Opinion Opinion L.A.

It's death, taxes and now, 'Planet of the Apes' movies

'Apes' movies still going strong? A baby boomer remembers the original and says 'Huh?'

There are only two certainties in life, it’s said: death and taxes. But I think it’s time to add a third: There will always be another “Planet of the Apes” movie.

The question, though, is why?

OK, there’s the money, of course, which in Hollywood has always been reason enough. On Monday, box-office figures from the weekend showed that the latest “Apes” iteration, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” took in $73 million in the United States and Canada, making it king of the multiplex. (Oh yeah, and it did another $31 million overseas.)

But sorry, Dr. Zaius, that just ain’t a good enough answer for this monkey’s uncle.

Now, maybe it’s that I turned a year older on Sunday. Or maybe it was attending my nephew’s recent wedding and seeing my family. Or maybe it’s the giant flat-screen TV I just bought, which replaced a TV so old I’m embarrassed to quote its age.

Anyway, I’m in a nostalgic mood.

So I’m thinking back to the original “Planet of the Apes,” which came out in 1968. Yes, I saw it. In a theater. (And not in comfy, cushioned reclining seat.) It cost 75 cents to get in. A Coke was a quarter. Popcorn too. No 3D. No stereo sound. No…

I digress. Back to the movie: I’m remember thinking it was kinda fun. And a little silly. OK, really silly. (Though it had Charlton Heston, before we knew he was an NRA wingnut.) And that great ending.

But not for a moment, as a callow teen in 1968, did I ever imagine that this was the beginning of what is now called a movie franchise.

True, it was the most popular film of 1968. Then again, it wasn’t exactly a great time for movies: When they handed out the Oscars for that year’s crop, best picture went to “Oliver!”, which somehow beat out “The Lion in Winter” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (which, incredibly wasn’t even nominated). “Apes“ was nominated for best costume design but lost to “Romeo and Juliet.“

But in 1968, with the Vietnam War raging, and Nixon calling and all the rest, one more silly movie wasn’t tops on a lot of people’s minds. In fact, if you had a time machine and you could go back to 1968 and tell the folks that, in 2014, kids were lining up to pay 19 bucks to see a sequel to “Apes” -- well, it gives a whole new meaning to “blow my mind.”

To be fair, some see cultural touchstones in the “Apes” movies. For that, you can read L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin’s thoughtful essay, or Don Kaye’s Rolling Stone online recap.

But I'm not so sure. “Cultural touchstones” explains why people went to see “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”? Heck, “Escape from New York” had cultural touchstones too (and Kurt Russell) and they only made one sequel to it (thank goodness).

No, there’s something else at work here. Maybe, seeing humans face off with intelligent apes on the big screen touches some primal place in us, some dark corner, some “there but for the grace of God and evolution and some DNA mutations go I.”

Or maybe it’s the place we’re in now politically. Maybe it’s the whole “we’re wrecking the planet, we’re destroying the animals, we’re killing one another all over the world over this god or that god, and all our politicians can do is argue over how big a tax break to give Big Oil and Wall Street, and whether to impeach Obama.”

Maybe we fear the monkeys could do better?

Or, OK, you got me: Maybe we just always need silly, fun, escapist movies.

Even if they do cost 19 bucks now.

Twitter: @PaulWhitefield1

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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