Planet Of The Apes: The Evolution Of The Legend by Joe Fordham and Jeff Bond (book review).

With so many film books from Titan in the past couple months, I had to put ‘Planet Of The Apes: The Evolution Of The Legend’ by Joe Fordham and Jeff Bond back until now or you would be stuck for choice which to pick first when probably you would want them all. There was some extra logic because it would make more sense to review after I’d seen and reviewed ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’ so I could see everything in context.

POTA Evolution cover

One thing that can’t be denied is the amount of photographs used from all eight films from the late 60s until now used here. The authors had access to the 20th Century archive and there are many photos that I haven’t seen before. About the only one photo that I wished they’d included or perhaps a better choice of was Edward G. Robinson as an orang-utan from the original screen tests that I only saw briefly several years back. Even so, the stills show of him with Charlton Heston, albeit showing him more than Robinson are still pretty rare. Saying that, there is a lot of good and varied sized photographs, especially publicity stills, that should have any apeophile jaw-dropping.


Don’t go into this book expecting complete plot synopsises or indeed interviews with the early films cast or production team as most of them are no longer amongst us. Some of the reveals like L.B. ‘Bill’ Abbott’s expertise with picture composites are revealing, especially as that was done with the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, as with some of the pre-production paintings and how closely the films kept to them shows a stronger imagery dependence.


Picking out interesting things in the different draft details and how they were shaped into the final film shows either the scriptwriters were making hard work for themselves or had to whittle away the dross in looking for what would make a good script. For those of you interesting in scriptwriting who think scripts are written correctly once and then think later drafts are just finesse should be in for a shock reading the early synopsises where everything was thrown at the idea rather than strong ideas. From my perspective, it’s more like they throw the kitchen sink of everything at the story requirements and only keep the things that don’t slide down to the floor. Quite the reverse of how a lot of us prose writers work or me, anyway.


One of the plots from the original series recently became one of the latest films so it looks other people than these two authors had looked through the archive or there were some real parallel thinking going on. Like a lot of SF films in that time period, convincing studios that they were a good bet for a profit was a lot harder than it is today. When the first film made a profit, 20th Century Fox were happy to have sequels but less willing to invest more money each time, which was typical for the time period. It was only the make-up artists who put their foot down by insisting proper jobs were done on the key cast that more over-head masks weren’t used. When you compare the first ‘Planet Of The Apes’ to ‘Battle’ in some crowd scenes you can tell the difference. I wasn’t aware that Linda Harrison who played Nova actually had tried out Zira’s prosthesis with a photo here to prove the point. Then again, a key requirement for all the apes was to have brown eyes.


Back in the 60s, it took some time to see what Kim Hunter looked like without her make-up, especially as the fewer TV channels didn’t show that big a variety of older films. With this book, there’s a selection of photos showing Hunter posing with Zira which must have been done at the time. If anything, it’s a shame that we don’t see more of the apes sans make-up here for comparison, although no doubt those of you interested can now look them up on Google.


The authors failed to note that Natalie Trundy had appeared in four of the original films but then, there is no credits for all of the films here neither. They also missed out the point that when the jury scene in ‘Escape From The Planet Of The Apes’ was being filmed, both Hunter and McDowall who were being filmed from the back only, insisted to having their make-up on to stay in character so don’t expect every last detail although they do cover things not used in other books so maybe they didn’t want to rehash everything. Even so, if you don’t own these other books, this would have been the place to include them again.


I am glad that they did address what was going to happen after ‘Battle For The Planet Of The Apes’ but I’m less sure if the tear from Caesar’s statue was a reminder of the holocaust in the future simply because the people who would become the mutates were killed in the battle. I tend to think of it as a tear of joy that apes and humans got on together and avoided the holocaust. If anything, Taylor and Brent had arrived in one future time-line and everything else since has deviated into an alternative reality. They would never had arrived here. Even if astronaut alternatives did arrive, this alternative reality would not have had them lobotomised or killed.


Between the two batches of films, there are sections on the make-up, music, merchandise, some 350 items. I’m also glad that they showed something of the TV series and the animation series making it more complete than just focusing on the films.


When it comes to the TV series of ‘Planet Of The Apes’, I hadn’t known how much Rod Serling had contributed to its writer’s bible and that Burke was originally going to be called Kovak. Unfortunately, the photo caption writer didn’t spot this and in a couple captions calls Burke Kovak. The authors failed to notice in ‘Dawn’ from their own text that one of the primate sanctuary staff was named ‘Dodge Landon’, after the two astronauts from the very first film.


Seeing the development hell for several new ‘Planet Of The Apes’ films shows that revivals were never far from 20th Century Fox’s eyes, although when you consider how many other SF films they’ve done over the years, it’s interesting that they’ve never considered remaking any of those as well. Whether that’s a good sign or not, only you can decide. In the meantime, this book will remind you of why the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ franchise has been successful over the decades and the popularity of the current two films.

GF Willmetts

December 2014

(pub: Titan Books. 255 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £29.99 (UK), $39.95 (US), $45.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78329-198-4)

check out website: www.titanbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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