The Racial and Antislavery Message
In many ways the Planet of the Apes saga is a commentary on race relations in America. The saga uniquely chose three Ape species; the gorillas, the chimpanzees, and the orangutan's to represent the Apes that dominate the world. Rather than one unified group the Apes were a system of subgroups themselves.
In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira comment on how the "quota" system had been abandoned long ago. This of course is a reference to affirmative action programs meant to give preferential treatment in employment to minority groups which were in place and looming on the horizon within America at the time. The chimpanzees were pacifists and the war to eradicate mutants in the forbidden zone of the second movie was referred to as "the Gorilla's war" by Zira in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Zira seems to blame one group, the Gorillas rather than her own society for the destruction of her planet which implies strong racial feelings against gorillas on her part. The Planet of the Ape.Saga forces humanity to look at the prejudices, biases, and hatred that have lurked within people in the past and perhaps even in the present. If one assumes that each Ape subgroup represents a subgroup of man himself from the past then just which human group was being commented on in a masked fashion and for what political ends? There are many possibilities including.
1 The Gorillas represent newly liberated slaves and a belief that blacks in America have obtained freedom in spite of inferior intellect and a higher tendency to violence. After study of crime statistics in America by race, white supremacists would present just such a possible point.
2 The Chimpanzees represent Japanese Americans who are stereotyped as being smarter than either whites or blacks in American society and who were forcibly imprisoned in America during the second World War. The war protests and pacifist nature of the chimpanzees perhaps reflects Japanese American feelings after the unleashing of the atomic bomb and the Japanese constitution which forbids military forces for aggression.
3 The Orangutan's represent white conservative America. The orangautaun's defend religion and oppose evolution and things dangerous to custom and tradition. Perhaps the same can be said of many stereotypical white conservative elders.
1 The chimpanzees represent southern white America that has been forced to watch as immigrants and foreign factions take control of culture and country little by little. Caesar, a chimpanzee and the founder of Ape society knows in the future there is a good chance that his kind, the chimps who lead the revolution for freedom will themselves live as second class citizens. Perhaps this is a hidden analogy to the white founding fathers of America and their progeny in the south after Reconstruction commences following the Civil War. At that point they are powerless to do anything but watch as northerners further delegate powers to blacks and to the north itself as the group becomes fragmented and afraid.
2 The Orangautaun's represent northern Americans who control affairs from afar in Washington, DC. The Orangautaun's rule over chimpanzees with little regard for the voice or concerns of chimpanzees in the Planet of the Apes saga.
3 The Gorillas represent a means to power to control chimpanzees and maintain the new power balance. Blacks make up a disproportionate percentage of professional soldiers in US armies so an Orangautaun government with Gorilla soldiers is not so far fetched as it seems. Perhaps the ideological source of an all Gorilla army lies within the racial makeup of Americas own armed forces which are composed largely of minorities.
Of course there always is the possibility that one may draw no message about race from the Planet of the Apes saga except that it does not matter. After all if three chimpanzees, who were a second class in their own world alone survive destruction to further the rebirth of Ape dominance in the future just what can be said about that? At the very least an anti oppression message is presented. Apes should not be enslaved as should man not be. Rather or not quotas, affirmative action, or governmental rule from afar is right or not is something the saga perhaps presents for one to ponder.
Message which truly one can gather from the saga most clearly is that man is a dangerous beast whose means of self destruction loom on the horizon always. Instead of subdividing man into this group or that, man must be united for whatever aims and purposes he wishes to achieve. The mutants unite to deliver their brand of religion via an atomic bomb, and the Apes unite in spite of their differences to win their own freedom. The methodology of unity, self restraint, and rational decisions are what set man apart from beasts. Without such things man is no different in essence than the scavenging savages who spend all day playing in fields and eating fruits in the first Planet of the Apes movie.
Illogical Plot Elements
1 In Planet of the Apes humans are seen grazing fields and surviving on their own except for the occasional raid by Gorillas. If The Apes notably Dr Zaius were so afraid of what man was in the past or what he could do, all humans would be caged or enclosed in some manner. None would be allowed to run free. How can Dr Zaius be so afraid of man and yet be content to let humans gather and communicate in the wild relatively undisturbed?
2 If the Forbidden Zone holds secrets of Man's glory days on Earth that would be so damning to Ape Pride why wasn't the area first sacked and artifacts destroyed in the past. If an areas holds secrets you don't want others to know about then the only way to know this is to have had someone visit the area who first thought the area's truths were dangerous. Such Apes surely would have destroyed the place or preserved it. Instead the area is left with haphazard artifacts here and there. A head from the Statue of Liberty lies on the beaches near the Forbidden Zone for anyone who ventures there to see. A chief defender of the faith would have at least made sure such blatant constructions were removed from sight.
3. The destruction of the Earth is sudden in Beneath the Planet of the Apes so how could three chimpanzees have time to fish a spaceship from the water, repair it and launch it right before the destruction of the Earth which no one had planned? Furthermore how could they travel back to the past when the ships gauges were smashed, and most of the fuel was probably spent?
4 The chief scientist that understood the human spacecraft from the first film, Dr Milo was no where to be found in the first film. If Cornelia and Zira could trust him with the spaceship could they not trust him with the knowledge of talking humans. Or are we to assume that Cornelius and Zira just found Milo the most knowledgeable Ape scientist on the planet at the last minute and then convinced him to repair and launch a spacecraft?
5 In Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the three survivors are kept together in the zoo in spite of their unique origin from a spacecraft in astronaut costumes. Zira's luggage was not searched and the Apes were not searched for weapons or anything unique they may have carried. They had steak knives, and a fresh set of clothes and no one knew until the Apes wanted to use them. Thats really lame security on such an important matter. Also the testimony of the Apes is broadcast to the world, such information surely would have been secret at first. The entire matter of the three talking apes on Earth was dealt with in an undisciplined fashion that no governmental authority would ever be guilty of.
6 A circus performer owner, Armando teaches Caesar the offspring of the talking apes from the future to speak. How can the Ape leader of revolution learn to talk from humans alone? And if he could how could he then have the powers to persuade and communicate with his own people whom he has never congregated with before?
7 In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, chimpanzee Caesar hides among a shipment of his fellow apes so as to erase his identity and allow him to enter Ape management as a newly captured ape from the wild. Why would adult apes be sent to Ape Central for training. Like humans they would have to be taught from the period of infancy if they were to be able to live with humans and understand commands. The entire Ape Central complex seems to focus on just training adult Gorillas, and other Apes to do tasks. Never once is an Ape child seen being taught anything.
8 In Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, only Caesar can speak full sentences. But by Battle for the Planet of the Apes a few years later, all Apes can speak. Compounding this impossibility is that these apes who speak are lucky survivors of a nuclear holocaust. So Ape survivors of disaster all learn to speak and think, while intelligent human survivors learn to hide and become victims of mutation as evident in the last Apes Film Battle for the Planet of the Apes. So intelligent human survivors have technology, vehicles, rockets, and a clear leader and still they suffer from mutation. Docile humans who live among the apes do not suffer from radiation's effects in the least. Seems ironic doesn't it?
9 Ape technology in the future is advanced in some areas and not in others. Repeating rifles and machine guns are present, but bicycles, telescopes, and binoculars which were invented by humans long before the previous things are no where to be found.
10 In the first movie, the Apes all speak in English yet Charlton Heston's character doesn't consider that he is on Earth in spite of the fact that all Apes speak the language of his country. How many alien worlds would feature an astronauts native language exclusively?
Comparisons between Planet of the Apes and the Terminator saga
1 Protectors/Explorers are sent in time
In the first planet of the Apes movie, a lone astronaut Taylor survives to spread word of Man's dominance in the past to the Apes most notably Chimpanzees, Zira and Cornelius. In the second movie another astronaut Brent survives to try to save humanity and further its legacy. In the TV series another two astronauts arrive, and in the cartoon series yet more astronauts arrive. This may seem entirely different from the process of sending protectors to the past to protect the future human leader of the resistance against the machines in the Terminator movies. But looking abstractly, in the Terminator saga, protectors are sent to ensure man's legacy survives. In Planet of the Apes, protectors are sent to ensure man's legacy is not forgotten are sent instead. Not really so different. Also the illogical way in which two separate beings are sent to the past in Terminator and several humans are sent to the future in the Apes saga is strangely ironic.
2 The Leader of a great Revolution has a parent from another time
In Terminator, a soldier from the future Kyle Reese becomes the father of his leader in the future who sent him to protect his own mother's child namely himself. A person from the future can not father a child from the past can he? Even more ironic is to send one's father from the future to protect one's mother in the past. In Planet of the Apes parents from Earth's future, Cornelius, and Zira have a child in Earth's past. The child leads the apes in revolution which leads to Apes arising as the dominant force in the future. How can parents from the future give rise to a leader from the past? This paradox is similar between both the Terminator and Apes sagas.
3 The Agent of Revolt can Disguise itself
In Terminator the agent of revolt was a trusty defense computer network that turns on its owners and then invents robots covered in human flesh to hunt down former human masters. In Planet of the Apes the agents of revolt were pets rather than a means of defense. But once revolution is lead, the Apes can hide themselves among docile or unsophisticated Apes merely by removing clothing and acting dumb. Leader Caesar hides himself in this fashion and is purchased and lead into the headquarters of Ape management because of his ruse largely. Is this so different than flesh covered terminators being let into human hideouts in the future where they then wreck havoc?
4 The Defender of Man has the face of his enemy
In the Terminator saga, Arnold plays a machine sent to kill the mother of a human resistance leader in the past in the first movie. But in the second Arnold plays a reprogrammed machine sent for the purpose of protecting the leader of the human resistance. In essence the machine terminator played both a killer and a protector. In Planet of the Apes, Roddy McDowell plays a chimpanzee, Cornelius eager to help human astronauts Brent, and Taylor escape death at the hands of the Apes. But by the 4th film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, McDowell plays, Caesar the son of his former character and leads a revolt aimed at dethroning man from power rather than protecting man.
5 The Future is not set In Planet of the Apes and in the Terminator saga.
The message of the future not being set is presented. In Terminator 2 the saying "there is no fate but the fate we make" is made a slogan for Sarah Connor's decision to try to kill the man responsible for the birth of Skynet and save the future. In Battle for the Planet of the Apes, a storyteller sits before ape children and human children and tells them no one knows what the future may hold. Would that future be one of apes and men leaving in harmony or one of Ape dominance