Shootin’ simians: are guns new to the Planet of the Apes?
Note: this post is going to reveal things about the original five Planet of the Apes movies, and that will include plot details. If you have not yet seen them and prefer to have that pure feeling of discovery that comes from approaching a work of entertainment with no foreknowledge (which I understand), I’d skip this one until you have seen them.
As a long-time Planet of the Apes fan, it’s been amusing to me to see media coverage of the newest movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting that the author thinks it is an evolution (so to speak) from the original five movies. Not only in special effects, but, gosh, it has social relevance! Why, they are implying things about gun control and our modern world! How times have changed!
Times may have changed, but the movies have always been socially relevant…and in them, apes have always used guns.
In fact, I’d say the earlier movies are much more daring and blatantly obvious in their social criticism.
There are really three time periods in the first five movies.
The first two, Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, take place (and again, in case you missed the italics, SPOILER ALERT) about two thousand years in the future (and follow one right after the other). Status quo: apes rule and have an organized civilization. They speak, have a city, scientists, warriors…and bureaucracy. Most of the humans appear to be hunter/gatherers, and do not speak. There is a remnant population of mutated humans underground who generally do not speak…but it is because they are telepathic. They are able to verbalize, but essentially find it distasteful.
The next two movies, Escape and Conquest, take place in relatively modern times for the audience (somewhat in the future, but not wildly so). Time does pass between the two movies, but they can be placed in the same context. Status quo: humans rule, and live in cities which resemble our modern cities. Apes do not speak, as a rule…unless they are time travelers from the future, or of that genetic line. They are servants to humans.
The fifth movie, Battle, takes place in-between those two timeframes, although the series makes the repeated point that there might be parallel time streams (they won’t necessarily end up where the first movie started). Status quo: both humans and apes speak, and they live together…but not in perfect harmony. Humans are in an inferior social position, and are actively distrusted by some apes. There is also a remnant human population in the ruins, at first unaware of the ape/human group.
We encounter shootin’ simians in the very first movie, and it continues on through the fifth.
which I ran across while researching this question, identifies the rifle wielded by the gorillas as a modified M1 Carbine. In this society, gorillas are typically warriors, chimpanzees are scientists and intellectuals, and orangutans are bureaucrats and represent religion (although they can also be scientists).
While the gorillas are the most skilled with firearms, Lucius, Zira’s rebellious teenaged (chimpanzee) nephew, is also capable.
When Taylor asks Cornelius if they have any weapons, the relatively pacifistic ape replies that they have the best (guns).
It would be hard to argue that this movie favors gun control, but featuring gun use by apes? Absolutely.
In Beneath, the apes not only have the rifles from the first movie, but at least one submachine gun and pistols.
An interesting point in terms of relevance for the series: youth anti-war protesters, carrying signs, are confronted by soldiers in the street. The Kent State shootings occurred on May 4th of 1970…Beneath the Planet of the Apes was released on May 26th of that year. Obviously, the producers were unaware that the Ohio National Guard would shoot youthful anti-war protesters when they were filming the scene, but it does show an awareness of and commentary on current happenings.
Escape is the one of the movies where the apes are the least violent: only Zira and Cornelius, who have time traveled back, are around, and neither one of them is in favor of the use of force (although not completely opposed). Cornelius does use a handgun.
In Conquest, Zira and Cornelius’ son has been raised by a human, and seems to have much more human sensibilities, having been deprived of chimpanzee culture. That includes the use of firearms, which he does quite dramatically. When they are plotting revolution, Caesar manipulates an order which a non-speaking ape is to carry out for its owner to include ammunition for a gun…you don’t need more bullets if you don’t intend to fire.
Finally, in Battle, there is a clear reference to gun control. The apes have an armory, but even the leader, Caesar, has to ask permission (and provide justification) for using them. Mandemus, an orangutan, is “the conscience of Caesar”, and judges requests.
At one point in the movie, there is one of the largest exchanges of gunfire I’ve ever seen in a movie. The apes (led by Caesar, who certainly is using a firearm) shoot it out with humans from the city. This scene seems to go on for some time, with more bullets flying than I’ve seen in any World War II movie.
So guns, and gun control are not new to the Planet of the Apes series, which tackled such topics as animal rights’ groups, abortion, women’s rights, youthful rebellion, and what we would now consider to be the religious right.
Since that’s the case, why do so many writers seem to think that it was all silly fun and games?
Perhaps they were influenced by watching the live action TV series or the animated series…they may not even remember that, but they were both less provocative than the first five movies.
While the Lawgiver may have said that apes shall never kill apes, he never said that apes shall never shoot guns…
For more information on the Planet of the Apes series, see
At the time of writing, all five movies can also be seen as part of Amazon’s Prime movies, meaning that eligible Prime members can watch them at no additional cost.
Note: that search will have results which are not includes in Prime, incluing the Tim Burton/Mark Wahlberg version.
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