In the lead-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I did a retrospective on the series and became a fan. I was amazed at how each entry distinguished itself from the others, carried political subtext, and how they were unafraid to go ridiculously dark and insane. How insane? [spoilers ahead] One ends with the Earth being destroyed, another murders the protagonists and a baby ape, and another has an incredibly violent uprising where the ending had to be re-edited and re-dubbed because the original version was so brutal and unforgiving.
These are such fascinating films, and sadly the Blu-ray drops the ball when it comes to the sequels. This is where Joe Fordman and Jeff Bond‘s book Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend comes in, goes far beyond the movies, and becomes a must-own for any self-respecting fan of the franchise.
To be fair, the sections on the first five movies cover much of the same ground as the special features on the Blu-ray, so not every piece is a revelation. Still, Fordman and Bond make the information concise and still fascinating. Furthermore, they’re accompanied by a wealth of storyboards, concept art, and behind-the-scenes stills that allow the reader to pause and really appreciate the thought behind each of these pictures.
The Planet of the Apes series had a rebirth in recent years thanks to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Tim Burton‘s 2001 reboot never took off, but perhaps that’s because it didn’t really honor the rich history of the franchise. Yes, every entry went through multiple iterations before it reached the screen, but so did all of the other movies, but they came out with daring, bold visions, and did so with a reduced budget every time. This book provides some greater detail on how all of these pictures—including Burton’s—developed over the course of production.
But for me, what makes The Evolution of the Legend an essential part of a fan’s collection are the sections that delve deep into a particular aspect of the production or go beyond the films. Fordham and Bond devote large chunks of the book to breaking down the makeup not only for the first five movies, but also for Burton’s picture. The wealth of photos really allows the reader to gain a greater appreciation of what makeup artists John Chambers and Rick Baker accomplished with their movies, and while WETA’s digital makeup work on the last two Planet of the Apes movie is incredible (and also covered in this book), these sections provide more of the franchise’s rich history. And if that weren’t enough, there’s another section devoted to the franchise’s music. A CD would have been a nice addition, but I understand that would be asking too much, and fans can find the music on their own if they’re so inclined.
Then there’s everything outside of the movies, which is the material I loved the most. Evolution of the Legend contains pictures and details for the Planet of the Apes comics, animated series, live-action series, Topps trading cards, toys, activity books, and other merchandise. Fordman and Bond could have arguably stopped at just the movies, but they went the extra mile, and that’s what makes this book something special because it delves so deep into every aspect of the franchise’s history.
After viewing the Blu-ray special features in the Planet of the Apes box set, I knew I wanted more, but I also accepted that putting those extras together is an expensive proposition. While I’m sure The Evolution of the Legend also cost a pretty penny to put together, it’s absolutely worth the price. I feel like I’ve become a better fan of the series because I know so much more thanks to this book.
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