Planet Of The Apes by Pierre Boulez

51rg2Qjz7aL  Rendering the translation from the French as Monkey Planet – which it was in some early editionsdoesn’t quite seem to give this famous story the gravitas it deserves. Pierre Boullez apparently thought his book was unfilmable – and having finally read it, one can see why. It’s not just the difficulty of getting decent monkey costumes or coming up with special effects. There’s no shattering Statue of Liberty reveal at the end – that was the brilliant invention of Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, the screenwriters of the 1968 Charlton Heston movie version. Instead the end of the novel bears more resemblance to the conclusion of Tim Burton’s confused remake in 2001 – a piece of work over which it is otherwise polite to draw a discreet veil. But there is much in the novel which made it into the films: the talking doll, the beautiful Nova, the lobotomy, Cornelius and Zira, and, pleasingly, ‘You’re so damned ugly’, which I assumed was a Hollywood confection. In the year 2500, Ulysse Merou and Professor Antelle take a rocket to a planet – which they name Soror – near Betelgeuse that has some resemblance to earth. Just the word ‘rocket’ alerts you to the fact that it’s a 1963 sci-fi novel and some of the technology is rather, well, 1930s Flash Gordon. But Boullez was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War so knew first hand about man’s capacity for brutality. Two extended sequences – a hunt and some neurological experiments – are simply horrifying. Pages of gorillas in sort of Victorian hunting garb shooting down scores of dumb humans in the jungle is remarkably well sustained, but the vivisection episode, in which people are treated as laboratory rats (or, of course, laboratory monkeys) is just ghastly. And brilliant. Time travel is helpfully explained in a few paragraphs. We know that the astronauts have left their old lives centuries behind them by making the lengthy trip from earth. And when Ulysse returns to France – landing at Paris’ Orly Airport, indeed – he knows it will be 700 years after he left Soror. Could things possibly have changed? We know that on Soror man was supplanted by apes. Surely nothing remotely similar could have happened on earth while he’s been away?

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