There’s going to be wild avant-garde score by Jerry Goldsmith that will still be a front-runner for “most audaciously experimental score for a Hollywood film” 50 years later, and it will keep the tone slightly wacky without sacrificing the fundamental cynicism at the story’s core.
Studio Exec: What the, why are you telling me about the music? This hasn’t even been written yet!
Me: Because I’m so excited about it! Anyway, the characters – human and ape alike – are all going to be memorable, three-dimensional characters, so even when it seems like we’re leaning hard on the metaphors, none of the characters will ever just seem like walking symbols. The fact that you’re not entirely sure about the moral is part of what’s going to make it so great – it will allude to real world issues without pinning itself down to any of them. Yeah, it’s a downer of an ending, but sometimes it’s cathartic to see a movie end with a hambone actor yowling out all of your fears and resentments about humanity.
Studio Exec: Well! What a bizarrely specific pitch! Ok, for the sake of argument, let’s just say you’re right. This seems like – under the right circumstances – it could make a perfectly fine one-off high-concept movie. Maybe we could sell it as a big “twist” movie, ala The Sixth Sense. But how does this turn into more than just one movie? How are we going to turn it into a franchise?
Me: Oh! Well first off, there’s going to be an immediate sequel – called “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” – that literally picks up right when the original film ended. In fact, we might even start it with the last five minutes of the first film, just for people who might not have seen it.
Studio Exec: But won’t the last five minutes of the first film be meaningless for people who didn’t see it? And won’t it just be annoying for people who did?
Me: Yeah… yeah, I’m actually not sure why we’re going to do that. Maybe to pad out the running time?
Studio Exec: Fine, get on with it. So this film follows the further adventures of Taylor?
Me: No no, Taylor disappears at the start of this sequel. He doesn’t come back until the very end, at which point he’s suddenly the main character again. Most of the movie is about another astronaut from Earth’s past who travels to the future to find Taylor.
Studio Exec: Wait, why?
Me: Well there’s no way we’re going to be able to afford the actor from the first film for more than a few scenes. But he’s still going to be the focus of the movie, because the new character literally does nothing except look for Taylor and talk about how he’s trying to find Taylor.
Studio Exec: Why is he looking for him in the first place? Didn’t the people who sent Taylor and his crew into space know that they’d be traveling into the distant future and trying to colonize a new planet? Were people expecting him to come back?
Studio Exec: And why is the new guy only looking for Taylor? I thought there were other astronauts in the first ship. From the sounds of it, Taylor was kind of a jerk and probably the last person in that crew anyone would care about finding.
Me: Right, but … look, none of that matters. The guy’s looking for Taylor because Taylor was the main character in the first film. Taylor’s the only guy the audience cares about, so he’s the only one the new guy cares about.
SE: Does the new guy even have a personality?
Me: No, like I told you, his entire role is “Guy who really wants to find Taylor.” Even when he finds an entire planet run by monkeys or discovers that the planet is actually post-apocalyptic Earth, his only response is, “Wow, this is really making it harder for me to find Taylor!”
Me: That way the audience won’t notice that Taylor is barely in the movie! Look, forget about Taylor for a second. He’s not the point.
SE: Then why does one guy spend all of his time obsessing over him? If you don’t want the audience to focus on the actor you can’t afford, why keep reminding them about him every second that he’s not onscreen?
Me: … I don’t know. But really, there’s more to the movie than just Taylor. In fact, the movie pretty much takes all the big features from the last film – thinly-veiled metaphors of problems in modern-day society, threats of nuclear apocalypse, ham-fisted acting, downbeat ending – and turns them up to 11. It still has nutty costumes and makeup, and it still has an experimental atonal score (this time by Leonard Rosenman). But in this one, the nutty makeup is just ugly, and the atonal score is less playful and more militaristic.
SE: Stop telling me about the music!
Me: No! Look, my point is that yes, the movie’s going to take away all of the fun and novelty from the concept, but people are going to love it because it will be so extreme!
SE: Back up – I’m almost afraid to ask, but how are you going to turn the first film’s downbeat ending – in which a guy discovers that humanity wiped itself out and screams about damning humanity to hell – how are you going to turn that “up to 11”?
Me: Oh, haha, well where the first film ended with Taylor discovering a past nuclear apocalypse, this one will end with him causing one!
Me: Yeah, at the end they discover this society of crazy mutants who worship a nuclear “doomsday” bomb that has the power to wipe out all life on earth. There’s a big skirmish between the mutants, the apes, and the humans that ends with Taylor getting shot and begging the main monkey leader for help. The monkey says no and tells Taylor that people are awful, so Taylor gets even by pushing the doomsday button, blowing up all life on earth! The movie ends with the screen going white and an offscreen narrator saying, “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 roll credits in complete silence!
Me: Isn’t it great?! And then for the third movie –
SE: No, hold on! … let’s just … pretend … that anyone … would want to see a movie – a big, escapist campy sci-fi movie – that ends with the main character killing – not just himself – not just the other main characters – but every other possible character on the planet. How do we make a third movie?! You just killed off anyone and anything that we could use for the next movie! Is the next movie just going to be footage of earth burning itself away over the course of 90 minutes?
Me: No, it’s –
SE: What are you going to call it, “Planet Without the Apes”?
Me: No, we’re –
SE: Actually, that’s pretty good. Let me write that one down
Me: No, let me finish! It’s not Planet without the Apes! There are still going to be plenty of apes.
Me: Two words: prequel trilogy! Or, actually, sequel trilogy. And prequel trilogy. Seprequel trilogy!
SE (massages temples): I don’t know why I’m still listening to this, but go on.
Me: See it turns out that two of the nice monkeys from the other films – the husband and wife who help Taylor and his friend then disappear from the movies –
SE: You never told me about nice monkeys.
Me: I didn’t? Well there are two nice monkeys – a married couple named Cornelius and Zira – who help Taylor escape in the first film, then try to help his friend find Taylor in the second film. And even though they disappear in the second half of the second film, it turns out that they actually managed to steal Taylor’s friend’s spaceship – and they flew away before the planet blew up. So this third movie is called “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” – because they “escaped” from the “Planet of the Apes.”
SE: Couldn’t we just call it “Ape Escape”?
Me: No. Anyway, it turns out they actually didn’t escape to another planet – they ended up travelling back in time and landing on present-day earth – exactly when Taylor originally left. Ooooooh! Did I just blow your mind?!
SE: …How would that work? I get the whole theory of relativity thing where going into space at the speed of light means going forward in time – well I don’t get it, but I understand that it’s a thing – but it’s not like the reverse is true. Is the space ship also a time machine?
Me: Look, it’s best not to think too hard about it. The important thing is that you get to see smart, talking monkeys interacting with people in present-day society. Doesn’t that sound fun?
SE: Actually, yeah. I see a lot of fish-out-water comedy potential, like Austin Powers with monkeys. So would this one actually be funny?
Me: Yeah! Well, at first. In the opening scenes, there’s a lot of merrymaking with the monkeys getting confused about human customs, getting drunk on wine, etcetera. Everyone will have a great time. But then in the second half, the government figures out that the monkeys come from a future where mankind is subservient to apes, so a few high-ranking government figures start arguing that Cornelius and Zira should be executed – or at least prevented from procreating.
SE: Oh no. Please don’t tell me this is going where I think this is going.
ME: See, the female monkey is pregnant, and the government is afraid that if these monkeys have babies, they’ll end up giving birth to the smart monkey who leads the revolution against mankind.
SE: Why do they assume there’s going to be a monkey revolution against mankind? I thought that mankind got wiped out because of the nuclear war?
ME: Well at one point in the movie, Cornelius tells the humans the history of monkey society. In a pretty long monologue, he says that monkeys used to be pets for humans, but as they evolved and got smarter, humans starting treating them like slaves. So one of the monkeys finally rebelled and said, No!”, then started a monkey rebellion that eventually ended in the downfall of mankind.
SE: Wait, how does he know this? Did he indicate he knew about this historical monkey rebellion the other films? Because it seems like he could have just told Taylor about it and saved him the trauma of finding out with the Statue of Liberty.
Me (thinks about it): …No … no in the other films it was pretty clear that Cornelius didn’t know anything about the origins of monkey society. In fact, the whole point of his character in the first film was that he was the one monkey who was even willing to entertain the idea that there might have been a society of intelligent humans in the distant past. He certainly wouldn’t have known anything this specific.
SE: Then how does he –
Me: Look, who cares? The point is that he tells people monkeys are eventually going to take over the planet, so the government freaks out and turns on the monkeys. In the last act, Cornelius and Zira are fugitives from the law. In the end, Zira has her baby, but soon after, government guys find the two monkeys and gun them down with their baby.
SE: *Bangs head against his desk*
Me: Don’t you like it? Look, it’s going to be an improvement over the last one at least. It will basically have TV movie production values, but the characters are at least intelligent sympathetic people/monkeys who make understandable decisions. Even the bad guy who guns the monkeys down has a legitimate point of view – he thinks he’s preventing the destruction of mankind. It’s at least a little lighter than the last two, and even Jerry Golsmith’s music does a fun funk-mod thing with –
SE: STOP TALKING ABOUT THE MUSIC AS IF –
Me: And yeah, the dark ending kind of comes out of nowhere, but if it didn’t have a depressing ending, it wouldn’t be a Planet of the Apes movie.
SE: Ok! So! After killing off the two characters who had any remote connection to the original films – along with a goddamned adorable baby monkey – where can the series possibly go from here?
Me: Well it turns out that the government gunned down the wrong baby monkey. Before Cornelius and Zira were found, they spent a few days hiding out with a sympathetic circus trainer. In the last shot, you find out that the circus trainer secretly switched their smart baby monkey a regular stupid baby monkey.
SE: Oh god! So they actually gunned down a poor innocent regular baby monkey? That’s even worse! [Puts his head on his desk and sobs quietly].
Me: Well, yeah, but the point is that the smart baby monkey is still alive. In Part 4 – called “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” – we’re going to jump forward a few decades into the near future. This is like, the Revenge of the Sith of the series – here’s where we learn how the big monkey revolution finally happens…What are you writing?
SE (writing): Sorry, you just gave me an idea for a remake and I want to jot it down before I forget it.
Me (looks at notepad): “Monkey Revenge of the Sith”?
SE: I’m between that and “Revenge of the Sith with Monkeys.”
Me: What about “Revenge of the Monkey Sith.”
SE (scribbling): Oh, that’s good!
Me: Can we, um…?
SE: Yeah, yeah, keep going.
Me: So now we’re in a quasi-dystopian future where people have essentially turned monkeys into household servants. It started with people taking in monkeys as pets, but as the monkeys started getting smarter and better at learning how to perform menial tasks, people essentially started treating them like slaves. So you know, huge potential metaphor for racism.
SE: Wait, are you actually proposing a movie where oppressed monkeys are a metaphor for oppressed black people?
Me: …. um ….
SE: Take your time.
Me: … … …
SE: I really want to hear you explain this.
Me: … Well it sounds way more offensive when you say it out loud than it did in my head!
SE: Uh-huh. Go on.
Me: Look, this is going to be a socially progressive movie! It’s about how the oppressed monkeys finally revolt against their awful masters. See, the smart baby monkey from the last film is now a young adult. The benevolent circus trainer – basically this world’s only monkey rights activist – has kept him hidden from society and taught him how to talk.
SE: The monkey rights activist is a circus trainer?
Me: I know, it’s weird, but can we –
SE (laughing): When does he campaign for monkey rights? Before or after he captures monkeys from the wild and tortures them into performing stupid tricks?
Me: Ok, I get it! Look, it’s supposed a morality tale about racial oppression; it’s not a circus expose! Can I get on with my pitch?
SE: Yes, you can get on with the world’s longest pitch about how smart monkeys conquered the world, all with the help of the animal kingdom’s wisest, kindest benefactor: the circus trainer.
Me: Ok! Jeez! So the smart monkey – who eventually starts calling himself Caesar – ends up as the servant of a cartoonishly evil governor who hates monkeys and is terrified of Cornelius’s story about a smart monkey leading a rebellion. The governor eventually gives an order to round up every potentially smart or deviant monkey, and it’s strongly implied that he means to have them executed. Or maybe he outright says it. I forget.
SE: Wait – so if everyone is so terrified of Cornelius’s prophesy about the monkey rebellion, why did the humans turn monkeys into servants in the first place? Wouldn’t the easiest way to avoid the problem be to just let the monkeys be?
Me: … Come on, let’s be reasonable. What are people supposed to do, not oppress monkeys and turn them into slaves?
SE: Touché. Keep going.
Me: So eventually Caesar starts forming a sort of Monkey Underground. He has all of the monkeys steal weapons from their masters, and he gradually starts organizing them into a monkey army. In the climax, the monkeys revolt against their humans, and after a series of badass battle scenes, they take control of the city. The movie ends with Caesar giving a big angry speech about how man’s day is done and it’s now the Planet of the Apes! I really want to end it with them dragging the evil governor out into the town square and beating him to death!
SE: That’s actually really chilling!
Me: Except apparently people think that’s too dark, so we’re probably going to do last minute edits to make it seem like Caesar is sparing the guy’s life and telling his fellow monkeys not to get violent just yet.
SE: Wait, are you telling me that after three movies with miserable endings – one in which the entire planet blows up and another in which an adorable baby monkey gets gunned down – you’re pulling your punches now and deciding that killing off the villain is too dark?
Me: Well … look at this point we’re really not sure what we’re doing anymore. But the movie is at least going to be the best since the original film. It’ll be full of weird plot holes, but it will have a sense of scope and purpose that the last two lacked. Some clever tracking shots will create the impression of chaotic riots even when we only have a few sets and extras to play with, and Tom Scott’s music will get back to the avant-garde roots of the original film – with a little –
SE: [Starts punching self in the head]
Me: – With a little urban jazz to go with the modern setting. And you know, maybe it’s over the top, but at least we’re trying to say something about racial oppression.
SE [stops punching, pours self a drink]: Do you at least keep the race stuff subtle?
Me: No … no there’s actually a scene where a sympathetic black guy tries to convince Caesar not to resort to violence and Caesar’s like, “I would think you of ALL people would understand!”
SE [takes a deep breath]: … please leave.
Me: No, but there’s one more! The next one’s called “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”!
SE: Does it finally depict the massive war that ends in mankind nuking itself out of existence?
Me: Oh, there’s no way we’ll be able to afford that. It takes place a few decades after that big war.
SE: Then why make the movie in the first place?
Me: I actually don’t know. Really the movie adds almost nothing to the series. It depicts Caesar living with a small group of monkeys and people in a small woodland village, trying to form a new society. A chunk of the film sort of turns into a monkey version of Mad Max, with a gang of radiation-scarred humans trying to invade the monkey village with their military weapons. But the monkeys win, despite an attempted coup from the war-hungry gorillas. I guess there’s kind of a racial harmony message awkwardly shoved in there in some places. At the start, humans aren’t quite servants, but they don’t have equal rights with monkeys. But the movie ends with Caesar realizing that monkeys can be violent too, so they should give humans equal rights.
SE: But doesn’t that contradict the first film, where humans have become so subservient to monkeys and so devolved that they can’t even talk?
Me: Yeah, but it’s kind of vague if that’s still going to happen. Caesar’s really worried about causing that bleak future and he’s trying to prevent it. And he has a wise friend who’s convinced that you can change the future if you make the right decisions. He’s going to be played by Paul Williams!
SE: …Fine. So the film indicates that the future is going to change?
Me: Kind of. It’s going to end with John Huston in a monkey costume –
SE: All this time we could have had John Huston in a monkey costume?!
Me: Yeah, I really wish we had thought of that earlier too. So it ends with Monkey Huston telling an audience of human and monkey children that nobody really knows the future. Then you see a human kid start to fight with a monkey kid, and the camera cuts to a statue of Caesar that starts crying. So maybe things will be different, but there are ominous signs.
SE: It ends with a statue of Caesar crying?! Like that old pollution PSA with the sad Native American?
Me: Yeah, even I can’t defend this one. Its heart is in the right place, and we’ll bring back Leonard Rosenman to write a decent continuation of his militaristic music from the second film.
SE: Oh good! Boy, that’s a relief! Golly, for a second I thought this would be a real stinker, but now that I know good old Lenny Rosenman’s doing the music, I can just put my cares to bed!
Me: Uh, yeah?
SE: Boy, I don’t even know why I even need to keep coming in to work! My whole year’s taken care of! The fifth Planet of the Apes movie is going to have music by Leonard Rosenman, so I can just move on to Easy Street! Haha, no worries for me!
Me: Are you … are you ok, buddy?
SE: I’m great! In fact, I should start filling out a change of address form right now – I’d sure hate to for any of my mail to go to the wrong address, now that I’m moving to Easy Street! Unless – hey, do you suppose Leonard Rosenman could take care of my change of address form too! Haha, just kidding! Of course he can! He can do anything! He’s Leonard Rosenman!
Me: Can … Can I finish the pitch?
SE: Oh please!
Me: So … [looks nervously at SE, who is now grinning maniacally] So even though the movie ends with a big battle, the whole thing is really about at the scale of a TV pilot, not a major motion picture. Oh that reminds me, I was thinking after this we could do TV shows. A live action one for grown-ups and a cartoon for kids.
SE [snapping out of sarcastic stupor]: For kids?! You’re going to turn all of this into a cartoon for kids?!
Me: Of course! Kids are just gonna love those wacky, daffy monkeys!
SE: I think I’ve heard enough! Look, I have to admit, in away, I’m impressed. This is the most insanely detailed pitch I’ve ever heard. It’s almost as though these films have already been made and you’re just describing them to me.
SE: Really, though, I don’t know how this combination of audacious cynicism and goofy camp could get through the door in today’s moviemaking climate. The only time a series like this would have had the remote possibility of making money would have been in the late 1960s, maybe early 1970s.
Me: How on the nose of you! Why?
SE: Well for one thing, it was a point in film history where the studio system had basically collapsed. The studios were desperate enough to bring back audiences that they’d try just about anything if it didn’t cost much. The flat-out insane Jerry Goldsmith score you described might have gotten through in 1968, because then the studios were so unsure of themselves that they might actually have said yes to an atonal score film score with wacky instruments for a big popcorn movie.
Me: But does that mean it would have been successful?
SE: Maybe. I mean, all of the themes you seem to want to address – nuclear holocaust, race riots, disenfranchisement with political institutions, ect – were so vividly present in the cultural consciousness at the time. It’s not that these problems have gone away today, but in the late ‘60s, some audiences were so afraid of the world blowing up or tearing itself apart that it might actually have been cathartic to see all of those fears writ large on the big screen. And because shows like The Twilight Zone had already popularized the downbeat twist ending, people might not have been so startled at pulpy science fiction films ending with the world blowing up – they might even have expected that as part of the genre. Now none of this is to say that audiences today wouldn’t get anything meaningful out of the films. Most of these themes sound like they’re ultimately universal, even if they’re framed in 1960s terms, and the first film sounds like it could be a timeless classic. In fact, even the terrible films in the series still sound so endearingly earnest and audaciously bleak that they’d still be worth watching today. But I don’t see these films actually getting made by any contemporary studio – I don’t see them getting made at all outside of that very specific point in the mid-20th century.
Me: … what the hell was that?!
Me: That! You like, transformed into a crappy history teacher for a few minutes there. Seriously, are you ok?
SE: Honestly, I’ve been feeling weird really weird lately. Like I’m a character in some really contrived –
Me: You know what, I don’t actually care. So you’re saying “no” to the Planet of the Apes idea.
SE: I’m saying … maybe. Could you try re-imagining this whole story as a vehicle for Mark Wahlberg?