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17 September, 2010

Shallow Space Travel

The other day I subjected my older child to Planet of the Apes, the original (1967 or 68, depending on your source), the Hestonian dystopia (Hestopia?), the ... uh, movie. Yeah. I'm film illiterate.

The point is that the kid needs some education regarding the crazy culture I grew up in, totally alien to this 21st century progeny. I mean, when I was a kid people were racist and new technological frontiers kept expanding and the US was mired in a war that dragged on nearly as far as this IED-laced road to Nowhere, Afghanistan we're on now and uh...

Yeah, completely different.

Sarcasm is not taught in schools, except by often ill-disciplined student prodegies and wannabes. So I have to home school, but I'm not really turned on at the prospect of the religious curricula, which I consider to be merely snide, sarcasm turned weak and mean, like an aged chihuahua from a bad home. Besides, who wants to pay their prices?

Kindof with Mystery Science Theater in mind, I pulled up a couple comfy chairs and started the flick. Heston in a suaved-out swagger on the bridge of a Spaceship, a cynical antihero who doesn't let some pinhead back at Command tell him he cannot smoke a cigar in a pure Oxygen environment. Then he shoots up and the movie begins.

But before that, think back to when I was talking about having the teach Sarcasm 201 (she placed out of Intro without batting an eye, just those slack lids and the teeniest of eyebrow lifts). One great technique is the Training Film, liberally basted with audience comments. There were some Archaeology Training Films that shaped who I am. Platoon (imparting the proper sense of doom, leavened with the fun of stalking through the jungle and giving hand signals), Indiana Jones (learning to say "That belongs in a Museum!" with conviction, and at other times a series upon which sarcasm is to be heaped), Predator (cannot remember why, probably because of swampy jungles and the dude's cool dreadlocks), and so on.

To Planet of the Apes, featuring Cornelius, an archaeologist-hero who clearly knows his methodology better than Indy and has respect for human remains. Not only that, but he's a staunch evolutionist and is romantically involved with Dr. Zira; together, they defend science from the ruling cadre of light-skinned religious bigots. They seek Truth, and my beef is not with them.

It's with Heston. Always with Heston. And maybe too it's just fun to make fun of decades-old effects and stuff like the sudden pointless zooms that punctuate the movie (I kept expecting it to cut to commercial). Oh, and of course the Ape technology. They can do brain surgery and make functional guns, but their means of capturing humans is the Crudely Woven Net, available in sizes large enough to be effective (the trip-wired net fences that I'm pretty sure they stole from Marlin Perkins), but usually deployed awkwardly between two horse-riding Gestape-o, invariably in a size too small to entangle a large biped.

The Planet of the Apes is geographically interesting, too. They land in a lake ringed by the telltale white stains of a drawdown, evidence that the lake is impounded behind a major hydroelectric dam, yet there are no power lines in the whole movie.

What there are are footprints, on the sands before them in several Forbidden Zone scenes. Because nobody has been there in 1200 years or so, they must be fossils, remnants of the last people stupid enough to abandon a lake full of water to strike out aimlessly through the desert in white patent leather boots with back packs full of useful things like test tubes containing pink sand. More sand. In a desert where you banished yourself. Sarcasm.

On the more local scale, there's the big boulder inexplicably rolling down a hill at them, after which they rest, beneath another precariously balanced boulder! Heston is the best captain ever. Yeah.

History lessons can be drawn from this flick as well. The casting is a window on the 1960's that era of upheaval and promise, change and retrenchment. I'm sure that including among the astronauts a woman and what were then called Negroes (one of the sequels has a character by that name, in case you have doubts) gave the writers a warm fuzzy feeling, but consider what their roles were. The woman has been brought because the uterus would die witrhout her. Cap'n Heston briefly mourns the passing with the creepy "She was to be our Eve," although the idea of repopulating with 3 guys and one girl instead of the other way around is a recipe for at least one murder. Then of course the female lead for the rest of the movie is the perfect woman in Hollywood terms: enamored with the hero, mute, and scantily clad sexy body topped by a great head of hair (legs and armpits shaved, though she acts amazed that Heston can shave).

The one black guy in the movie, although clearly the smartest of the survivors, is given every bit of work that happens. Need someone to climb up and flip an important switch inexplicably located at the other end of the sinking ship? He'll do it. Test the new planet's soil, or run ahead and find the path while everyone else jawbones about their egos? Call on the Negro. Somebody need to get killed to establish the apes' disregard for human life (only to later appear as a museum specimen, suggesting that they have some scientific curiosity)? Perfect job for a Negro in 1967. Or 1968.

And through it all, Hestonian machismo. The derision for his lesser crew. The violent attempts to grab paper from Dr. Zira instead of just pantomiming or gently reaching out. The insults hurled at his captors. The only break in his mindless macho posturing is his obvious homosexuality. That's pretty much the only explanation for why he would order his man-crew to strip naked and cavort in the water (check out the scene where they stand together looking at each others peni), then indulges in a diva-ish strip of his own under the gushing white waterfall. I have it on good authority that Chuck got so deep into this aspect of the role that he insisted the film be the first to show several naked men, but no naked women. Groundbreaking. And if you doubt my conclusions about his gender, consider this: even if the ape scientists only gave me a mate because they are horny voyeurs, I'd have started repopulating immediately, but Chuck barely touches her, even when he hears he's about to be gelded. Maybe he'd planned on ordering the Negro to start breeding the new human race, but in 1967 (or 1968) even science fiction frowned on interracial relationships. Ergo our current president's childhood diaspora.

So, having looped around to the present again, I should consider stopping, or surrender to another gyre over that ridiculous planet. Rich grounds for smartassery and sarcasm, but I think I'll just have to step away for now...


  1. Having made my own world premiere in February 1968, along with Cornelius and Company, the 1967/1968 thing is actually easy to explain. I myself was in production for much of 1967 - but didn't actually come on the scene until '68. Likewise, Heston's magnificence had to have some time to gestate too ...

    Produced in '67. Presented in '68. Like other, finer works of the same era.

  2. You confusing use of the word gender, in place of sexual orientation aside, I would question both, Nova was originally diagnosed by Zira as pregnant in a scene in the desert - shot, but edited out - as any POTA fan will tell you. So of course he was "doing the deed" with her. They cut the scene about her pregnancy because it introduced a new dynamic to the film that was as unnecessary to show as it would be to show a scene of them having sex. Use your imagination and just take it as read, they did. It also would have threatened their G Rating. It is okay however to show children the bare-assed scenes, and visions of thermonuclear Armageddon, apparently.

  3. Yep. Sarcasm definitely not taught in schools.

    I really had thought spelling was, though ...