Carl takes a detour into the mythology of The Planet of the Apes to uncover the final days of Charlton Heston’s Taylor in Andrew E. C Gaska’s novelisation…
The first two Planet Of The Apes films suited each other perfectly. The classic original was followed by a 90-minute sequel. Whereas the first film is regarded as an all-time classic with its shocking twist ending, the sequel was not as much cherished. Charlton Heston, after starring in the original didn’t want to be in any sequel. His thinking was correct. A sequel couldn’t live up to the original film and a sequel wasn’t needed. However, executives at 20th Century Fox managed to talk him into making a guest appearance in the follow-up, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Heston’s condition in appearing was for his character, George Taylor to die in the film, thus removing any further need for him to appear again should the second film prove to be a success. The writers went one better.
WARNING-SPOILERS AHEAD-IF YOU HAVENT SEEN THE FILM, STOP READING NOW!
Still with me? Ok. The sequel followed a new character in the guise of John Christopher Brent played by James Franciscus. After suffering the same fate as Taylor’s ship, Brent crash lands on what he believes is an alien planet, his commander dying in the crash, leaving him alone in this new world. The film followed the same path as Planet Of The Apes but without the style and flair of the original. Adding to the problem was the shock ending of the original looming large over the sequel. All shock and surprise were gone. We already know this alien planet is in reality Earth of the future, destroyed by man during a nuclear holocaust so to take the same journey in this film felt like an afterthought and a sense of Deja Vu. We’ve already trodden this path and we know where it leads.
Charlton Heston appears at the beginning of the film as Taylor. Riding through the barren land with his female companion, Nova, Taylor suddenly vanishes into nothingness leaving the startled Nova behind. This is the last we will see of him until three-quarters of the way through the film, where his fate is revealed and both he and Brent achieve their destiny. Held prisoner by a group of mutant humans with telepathic powers, Taylor and Brent are forced to fight to the death telepathically until they manage to kill their tormentor. Meanwhile, the ape army has discovered the lair of the mutants and in a bid to wipe them and humanity out once and for all, attack.
The mutants prey to their god which is, in reality, a doomsday bomb, designed to burn the atmosphere and turn the planet into a cinder, wiping out every life form on Earth. The mutants arm their weapon ready to fire at Ape City to destroy the simian world. When the attack that comes, Nova is killed, the mutants are wiped out and the apes decide to pull the weapon to the ground. Attempting to stop the apes from activating the weapon, Taylor and Brent are gunned down. With his life drained from him, Taylor’s last act is to hit the activation switch with his dead hand, setting the bomb off, destroying everything on Earth and burning the entire planet to a cinder, killing the planet, making it nothing but a dead star in space.
This was to be the final film in the series but after box office tills rang up a substantial profit, the series continued. In the fourth film, we are introduced to the character of Caesar for the first time. In the recent reboot films, Caesar is the main character from the start. The last two films of the original Apes saga made it all possible. For many years, people have wondered what Taylor went through in his final days. What did he do? What did he see? What did he go through? Why was he a prisoner beneath the surface of the mutants? Titan Books have brought us the answer with Andrew E. C Gaska’s novel, Death of the Planet of the Apes.
Death of the Planet of the Apes | by Andrew E. C Gaska
Taking place at the exact moment the sequel does, we follow Taylor and Nova as they ride through the forbidden zone. We ride with them right up to the point of Taylor’s disappearance. We follow the events of the sequel with Brett right up to the point of his and Taylor’s deaths. What makes the book outstanding is how Gaska fills in the gap between what we already know. The book not only follows their paths but the ape’s paths too. The characters of Zaius, Cornelius, Zira and Ursus have their own storylines throughout the book, expanding their characters and showing their thoughts and motivations. Each of these characters has their own story arc and their futures, although we already know their fates, are not assured throughout the book. Adding to the enjoyment, we also follow a garbage ape named Mungwortt, a slow-witted gorilla who has been exiled to the forbidden zone. We follow his path throughout the final days of the planet, from exile through to a friend to Taylor.
The book also goes back in time, becoming a prequel to the original Apes movie, following Taylor from being a fighter pilot up to his blasting off from Earth on what he already knows is a one-way trip. Along the way, we discover more about the bomb that Taylor will eventually use two centuries later, its concept, its design and its creation. The father/son relationship between Taylor and his father further delves into history. We discover how Taylor Jnr got involved in space exploration in the first place, his attitude towards his father, his friends and even mankind in general.
Taylor is not a nice character at all. In the original film, he discovers his destiny and we feel sympathy for him. During this book, we feel nothing for him at all. We know he’s on the path to his death but after discovering what made him the way he is, any semblance of sympathy for him disappears. The only time we feel anything for him is when the death of Nova brings him to his knees, the reality of what will happen, the futility of his struggle in this future. Now we can empathise with him. We know his death is near. And he accepts it. Still, to the last, he tries to appeal to Zaius, to explain what is coming if he and the ape army continue on this course of action. Zaius refuses to listen to him. In the end, Zaius realises it humans AND apes that have brought about the end of them all. Man, by building the instrument of their destruction and Apes for not heeding the warnings given both past and present and for following man’s appetite for destruction. Man was born of the ape, both are tied together in creation and their destruction. He finally understands that this was inevitable, that either side alone couldn’t end everything. Their fates were always linked.
Gaska has created a novel of sheer enjoyment. He has taken the premise and plotlines of the first three ape films and crafted a tale that, while jumping back and forth, perfectly captures the spirit of the films and its mythology. Gaska is a freelance consultant for Rockstar Games and has written comics for Titan Comics. His skill as a writer is evident for all to see and enjoy here. The events, though we know the outcome, flow effortlessly on the page, leading us into an adventure all Apes fans will cherish and enjoy. He words the story and its context with expert knowledge of his subject which adds another dimension to an already engaging story.
At the end of the day, the undertone of the book is about racial stereotypes, desire for power and its abuse and earths’ inevitable destruction. Already a frightening vision of the future, the book adds an even more terrifying element to feed our fears. In this respect, the book will live on in the readers’ memory.
To borrow a phrase from the book, Apes together strong. With this novel, the Planet Of The Apes saga has just got a little bit stronger still.
Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E. C Gaska is published by Titan Books and is available to buy from all good retailers NOW.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!