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The Metaphor of Planet of the Apes by Steve Sommers

What you have to understand about the original Planet of the Apes movies is that is was an A-List movie. It had a respectable budget, a respectable director, and stars that been in major motion pictures in the past - Charlton Heston (no slouch) Roddy McDowell (also no slouch) and almost Edward G. Robinson. I'll explain what happened, later, but he started filming and left. And most of all the first draft of the script was authored by none other than master story teller Rod Serling.

It had a lot going for it. There was a special on the series that I watched that detailed all of these things, and as these 'making of' specials tend to it made every decision look like it was inspired genius. What the special glossed over was the central metaphor of the movie. The special said that it wasn't clear what the metaphor was, though unfortunately, it was and looking back from the twenty first century the metaphor was clearly racism. On the Planet of the Apes the monkeys were once the slaves of the humans but they rose up and became their own masters. The reason that no one wants to touch this one is because monkeys can be equated with former African slaves and that is an ugly and insensitive connection. It's also almost certainly the one that was intended.

My favorite show, Star Trek, often used metaphor and often painfully obvious metaphor. They tackled racism once in the guise of two aliens from a planet that had been racked with civil strife. These aliens were portrayed with black grease paint on one side of their face and white grease paint on the other, but they hated each other because of the side that was black and white, which happened to be opposite. See, there's the irony. To the human eyes the difference of the sides was silly, but to them it was critically important - so that means that our racism (it was the sixties) is silly also.

For the time, I guess that was a daring statement, though these days it seems quaint and prosaic. Anyways, to get back to the Planet of the Apes - for it's time it also was a powerful message. When Charlton Heston sees the remains of the Statue of Liberty in the foreground and does his marvelous bellowing speech about the maniacs blowing it all up damn them, damn them all to hell! What he is clearly showing is that racism was destroying the promise of the United States - freedom and equality and all that. Sure it seems trite today, but the first time it wasn't.

Slavery we all know now is wrong. What I have trouble getting my brain around is that for human history it wasn't considered so. How could human beings have believed in and practiced this sort of abomination for - basically for ever except the slim era of present history? Currently slavery is legal nowhere and it is also currently more prevalent than any other time. Most of the slaves who have ever been alive are alive right now.

This statistic I got from a Dateline NBC Special. In this special the correspondent went undercover to an Eastern European country and bought himself a sex slave, who of course, he freed right afterwards. He paid eighteen hundred dollars. The woman's story - his slave - was sad beyond belief. She grew up in an orphanage, was developmentally disabled, and at the age of fourteen she was thrown out of the orphanage where she lived in the sewers for two years before being enslaved and forced to earn her keep by having sex dozens of times per night while being fed beans and beans only.

Back to Plantet of the Apes: The Tim Burton version was one that I looked forward to eagerly, and which I was therefore disappointed in when I finally saw it. His version was a mess. Not the visuals, mind you, Burton is a master at putting out visually stunning movies that are an absolute confused mish mash. This was definitely one of them. Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes meant basically nothing and the contrived ending was obviously something that the studio insisted that he put in so he would have some sort of an ending comparable to the origninal. It wasn't. It was stupid.

Please take my advice and see the original, or own the original since its now out on DVD. It's the whole series I think.

About Author
Steve Sommers is the author of REXROI, and Evil Super-Villains need Love, Too ... and other important wisdom. (Both books can be viewed by simply clicking on the titles)

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