Hasslein Blog: The Sacred Scrolls: The Planet of the Apes Wikia Page


Hasslein Blog

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Sacred Scrolls: The Planet of the Apes Wikia Page

By Neil Moxham

"The immensely tall, cadaverously lean body is topped by a head discernibly human, though the great aquiline nose suggests an eagle's beak. Even the long fingers are raptorially curved like claws. But the eagle seems blind. Where there should be eyes, there is facial flesh. Then a curious thing happens. Mendez says: 'Let me look at you' and turns slowly into profile to reveal that his eyes are at the sides of his face and not in front. He can, like a great bird, look outwards but not forwards."

These were the wonderfully graphic words writer Paul Dehn used to introduce 'Mendez the twenty-sixth', hereditary leader of a horribly mutated race of people inhabiting a future Earth in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. But as any of you who have seen that 1970 sequel to the record-setting 1968 original film will have noticed, the practicalities of film making prevented Dehn's nightmare from being fully realized, replaced instead by the more familiar mask-wearing monsters. It's only comparatively recently that we can view the original draft script and read passages like this, prior to their distillation through rewrites, directors, producers and editors. The Sacred Scrolls—the Planet of the Apes wikia—is a site dedicated to shining a light into these dark corners of the underground tunnel system that is the Planet of the Apes franchise.

If you think you know who appeared in all five of the original movies (that's called a pentalogy, by the way), then no, it wasn't Roddy McDowall—that honour apparently belongs to journalist James Bacon, a friend of producer Arthur P. Jacobs. If you want to know why the voice of General Urko in the cartoon series Return to the Planet of the Apes sounds familiar, it's because Henry Corden also provided the voice of Fred Flintstone. If you think that Charlton Heston's iconic hero was a loner who believed that "there has to something better than man," then his daughters turning up in various comic spinoffs might surprise you. If you've ever wondered why Beneath was mistakenly set 23 years before the events of the original film… well, the wikia can't answer that one, but it can list some of the theories.

You may know that some of those involved in the early films, such as Michael Wilson, Kim Hunter and Jeff Corey, suffered under the anti-communist blacklist of the McCarthy era, giving an extra resonance to some of the interrogation scenes and the issues of civil rights highlighted, but did you also know that Pierre Boulle (author of the French novel that started the whole thing), Xan Fielding (who translated it into English) and Paul Dehn (writer or co-writer of all four film sequels, as well as screenwriter of the Bond movie Goldfinger) all served with the Special Operations Executive of the British army (the SOE, forerunner of the SAS) during World War II, and that all three only turned to writing late in life after these experiences? The mild-mannered Dehn was reputedly a professional assassin but never spoke about this part of his life, so we can only speculate on just how much the very real horrors of man's wars might have influenced our cinematic entertainment.

From its humble launch by Brian Kurtz on Oct. 26, 2006, the Planet of the Apes wikia has developed into a comprehensive database of all things Apes, covering every novel, movie, TV series, cartoon series, comic book title, computer game, merchandise, POTA-influenced music and fanzine… and whereas certain highly recommended lexicons and timeline books have provided excellent work on the finer details of in-universe facts and dates, the wikia also brings to the table the behind-the-scenes information: biographies on actors, cinematographers, comic book editors, soundtrack composers; the saga of the efforts to relaunch the franchise between 1988 and 2001; the actors who nearly starred in the first film; the story of the entrepreneurs who ran an officialPlanet of the Apes stunt show in 1970s Britain; the dispute over who really came up with that Statue of Liberty ending; all this and much more. Like the Japanese film Time of the Apes, cobbled together from a '70s TV series which shamelessly lifted ideas from the Apes movies, the Brazilian sketch show that used the premise as a jumping-off point to poke fun at the military dictatorship, the adult movie tributes, and even that much-maligned Tim Burton "re-imagining" that put such a big dent in his reputation (although some of the makeup was great).

Planet of the Apes was the first big-budget sci-fi movie phenomenon, and though it was eclipsed for many years, it's finally experiencing a renaissance with not only a recent critically acclaimed comic book run, but also a surprise box office hit in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and a 2014 sequel (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) already filmed—the first Apes sequel for 40 years. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Pierre Boulle's book, all of which goes to show that Zaius, Zira, Taylor, Nova, Caesar, Cornelius and the rest will be around for quite a while yet. In common with other wikias, The Sacred Scrolls is a collaborative effort and relies on fans to add to the accumulated knowledge and keep the site accurate, something any reader can do even without registering as an editor, so all are welcome and encouraged to contribute. In the words of one very wise orangutan, "All knowledge is for good. Only the use to which you put it can be good or evil."

Neil Moxham is the administrator of The Sacred Scrolls, the Planet of the Apes Wikia page.

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