It shouldn’t have escaped your notice, especially if you’ve read a few of my previous posts, that the original Planet of the Apes film is 50 years young this year. 50 years since Charleston Heston embarked on his mission into a world so very different yet hauntingly familiar to our own. 50 years since Kim Hunter’s Zira stood up to Ape authority and championed a ‘lesser creature’. 50 years since Roddy McDowall made a career out of playing a chimpanzee.
The original script for the film, written by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, would have required a budget too big for any of the Hollywood studios to take on but a rewrite by Michael Wilson saw the setting of the story change and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, to celebrate such a milestone in the films life, Boom! Studios have adapted the original Serling script into a gorgeous, hard backed graphic novel so we can all, finally, share in the original vision for the Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries was released last week and tells the story of Thomas, an astronaut lost in time and space, alone on a crazy, mixed up world. Just like Thomas, the reader will find this world both new and yet, strangely familiar.
Dana Gould adapts Serling’s screenplay for the comic book format, packing the pages with tension and intrigue; and only a small proportion of this is lost by knowing what’s round the corner. Everyone reading will know that Thomas is going to come face to face with talking Apes, be captured and all the rest. What Gould and the artists have managed to achieve here is depicting recognisable sequences in an enjoyable way and playing up to the actual differences between this version and the original.
The most surprising thing about this version is how little is actually different. Not to ruin anyone’s reading of this but the story is pretty much the same as the 60’s movie counterpart. The setting and tone are the major differences, with a much more advanced Ape world for Thomas to get lost in, but the plot moves along at about the same rate and pace.
Thomas, the central character, is a much more likable character than Taylor. He is compassionate and carries a sense of hope with him as he travels through the topsy turvy world. It’s clear from this adaption that Charleston Heston brought a lot of himself to the character of Taylor, making the astronaut cynical and full of rage. This works in the 60’s movie as he is a product of his time and an explanation for what ultimately happened to the Humans. In Dr Zaius’ eyes, Taylor reinforces everything he has come to understand about ‘Man’ which makes his actions understandable and, in a lot of ways, relatable.
Thomas, on the other hand, represents a contrasting example of ‘Man’ for the future rulers of the world. This has the effect of turning Dr Zaius and his fellow scientist’s into easier to recognise villains and easier to accept as such.
The change in character also makes the ending of both adaptions more intriguing. Everyone knows how the film ends, it is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history, however, the way that it plays out in Serling’s original concept is different enough still to provide a shock element at the end of the story. As a reader you wait for the big reveal but the twist will grab you and give you a good shaking. The entire final sequence of the book is touching and beautifully drawn.
Chad Lewis’ art work has cinematic scope and captures the essence of the scenes wonderfully. His attention to detail, especially in the backgrounds, gives the comic a believable and immersive setting. As a reader you are sucked into the world as much as Thomas and his cohorts. The composition of the panels help to make you feel trapped in an unknown world, even with large vistas spread across the page. When the astronauts first encounter the ‘Humans’ they become trapped between the slowly encroaching people and the vast ocean behind them. There is a series of panels illustrating the slow advancement of the wild people followed by a wide shot with the heroes trapped in the centre, lost and very much alone on an alien world. The tension is gripping.
There are three colourists working on the book but not that you can tell. There is a consistency to the colouring throughout and the contrast between the forbidden zones and Ape city is striking; with slightly too bright natural colours for the forests compared to the muted blues and yellows of the city. A certain unease has been created by the colourists because the natural world appears almost unnatural in its brightness whereas the city is dull in comparison; this is a switch from how we would expect the two setting to be coloured. The colour sets the tone, switching from the mysterious, to action, to intrigue all via altering the colour pallet.
Ed Dukeshire’s lettering is fits snuggly around the artwork, barely making an impression which is the way that it should be. Where the lettering especially stands out is with the sound effects. They boom out of the page and traverse the panels giving Serling’s world sound that you can almost hear. The powerful ‘Thup’ of helicopters rises above the landscape, each time preceding danger for the central character.
In adapting Serling’s script, Gould and co have taken on a mammoth task: not only do they have to make Rod Serling’s vision shine off the page, they have to present something new and entertaining to a readership who will, for the most part, know exactly what is going to happen in the plot. The creators on this book have successfully packed the pages with suspense and drama despite the familiarity of the plot; in some cases, they have used the readers expectations of what will happen to create a more dramatic, and sometimes shocking, scene.
I was personally surprised how close to the original film this version was, with Ape city being different in visual aspects only, but this did not occur to me until after I had finished reading it. It is a gripping adaption, presented beautifully in a hard backed book format. The script and artwork presents us with characters we recognise but at the same time have to get to know them all over again; Thomas is refreshing in comparison to Taylor and the entire book has a more upbeat tone to it. Until the end where one of the biggest differences occurs. A change which will take your breath away as the familiar is subverted by the horrific.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries isn’t a wildly different take on the story and, fittingly, reads more like a Twilight Zone version of the concept. But it is enjoyable, fascinating and expertly crafted. It is an essential read for Apes fans and will fit in perfectly with any Ape franchise collection.
Planet of the Apes Visionaries
Printed by Boom! Studios
Original Screenplay by Rod Serling
Adapted by Dana Gould
Art by Chad Lewis
Inks Assist by David Wilson
Coulours by Darrin Moore, Miguel Muerto and Marcelo Costa
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.