Comics Review: ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’

Rod Serling’s original ‘Planet of the Apes’ screenplay comes to life in a new graphic novel…

Planet of the Apes Visionaries

Cover art for ‘Planet of the Apes: Visionaries’ by Paolo Rivera (image credit: Boom! Studios/20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purpose only).

Written by:  Rod Serling (adapted by Dana Gould) / art by:  Chad Lewis / inks by:  David Wilson / colours by:  Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa

What’s it about?

A crew of astronauts find themselves stranded on a strange world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

In celebration of fifty years of Planet of the Apes, Boom! Studios present an original graphic novel that brings The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s original screenplay of Pierre Boulle’s novel to life.  Adapted by writer/comedian Dana Gould (whose writing credits include The Simpsons and Stan Against Evil) with art by Chad Lewis, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is an interesting reinterpretation of what eventually became the first Planet of the Apes feature film.  On first thought, Gould may seem like an odd choice for such a project but given his professed love for Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone then it soon becomes clear that he’s perfect for the job.

As is well documented, Rod Serling’s screenplay for Planet of the Apes was rewritten by Michael Wilson in order to accommodate budgetary limitations but it’s evident here that an awful lot of Serling’s work was retained for the film and was simply retooled to fit a more modest production and entertain the masses.  The main differences are visual, given that Serling adhered closely to Pierre Boulle’s vision of a modern, industrialised ape society.  In place of horses there are motor vehicles (and helicopters) and instead of primitive stone huts there are skyscrapers, film theatres and nightclubs.  Reminding us that these are in fact apes, whilst adding a touch of the zany, is the sight of citizens swinging across the streets using monkey bars!  Like Boulle’s novel, the dialogue is a little more academic and in true Serling style accentuates the satirical and social elements, giving the story a slightly darker and more philosophical slant.

Another significant departure is the leading protagonist, named Thomas, who though sharing some similarities to Charlton Heston’s Taylor is largely a different character.  Taylor’s gruff heroism and misanthropic outlook was a perfect fit for Heston as an actor and screen presence (and Planet of the Apes would not have worked so well without him at the centre) but the ‘hero’ of Serling’s take on Boulle’s story is of a more scientific and anthropological disposition.

All of that doesn’t necessarily make this version of Planet of the Apes superior to the screen version, just a fascinating alternative.  The less technologically developed simian culture of the 1968 film is actually to its benefit, providing a primal feel and otherworldliness that make the final outcome all the more shocking and Charlton Heston’s performance unforgettable.

The interior art by Chad Lewis (inked by David Wilson) is appropriate with a loose, rough and slightly cartoonish style that together with muted, dreamy colours (provided by Darrin Moore, Miquel Muerto & Marcelo Costa) helps to evoke a pulpy, retro sci-fi feel with the ape character design more animalistic and simian-like in a way that could not have achieved with actors in make-up and prosthetics.  It’s fair to say that in the hands of previous Boom! Apes artist Carlos Magno Visionaries could have actually been even better, but it may have ultimately changed the tone and visual uniqueness of this particular iteration.

Aside from the story itself, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries contains closing thoughts from Dana Gould and Chad Lewis (backed up by some nice concept sketches) discussing various aspects of Rod Serling’s vision and their approach to faithfully interpreting and respecting his work.  They’re fascinating to read and Gould’s passion for the Apes franchise and his adoration of Rod Serling is particularly enlightening.

Boom! Have done great work with the Apes license and have produced some brilliant stories that have expanded and embellished the Planet of the Apes universe and Visionaries is no different, whilst the uninitiated may find it odd it’s well worth a look for Apes fans.

The bottom line:  Planet of the Apes: Visionaries provides an intriguing look at what might have been and a fitting tribute to fifty years of an iconic and beloved franchise.

Planet of the Apes: Visionaries is published by Boom! Studios and is available in print and digital formats now.

GBUK Film Classics: ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

Looking at some all-time favourites…

“Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!”

Year:  1968

Starring:  Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Director:  Franklin J. Schaffner / Written by:  Michael Wilson and Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A team of human astronauts find themselves on a world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

Whilst the Planet of the Apes franchise has seen a successful reinvention with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and last summer’s smash hit sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s likely that a sizeable section of the audience are unaware that there is indeed a franchise that began life decades earlier.

Based on the novel by French author Pierre Boulle (whose works also include The Bridge over the River Kwai), Planet of the Apes is the science fiction film classic that would spawn an enduring and popular franchise which by the mid 1970’s would include four sequels and two television spin-offs (one live action, one animated) as well as a plethora of merchandise.

Adhering relatively close to the main plot elements of Boulle’s novel, the film adaptation of Planet of the Apes diverges creatively to depict a more primitive ape society as opposed to the technologically advanced one described in the novel (and the initial script by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, which was subsequently rewritten by Michael Wilson) – primarily due to budgetary concerns and the practical limitations of the times.  This is however all in the film’s favour, giving it a more ‘primal’ feel aided by some basic yet wonderful production design.

Charlton Heston brings star power to Planet of the Apes and is a reliably strong lead as the cynical and misanthropic Taylor who finds himself the subject of controversy and scrutiny as an intelligent and articulate primate, captured and caged like an animal in a world where humans are the mute and lower species.  The real draw however are the ape characters – wise and humble chimpanzees Cornelius (McDowall) and Zira (Hunter) who fall foul of the hateful and cantankerous orangutan Dr. Zaius (Evans) as they befriend Taylor.  Of the ape actors, Roddy McDowall is the standout performer and would continue to delight and further explore the character of an advanced simian in sequels Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (he was unavailable for first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes) as well as the short-lived live action television series.

Naturally, this brings us to one of the biggest highlights of the entire production – the incredible makeup and prosthetic design of the apes themselves.  Created by John Chambers (responsible for Mr. Spock’s iconic pointed ears in Star Trek) and complemented by Morton Haack’s costume design, the ground-breaking makeup effects still hold up today and would rightfully earn him an honorary Academy Award.

Whilst there are elements of satire and thought provoking exploration of themes such as society, racial prejudice and cautionary tales of the human condition reminiscent of all good science fiction, a large part of the appeal of Planet of the Apes is its pure entertainment value and the depiction of a believable ape society with its hierarchy split across three central ape creeds – the political orangutans, the scientific and academic chimpanzees and the militant gorillas.

Another key component of Planet of the Apes is the inventive and experimental Academy Award nominated music score by Jerry Goldsmith for which he employed the use of unusual instruments and unconventional techniques to help create the eerie and primal feeling of the ape’s world.

Planet of the Apes leaves the viewer with one of film’s greatest and most iconic twist endings, (retained from Rod Serling’s original script) – the revelations of which I shall not divulge here for those who have not seen this classic slice of SF cinema.

Standout moment

Finding themselves in a field where a mute and dumb human society is ‘grazing’, astronauts Taylor, Landon and Dodge are shocked to witness the arrival of clothed, rifle wielding gorillas…on horseback!

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It depicts a believable society of intelligent apes, thanks to a successful blend of production design, incredible makeup effects and the delightfully nuanced performances of actors such as Roddy McDowall.
  1. It features a wonderfully eerie and inventive score by Jerry Goldsmith.
  1. It delivers a shocking and memorable finale which stands as one of the most iconic moments in film history.

Did you know?

Screenwriter Michael Wilson was blacklisted by Hollywood for being a communist during the era of the McCarthy ‘witch hunt’ trials.

If you like this then watch…

Planet of the Apes (2001) : flawed though it may be, Tim Burton’s reimagining is still worth a look and evokes the spirit of the 1968 original by featuring superb makeup design and a mind boggling twist finale that still provokes discussion today.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes : the Apes saga begins anew with this smart reinvention that replaces practical ape makeup effects with remarkable motion capture performances melded with breath-taking CGI.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original 'Planet of the Apes'.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original ‘Planet of the Apes’.