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Those Damn Dirty Apes: Our Guide to 40 Years of “Planet of the Apes,” Part 2

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By Matt Singer

[Check out Part 1.]

When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were dead. Along with the entire planet Earth. The end!

But not so fast — Fox wanted more sequels. With no way to pull a mulligan on the whole “You maniacs! You blew it up!” thing, screenwriter Paul Dehn came up with a clever way to have his Armageddon and avert it too.

Please note: Most “Planet of the Apes” films have a “shocking” twist that everyone at this point already knows. However, if you have somehow extricated yourself from forty years of pop culture references, by all means be wary of SPOILERS ahead.


“Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (1971)
Directed by Don Taylor

Synopsis: The spaceship formerly piloted by Taylor crash lands on the Pacific coast in the United States circa 1973 (the near future, as far as the film is concerned). Its three passengers are Cornelius (Roddy McDowall, back after a one film break) and Zira (Kim Hunter, in her last “Apes” movie) from the first two “Apes” along with a new character, Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo, of all people, for a paltry 10 minutes before his character is offed by an ornery gorilla). They’ve bounced back through time by the shockwave left after the earth’s destruction in the previous film. Once the apes let it slip that they can speak, they become media darlings; once they let it slip that they’re from a future where apes subjugate humans, they become pariahs, particularly after Zira divulges the fact that she’s also pregnant. Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) targets the apes for death, tracks them across Southern California, and eventually kills them and their baby in cold blood on an abandoned oil tanker, eliminating the threat they pose to humanity…

Until! … we discover that Cornelius and Zira secretly swapped their
baby with that of a circus chimp. Their incredibly brilliant offspring
lives on in the care of the benevolent Armando (Ricardo Montalban),
guaranteeing he will lead the ape race into a bright future full of
many sequels. No one but me seems upset that some poor innocent baby
chimp died as part of a ruse to further their talking ape bloodline.

Metaphors of the Apes: Cornelius and Zira’s rise and fall is a rather prescient take on the chew-you-up-spit-you-out world of modern celebrity culture. Their brief flirtation with fame is filled with hilarious scenes that
exist only to make fun of dumb rich people — at the apex of their
popularity, the apes throw a party at their suite at the Beverly
Wilshire Hotel, where they get bombed on wine (or “grape juice plus,” as
its described to Zira) and watch as two adults bounce around on an
enormous seesaw. Also, Zira’s Rodeo Drive outfit makes her resemble
Little Red Riding Hood, which suggests the fact that her seemingly
friendly exterior masks the danger she poses to the human race.

People Forget: That this movie is actually kind of smart. Even the villain, Dr. Hasslein, doesn’t take his actions lightly — when debating what to
do about Cornelius and Zira, he has a series of conversations with the
president of the United States (William Windom) about the morality of
taking a life not on the basis of what it has done in the past, but
what it might do in the future. Most of the “Apes” movies are dominated
by dogmatic antagonists, which gives the filmmakers the chance to rail
against their fundamentalism and fanaticism. Hasslein, in contrast, is
wracked by doubt and his actions, if heinous, are also logical. “How
many futures are there?” he asks. “Which future has God, if there is a
God, chosen for man’s destiny? If I urge the destruction of these two
Apes, am I defying God’s will or obeying it? Am I his enemy of his
instrument?” Pretty heady stuff for a movie about talking chimps that’s
supposedly aimed at children.

Work Within Your Means: After having to deploy so many cheap looking ape masks in the crowd scenes of “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” the producers wised up. There were hundreds of apes in each of the last two movies, “Escape” contains exactly three, and one of them doesn’t even make it out of the first act. Setting the film in the near future had to be a budget-conscious
decision, too — by placing the movie just two years after its release,
they explained away the fact that NASA was a ways off from making a
spaceship that resembled Taylor’s without having to make Los Angeles
look futuristic in any way.

The Charles Bronson Memorial “Death Wish” Award Goes To: Montalban’s Armando, who shields the two apes and later hides their baby out of what could only be described as a fetishistic love for simians. By way of explaining his actions (which, again, will either directly or indirectly result in millions of deaths, including his own) he says to Zira, “I did it because I like
chimpanzees… I did it because I hate those who try to alter
destiny, which is the unalterable will of God. And if it is man’s
destiny to one day be dominated, then oh, please God, let him be
dominated by one such as you.” Methinks Armando’s been dipping into the
grape juice plus.

Continuity Boo-Boos: The entire story sets up
one of those “Terminator” paradoxes where the future creates itself by
venturing into the past and jumpstarting the events that lead to
apocalypse. Cornelius and Zira’s child, Milo, who becomes the
protagonist of the next two movies, eventually frees the apes from
their slavery and later leads them in a war against the mutated remains
of humanity. In short, he gives birth to the planet of the apes that,
in turn, gives birth to him. But if Cornelius and Zira create the
talking apes, how did the talking apes appear before Cornelius and Zira
traveled back through time to create them? File all of this under
“Things You’re Really Not Supposed to Think About While Watching
‘Escape From the Planet of the Apes.'”

02212008_conquestoftheplanetoftheapes.jpg“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Synopsis: In 1983, a virus brought back from space by astronauts (who are always
causing trouble in this series) kills every dog and cat on Earth. Apes
become the pets of choice, but they prove themselves so smart and
adaptable they’re soon turned into slaves instead. Now, 18 years after
the events of “Escape,” America has turned into a fascist state and
apes are trained for their servitude (i.e. tortured) at a facility
called “Ape Management.” Armando is arrested, so Cornelius and Zira’s
son Caesar (McDowall) bunks up with the ape slaves. After seeing the
cruel conditions for himself, he teaches his brothers the art of
guerilla warfare (yo ho!) and leads them in a bloody rebellion that
threatens to destroy civilization…

Until! … Fox ordered a reshoot to provide a happier ending after test audiences were understandably unsettled by an finale that glorifies the violent subjugation of humanity. Suddenly, Caesar takes pity on his former
masters and promises (in a speech eerily reminiscent of Armando’s ape
pickup lines from “Escape”) that “if it is man’s destiny to be
dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion and
understanding!” And here I thought apes were agnostic.

Metaphors of the Apes: After a couple movies pussyfooting around its staple imagery, “Conquest” plays the race card for all its worth. The sequence
where the apes are processed evokes shades of the Royal African Company
and throughout the film, the emphasis is on reminding audiences that it
is never smart to treat others inhumanely because you never know when
the shoe will be on the other paw. The ending is made particularly
poignant by the presence of a black actor (Hari Rhodes) in the role of
MacDonald, the kind human sympathetic to the apes’ plight who tries to
negotiate a truce. “You, above everyone else, should understand,”
Caesar tells MacDonald when he explains his plans for a revolution.

Work Within Your Means: With budgets sinking lower than ever before, the filmmakers faced an uphill battle creating the world of 1991. Their
solution? Shoot the entire movie on the “futuristic” campus of
University of California, Irvine and never venture outside it. So we
don’t get a look at what a car or an airplane might look like in 1991,
but the art department provide a few tantalizing glimpses of the shape
of things to come. To wit:

In 1991… telephones have NO cords!

In 1991… cigarettes are green!!

In 1991… people wear white socks with dress shoes!!!

In 1991… all restaurants cook their food hibachi-style!!!!

In 1991… escalators will continue to work much as they do in 1972!!!!!

People Forget: How insane the movie’s ending is, even with the studio-mandated softening. It’s one thing root for the subjugated apes — that’s easy, since all the humans except MacDonald or Armando are bottomless
assholes — and it’s quite another to cheer as Los Angeles burns to the
ground. My favorite moment comes when the dean of UC Irvine (also known
as Governor Breck), played by Don Murray, gives an overwrought speech
designed to give the uprising a sense of scope that the budget cannot
provide. As if to justify why he’s so freaked out about one group of
monkeys with Molotov cocktails, he bellows, “If we lose this battle
it’ll be the end of the world AS WE KNOW IT! We will have PROVEN
ourselves INFERIOR! THIS will be the END of human civiliZATION and the
world will belong to a PLANET of APES!” Damn, man. It’s just a couple
hundred apes with knives. Unclench.

The Charles Bronson Memorial
“Death Wish” Award Goes To:
MacDonald, who goes way beyond compassion
for an oppressed race (or species) into cuckoo territory with his
repeated attempts to help destroy society. He goes from fighting for
the humane treatment of apes to helping them bash his boss’s head in.
Then again, maybe he doesn’t have a death wish; maybe he just wants a
new job.

Continuity Boo-Boos: In “Escape from Planet of the
Apes,” Cornelius and Zira name their baby Milo. Armando is fully aware
of this. He’s there when they name the kid; it’s right before he tries
to get in Zira’s housedress. Yet at the start of “Conquest,” Milo’s no
longer Milo; he’s Caesar. Did Armando just ignore the ape’s decision
and name the thing what he preferred? Hardly the way to honor the
memory of the ape love of your life, Armie!

Next week, it’s the
shocking conclusion of: Looking Back at The Planet of the Apes! With
special appearances by Tim Burton and John Huston!!!

[Photos: “Escape From the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox, 1971; “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox, 1972]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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