Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Monkey Planet and its film adaptations

by Rob - January 16th, 2008.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

I quite like the Pierre Boulle novel sometimes called Monkey Planet in English (a lousy translation of the title: Planet of the Apes is much closer in structure to the original French, which was “La Plan├Ęte des singes” — and although “singe” is both “ape” and “monkey” in French, they are two different words (and types of primates!) in English. One wonders how careful Xan Fielding was in doing the translation of a book that’s all about apes when this distinction was utterly lost on him).

Sadly, Fielding’s is the only English translation; he got the job of translating this science-fiction novel because he’d previously translated Boulle’s earlier novel The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Boulle himself did not speak or write English, by the way, so his having won the Oscar for the screenplay of the movie version of The Bridge on the River Kwai is a sham; the actual screenwriters (Michael Wilson — who went on to co-author the original Planet of the Apes script with Rod Serling — and Carl Foreman) were blacklisted, although they received belated Oscars posthumously.

The 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, is much closer to the Boulle original than is the Tim Burton “remake.” The 1968 version resembles the original novel in characters (Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius all figure prominently), in setup, in plot line, and in being rich social comment (albeit on different topics; Boulle’s target is mostly the stuffiness of academia and the inefficiency of bureaucracies; Wilson and Serling, in their screenplay, go after religious fundamentalism and racism).

The Tim Burton remake has almost no points of similarity with the Boulle, and the Wilson/Serling ending (“it was Earth!”) and the Boulle ending (“it could happen here, too!”) actually are very similar dramatically, although, yes, the Burton has echoes of the Boulle in its (otherwise awful) very last scene, too.

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