Warning: This story contains potential spoilers for War for the Planet of the Apes.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: War for the Planet of the Apes is not a direct prequel to the 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes starring Charlton Heston. Instead, the new Apes, which arrives in theaters this weekend is, in the words of director Matt Reeves, “an answer” to the series of simian sci-fi films of the 1960s and ’70s.
“The interesting thing for me about these movies is that the originals exist, and they exist as a kind of trajectory,” Reeves tells Yahoo Movies. “But Rise [2011’s franchise reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes]changed the timeline. In the ’68 movie, there’s a nuclear holocaust, that’s why we see the big reveal of the Statue of Liberty at the end. But the apes have evolved naturally over the course of thousands of years. That’s all been changed. So these movies will never meet up exactly. But they are in a dialogue with the originals.”
And that means there are intentional linkages between War — which caps a trilogy of Apes films starring Andy Serkis as chimpanzee chieftan Caesar (following Rise and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Here are seven of the notable callbacks and connections, along with a little director’s commentary tossed in.
Caesar and Cornelius: Andy Serkis’ chimp in the new trilogy is the namesake of the character played by Roddy McDowell in 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The Caesar of those movies also leads an ape uprising, but in the circular logic of those earlier films, he was the son of Cornelius, the benevolent chimpanzee who aids Heston’s character Taylor in the 1968 original and later time-travels from the ape future to the Earth of the 1970s (and also played by McDowell). In the updated Apes trilogy, Cornelius is the infant son of Caesar.
Nova: Taylor’s mute love interest (Linda Harrison) in the 1968 film and its 1970 sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, was part of a tribe of nonverbal, primate humans in conflict with the simian society.
In War, we meet a young girl (Amiah Miller) who cannot speak. She is named by the apes for a car part she fancies, which comes from a certain kind of Chevy. “Nova was meant to be literally the same character,” explains Reeves. “She’s an answer as to how there was a character like Nova [in the original film].”
(Planet of the Apes fans know how important the character names have been in the rebooted series. While Caesar, Cornelius, and Nova are intended to correlate to specific characters in the original saga, many other monikers in the films have served as tributes to the creative team behind the ’68 classic, beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar’s mother was named Bright Eyes, which is what the kindly chimp Zira nicknamed Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the 1968 original; Maurice the orangutan was named after Maurice Evans, who played lead antagonist Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes; Tom Felton’s cruel caretaker Dodge Landon took his first and last names from Taylor’s astronaut buddies; Buck the gorilla alluded to actor Buck Kartalian, who played the ape Julius; David Oyelowo’s evil Steven Jacobs was a reference to Planet of the Apes producer Arthur P. Jacobs; and Tyler Labine’s Robert Franklin was a nod to original Apes director Franklin Schaffner.)
The Virus: There’s an explanation for Nova’s inability to speak — she has been afflicted with a mutated strand of the simian virus (which increased the intelligence of apes and wiped out large swaths of the human population) that renders its victims into speechless savages. Which provides a retconned explanation for Nova’s tribe in the original movie. “The apes and humans have a very different relationship in the ’68 film, and the humans are mute. Why are they mute? We thought, ‘Oh, we can explore this sort of story and give her that name so she becomes an answer to that question,‘” says Reeves.
The Planet of the Apes: Woody Harrelson‘s warmongering character, known only as “The Colonel,” deliberately borrows from Marlon Brando’s iconic Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (the film has many allusions to Francis Ford Coppola‘s classic Vietnam film, including graffiti that reads “Ape-ocalyse Now”), but he also understands the stakes. He rallies his troops and offers a monologue that explains his take-no-prisoners attitude — and predicts the simian-centric future. “This is our last stand,” the Colonel says. “If we lose, it will be a planet of apes.” The moment flips the script from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, where it is Caesar who advocates for violence.
Alpha and Omega: “We are the beginning and the end.” That’s the cry of the Colonel’s troops as they prepare for battle. It’s also a nod to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where Taylor recognizes the “doomsday bomb” by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega inscribed on its fin — i.e., the beginning and the end.
The Forbidden Zone: In the 1968 film, the Forbidden Zone is the wasteland where Taylor and his fellow astronauts crash land. In War, we get a glimpse of the familiar-looking desert, which the apes must pass through to find their idyllic settlement. Says Reeves, “Somehow Caesar’s world becomes like the world of that ’68 film.
The Beach: At the climax of the 1968 film, Heston rides along the shore of the Forbidden Zone where he discovers the remains of Lady Liberty — a scene that is echoed in War when Caesar and his cohorts traverse a beach on horseback.
“Once you know the Statue of Liberty thing, that’s it. It’s Earth, we got it. You’re not going to fool anybody,” says Reeves of his War. “So what’s nice about that is it means the stories are no longer about what happens, but how they happen. When you do a story about the how rather than the what, it becomes psychological and you can explore the nature of all of the characters.
“There’s an interesting dialogue between the films without it literally being the same universe.”
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