Sunday, July 29, 2001

Review: "Planet of the Apes" by Pierre Boulle

It's a rare thing for me to see the movie before I've read the book, but I was taken by surprise recently. I remember seeing "Planet of the Apes" when I was younger, as well as its sequels and even the television show it spawned. But I was completely unaware that it was all based on a book.

First published in 1965, Pierre Boulle's "Planet of the Apes" has recently been re-released by Del Rey in time for the big-budget remake of the movie. The version is translated from French by Xan Fielding.

It's an unusual situation for me. My entire perception of "Planet of the Apes" comes from the movie, which I consider one of the classics of science fiction. So I approached the book with the same trepidation usually reserved for movie adaptations.

What I discovered was a similar, yet deeper story than the one on the screen. Whereas the movie relies more on the action and the conflict, Boulle's book is more contemplative. The novel is a more cynical and satiric tale of role reversal.

The story is basically the same. A group of adventurers set out to explore deep space and encounter a planet very similar to Earth. On the planet, which they name Soror, they run into a strange tribe of humans who live in the forest and speak in primitive noises. When their launch is destroyed by the natives, they're stuck on the planet, and they soon discover a darker secret.

They believe that some trick of evolution has caused this world to take another fork - and it's apes, rather than humans, that rule the world. But that's not the real story. As journalist Ulysse Merou and a couple of his captors explore a ruin, they discover a secret that makes the human who talks a threat to the entire society of the planet.

Unlike the film, the book isn't a post-apocalyptic vision of the future. Instead, it's more of a cautionary tale about the human race's propensity for laziness - a theme we've seen time and again in the intervening years in science fiction books and movies where machines rule the world.

I did question the space travel aspect of the novel, which seems a little shaky. But then, the book was written in the early 1960s when space exploration was in its infancy.

The changed ending is a point of contention among fans for the remake, but the ending of the original movie was a deviation from the book. I won't spoil it, but Boulle's surprise is just as effective.

If you're a fan of the movie, Boulle's "Planet of the Apes" is a must-read. But even if you're not a fan of the movie, you can find something worthwhile in the book.

No comments: