Tuesday, 12 June 2012
I’m immediately biased here, as Planet of the Apes is one of my very favourite books.
If you have never read it and are only familiar with the various movie incarnations, then shame on you! Well actually, apart from the very disappointing Tim Burton one, the movie adaptions are pretty good. And while the most recent prequel movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is very much a prequel to the original Charlton Heston movie and not the novel, it is quite brilliant.
So, a quick review of the book. It starts with a couple of astronauts in deep space finding an actual message in a bottle floating in the vacuum. When they read it, they are amazed at the tale told. It is of a group of space travellers from Earth who end up on a planet on the other side of the galaxy – one populated by, you’ve guessed it, apes!
Again, if you are only familiar with the movies, then some of what you hear here may be surprising – the Apes here live in a world much like our own, with cars and airplanes and whatnot, and not in a quasi-medieval world like the movies. But like the movies, there is a subtext, and it is not a particularly subtle one.
Pierre Boulle, the author of the book, was a Japanese POW during WWII, and it is obvious that a lot of what he saw there has informed his writing as he addresses the morality of torture and vivisection. These are subjects that were skimmed over in the movies (although Escape from Planet of the Apes tackles it in an almost head-on way). Yes, the message is not subtle, but it is a thought provoking one nevertheless.
I should also warn you not to assume you know how this book ends. The iconic image at the end of the original movie does not appear here – it was an invention of Rod Serling, who also created The Twilight Zone television series. The ending here is… different, and I shall say no more about it than that.
The other major difference between this and the movie is the relationship between the human narrator and Zira, the female chimp who befriends him. Much as I would have loved to have seen what is more-or-less a love triangle between a human, Zira and her fiancée Cornelius on screen, I don't think it will ever be. And no, it’s not like you think, but does have a quite brilliant ‘punchline’ to it.
The book is read here by Greg Wise, and he does a marvellous job. At first I was unsure of his decision to give the ape characters American accents, but it works perfectly.
So in conclusion, this is a great book and is well read, so you should pop over to AudioGo and buy it.