Over the years, my feelings towards the Planet of the Apes Premiere episode have shifted considerably.|
As I have already commented in my introduction to this site, when I first saw it on October 13th, 1974, I was enraptured.
It was the first time I had encountered any science fiction production
that had presented thoroughly believable aliens; I couldnt see the
actors beneath John Chambers fantastic make-up designs; those people
were the characters they were portraying.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, in my fevered enthusiasm for
the show, I sought out a British newspaper which contained a step-by-step photo feature which demonstrated how Roddy McDowall was transformed into Galenand, by and large, it killed the illusion for me.
After that, I was aware of the nature of the appliances, and how they
fitted to the actors faceand it was never the same
As I have also remarked elsewhere, the visual impact of the episode, generally, was a key factor in the impact it had on me.
Augmenting Chambers make-ups were Morton Haacks costume designs and
William Crebers stunning spaceship concept and amorphous simian
All of this, of course, was inherited from the moviewhich I hadnt
seen at that point.
(As an aside, whenever I watch this episode, I find myself wondering about the origins of the flightsuits Ron Harper, James Naughton, and the un-credited Jones were wearing in the early moments of their arrival. They are obviously the same ones created for the original movie in 1966, with the tunic tops conspicuously un-zipped and open from the moment we see themfolded back over the name plates that are located directly above the ANSA logos. How I wish I could reach out, lift the flaps up and look at the names lying there. Taylor? Landon? Dodge? We shall never know
What was unique to the showin a visual sensewas Gerry Perry Finnermans gritty photography, and Arch Bacons overall art direction (I love the way our heroes get grubby and sweaty).
In terms of the narrative, however, I was conscious that there was no sense of occasion here.
With the arrival of a young chimpanzee in the first few seconds, and subsequent references to the arrival of astronauts previously, I felt as if I had arrived in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning.
By the time I saw ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW for the second time (a year or so later, in
reruns) I had seen the first movieand was even more disappointed with my re-viewing of the TV pilot.
I lamented the absence of the movies carefully crated sense of mystery
Why did we have to see an ape in the first few minutes of the show?
When Virdon and Burkes learned of the mysterious planets identity by opening a book, was this any substitute for Taylor finding the ruins of the Statue of Liberty?
Moving to today, though, I now understand why the people behind the APES TV series structured ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW the way they did. Stateside Television audiences had already seen the first three movies. They (and now we) knew they were about to visit a planet of articulate apes. They (and now we) knew this was earth in the future. Attempting to generate a sense of mystery would have been pointless.
When the series was in development in 1973, no less a talent than Rod Serling attempted to use the first movie as the template for the opening episode, and we can see from the script that has survived that he did attempt to duplicate the theme of a gradual exploration of an enigmatic, blasted landscape from the original, followed by piecemeal revelations, but, reading that script, it pains me to say, the postponement of Virdon and Kovaks entry into the world of the Planet of the Apes ultimately feels less like the creation of mystery and suspenseand more like procrastination.
I still think that its a shame that more of Ape City wasnt refurbished and employed in the series. It was still standing at that point. (The amphitheatre, of course, is used in THE GLADIATORSand even, sacreligiously, in the expanded pilot for the LOGANS RUN series).
I now think theres no question that Art Wallace did an excellent job of crafting a script for the Premiere that did the job it had to doand its difficult to think of any effective alternative.
In fact, reflecting on all the checkpoints the narrative had to pass through on the road to its conclusion, you realise that Art Wallace did an incredible job here.
Not only does the APES premiere tell a coherent story (which in a very broad sense, still roughly parallels the plot of the first movie: the crash, the hunt, the trial, an escape followed by a return to where the story began), but it also introduces us to the world the series would take place in (establishing the differences between it and the world of the movies at the same time). Most important of all, it presents us with our regular characters and does so in a way that both defines them and makes them immediately sympathetic.
I liked Virdon and Burke from the moment I first met themand I remember being surprised by that; it wasnt that I had never found myself engaging with the characters in an episodic television series during their pilot episode before, but I was used to liking one protagonist, say, but not the other. I liked both Virdon and Burkeand Galen, when I finally got to meet him and realise he was on their side. I had never experienced that before.
Over the years, I have tried to work out why, without complete success.
Is it the writing? Undoubtedly. We recognise and sympathise with the precariousness of their situation; we admire who they are, as well, recognising Virdons rationalism, and Burkes passionand both mens sense of justicebut the performances of the cast are a key factor in this, also.
Burkes dialogueif you look at it on paperis embarrassing at times. Kovak/Rowak/Burke had been burdened with this brash, unsophisticated, in-your-face Yahoo personawhich James Naughton eliminates completely via the warmth and intelligence of his delivery (and a little line-cutting here and there).
That is no mean feat!
Furthermore, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (to judge by the production codes at the end of the episodes) was the third episode filmed. In any event, it was indisputably filmed after THE GOOD SEEDS (as the length of Ron Harpers hair in each story testifies).
We believe that ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is the first time Galen has met these men. There is an awkwardness in their exchanges; a wariness. When we get to THE GOOD SEEDS, however, the warmth of their exchanges and the shorthand between them tell us these people have known each
other for some timeand yet these stories were filmed in an opposite order to the one in which they appear!
I find this astonishing; when filming ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, McDowall, Harper, and Naughton had to undo (if you will) the performances they had established during THE GOOD SEEDS and THE GLADIATORSand did it superbly. Now that is acting.
Furthermore, while still on the subject of the performances in the show, that of Royal Dano as Farrow is also worthy of mention.
Again, if you read the script, Farrow comes across as extremely passive and naive. Practically every comment he makes is punctuated with a smile. On the day, however, Dano gave him not only a tremendous innocencebut strength as well.
Which brings me to a question I have been asking myself ever since I saw the APES reruns in 1975: why would Farrow, a product of this nightmare world where man was subjugated, risk everything to save the astronauts?
It seems fair to assume that (just like Galen) he has heard the stories of the previous time-lost astronauts. He tells Virdon and Burke they will be killed if they are caught, and says it with certaintyprobably because he has heard what happened to the previous visitors from the past.
You could imagine that, amongst the human inhabitants of 3085, that story is passed around in whispers.
Is this why Farrow helped them? Immediately? Without hesitation?
I would also like to suggest that he did so because Virdon and Burke are the embodiment of the dream world Farrow escapes to in his secret cavethe dream world of the storybook. A world where human beings are capable of great deeds, and in control of their destiny.
Quite simply: the astronauts are, for him, fictional heroes come to life.
It shows in the way he treats these men so reverentlyin the way he yearns to help them, and to be their friend.
In the scene where Farrow emerges from the underbrush andafter a moments hesitationmoves towards the ship, there isnt any fear thereor even curiosity. Only a sense of determination and purpose. He knows what this machine is. He knows what he will find within it.
Throughout this story, in fact, countless scenes are re-shaped through an actors performance.
To provide just one more example: in the script, in the scene in the forest where Farrow is guiding the astronauts back to the ship, Virdon and Burke react to Farrows determination to help them with a bemused shrug. In the filmed version, the astronauts are more respectful. They show concern and, at the close of the conversation, we see an affectionate smile on Burkes lips.
Much better than a shrug
and the proof that we had some exceptional actors here, bringing some exceptional characters to life.