Graphic Content: Planet of the Apes: Visionaries (Reviewed)

Lee takes a look at the new graphic novel that uses the original Planet of the Apes story. 

I wish King Kong hadn't been made so I could make it.”, said film producer Arthur P. Jacobs during a trip to Paris in 1963. 

The former publicist for MGM and Warner Brothers had recently started his own production company called APJAC Productions. Jacobs was in Paris searching for properties he could adapt to film. During his trip literary agent Alain Bernheim introduced Jacobs to a new novel titled La Plan├Ęte des singes by author Pierre Boulle. Translated in English as Monkey Planet or Planet of the Apes, the story of an advanced society of intelligent apes at war with humans intrigued Jacobs. The producer immediately purchased the rights to the film.

Rod Serling, Arthur P. Jacobs, and Charlton Heston. 

Jacobs would spend the next three years searching for a filmmaker. After British author Xan Fielding translated the novel into English Jacobs hired Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling to write the screenplay. Serling’s script was heavily influenced by the Cold War, and like many of his classic penned episodes of the Twilight Zone, he incorporated a twist ending that revealed mankind's demise at the hands of nuclear war.

Production costs for the film were estimated at over $10 million dollars. It was a risky venture no studio wanted to get behind. Jacobs hired a handful of artists to create test sketches to help illustrate the film. With the help of associate producer Mort Abrahams, the two were able to secure Charlton Heston to star, and hired Franklin J Schaffner to direct after Heston’s recommendation. After recording a few screen tests of Heston in character, 20th Century Fox expressed interest in the film.

A still from the graphic novel. Credit: Boom! Studios

Fox was concerned with the production cost of Serling’s script, which placed the apes in an urban setting, living harmoniously in a vast metropolis similar to New York. The elaborate set, special effects, and makeup needed to adapt such a story would have accounted for over half the budget. Screenwriter Michael Wilson was brought aboard to rewrite Serling’s screenplay. Wilson changed the setting to a more primitive environment to help reduce production costs. With a more rustic setting, the right location would alleviate the need to build a large expansive set. Wilson also rewrote much of the dialogue to reflect the primitive set changes. The less advanced ape society helped cut the budget nearly in half. 

Wilson kept Serling’s Cold War theme and famous ending, although slight changes were needed to help establish a conclusive film. Planet of the Apes was filmed in the deserts of Arizona, and became a commercial and critical success. Visionaries (a collaboration between Boom! Studios and 20th Century Fox) gives fans a look at Serling’s original unaltered script. The premise of a group of astronauts making an emergency landing on an ape ruled planet remains the same, but protagonist Thomas is shocked to discover the apes living in a thriving city. Like many similar themed stories Serling penned for the Twilight Zone, man and ape totally flip flop lives. Humans are the primitive animal, and are often trained as pets and kept in zoos. As originally written the dialogue is intelligent, with the society of apes communicating in articulate debates. As in the film, humans are mute. The character Thomas is also given more of an ambassador role. He works to educate apes and humans alike, and the two parties’ debates have a striking similarity to the interactions between many of today’s political leaders. These debates set up the Cold War inspired conflicts that transpire.

Stand up comedian and writer Dana Gould (The Simpsons) adapted Serling’s screenplay. As a lifelong Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes fan, Gould leapt at the opportunity to work on Visionaries, his first comic based project. The original make up tests and concept art for Serling’s script were used to help establish Visionaries’ art direction. Retro Sci-fi fan and artist Chad Lewis (Avengers: Originals) does an impressive job modernizing the society of apes while maintaining the classic look of the original film. Lastly, veteran comic book artist Paolo Rivera creates a poster worthy illustration with his retro themed cover. Visionaries was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

Overall, Visionaries is a fascinating look at a story that is still prevalent today. While it ends with similarities to the original film, the events that unfold differ from those on screen, and make for a more grim finale. Like many of the Twilight Zone’s most controversial episodes, Serling’s screenplay serves as haunting reminder of the cruel capabilities of man. It echo’s the closing statement from one of his most thought provoking episodes, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street. “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicions can destroy… The pity of it is, these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

Lee L. Lind