Thursday, September 25, 2014

'Battle Beyond the Stars'

"Battle Beyond the Stars" is the best "Star Wars" ripoff ever. The film possesses a unique and colorful charm leading to its enduring status as a cult film; sort of a low budget (very low budget) "Guardians of the Galaxy" of its day.

Of all the “Star Wars” inspired ripoffs, “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980) has a unique place in film history. The Roger Corman produced space opera opened (mostly at drive-ins) on September 8, 1980. The only mainstream publicity the movie received was on “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies” where it earned their infamous dog of the week. Actually, that is a complement when one considers some of the other films Siskel and Ebert gave that award to, including David Croneberg’s prophetic masterpiece “Videodrome” (1983).

Several factors make “Battle Beyond the Stars” unique among the post “Star Wars” late 1970s sci-fi shlock. First is the “Seven Samurai” inspired script by acclaimed independent filmmaker John Sayles (“Lone Star”, “Eight Men Out”). Sayles was a master of low budget genre writing at the time. He also scripted two of Joe Dante’s early classics, the “Jaws” (1975) ripoff “Piranha” (1978), and arguably the greatest werewolf movie ever made, “The Howling” (1981).

Second is the bizarre and colorful cast full of Hollywood legends and cult actors including John SaxonSybil Danning, Richard Vaughn, Darlanne Fluegel, and George Peppard. Casting Richard Thomas, John Boy Walton himself, as the young swashbuckling hero who must lead this band of adventures into battle is easily the greatest casting coup in the history of low budget cinema. This movie knows how to have fun.

Third, there is the special effects and art direction, specifically the design of the spaceships. The ships have a very similar look to the vehicles in “The Terminator” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “Avatar” (2009). That is because they were created by none other than James Cameron who was hired as the movie’s model maker and ended up taking over the art direction and production design.

Fourth, and most significantly, what gives “Battle Beyond the Stars” its special allure is the rousing musical score composed by a 26 year-old James Horner. Like the rest of the movie, the music was made on a low budget. But even though the score was created in less than ideal conditions with an undersized orchestra of 62 players, the soundtrack has an astonishingly big sound.

The heroic main theme from “Battle Beyond the Stars” is a stirring march. It is a triumphant, pound your fists in air kind of theme wrapped up in a crescendo of soaring nautical flavored adventure music. The score is often referred to as “Star Trek II: The Warm-up” and indeed much of material that Horner would use for his 1982 classic “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” gets a trial run here.

“Battle Beyond the Stars” has a wonderful, fully developed, irresistible love theme, one of Horner’s best. There is also some exciting action music that would serve as the template for later, far more polished scores such as the aforementioned “Star Trek II” (1982), “Krull”(1983), and “Aliens” (1986).

The music from “Battle Beyond the Stars” remains as popular as ever among soundtrack collectors and Horner fans and has been released twice on CD. First in 2001 by GNP Crescendo. Then in 2011 a new, expanded album was released by BSX records.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

'Land of the Lost', soundtrack review

Franchise starved Universal Pictures blew a tremendous opportunity in 2009 with “Land of the Lost”. Inter-dimensional travel, temporal mechanics, lost cities, menacing humanoid lizard creatures, and rampaging dinosaurs were some of the mainstays of the Sid and Marty Kroft produced NBC Saturday morning live action series “Land of the Lost”, which ran from 1974-1976. It may have been a children’s show, but this was a serious adventure series. Despite the low budget there was a creepy other-worldly sense of mystery and wonder to the show. Many of the scripts were written by the best science fiction writers of the day including Theodore Sturgeon, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Dorothy Fontana and series co-creator and story editor David Gerrold.

This was a show ripe for an intelligent update ala J.J. Abrams. But instead the producers decided to turn it into a Will Ferrell comedy—and a wretched, offensively unfunny one at that. Note to the producers at Universal: The best way to launch a franchise is not to insult the fan base by mocking them.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that these same tone deaf producers hired Michael Giacchino to write the score for the “Land of the Lost” movie. Giacchino is of course the composer of “Lost”—a serious (and wildly successful) approach to the same themes as “Land of the Lost”.

Thankfully, Giacchino does take the material seriously, creating an exciting score in the Jerry Goldsmith tradition by scoring the film that should have been made, as opposed to the awful one that was.

The “Land of the Lost” soundtrack album is jam-packed with 32 tracks of orchestral blast—an exciting and colorful array of “Lost” style adventure music.

Among the highlights are “Swamp and Circumstance”, a creepy suspense motif, “The Lighter Side of Archaeology”, actually a scary “Lost” style danger motif, and “A Routine Expedition” which introduces the main theme, an irresistible  “The Incredibles” style James Bond  rift complete with a banjo and electric guitars.

“Never Trust a Dude in a Tunic” begins with big, lush, romantic golden age style string swell before morphing into an escalating danger cue with a wonderful sense of mystery. Then, the track transitions again finishing off with a gorgeous “Lost” style sentimental motif that is developed throughout the score as the soundtrack’s emotional theme. As has been said in these pages many times, no current composer brings more accessible emotion to the table than Michael Giacchino. His ability to create deeply affecting music, (even within the context of a putrid project such as this one), is astounding.

Giacchino also writes some of the best action music in film and television today, and “Land of the Lost” is no exception. This is more than anything, an action score, and one that is brimming with exciting, propulsive, adrenaline inciting cues.  The absurdly entitled “When Piss on Your Head is a Bad Idea” is a rousing piece of music, as exciting as anything you will hear on any soundtrack today. “Undercover Sleestak” is a pulse-pounding statement of the main theme and primary action motif.

Bottom Line: “Land of the Lost” is a colorful, entertaining soundtrack full of exciting adventure music and further evidence Giacchino is the closest thing to the modern version of a Williams/Goldsmith/Horner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'Island in the Sky'

Aside from two outstanding scores—Michael Giacchino’s moving epic music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and Alexandre Desplat’s bombastic fury for “Godzilla”, it has been a dismal year for fans of memorable film music. The year’s biggest blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, sent moviegoers scurrying to their smart phones as the credits rolled to buy the catchy (and brilliantly utilized) collection of joyful ‘70s pop classics—as opposed to the original score actually playing on the credits—a functional but tepid assembly of weak, undeveloped musical meanderings barely heard during the movie.

It is hard to believe that nearly fifty years ago music was being written for the debut of a CBS television series called “Lost in Space” with a level of astute musical craftsmanship and complexity far beyond anything likely to be seen at a multiplex—or anywhere else—in 2014.

John William’s music for the Irwin Allen television trio of the 1960s (“Lost in Space”, “Land of the Giants”, and “Time Tunnel”) is a stunning body of innovative work that helped lay the groundwork for his legendary career scoring many of the greatest blockbusters and acclaimed dramas of all time. In many ways, Williams used utilized these shows as an experimental canvas in the same way Michael Giacchino used “Lost” to create musical ideas he would come back to and develop further in films such as “Super 8”, “John Carter”, and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”.

Of the three Allen shows, it is “Lost in Space” where Williams spent the most time honing his magical artistry, and there is perhaps no better example than in “Island of the Sky”, the third episode in the show’s glorious black and white first season.

“Lost in Space” is now famous for its campy style featuring the buffoonery of Dr. Smith. But during the first season—especially the early episodes—this was a serious, dramatic, (and wonderfully melodramatic) adventure show, and John Williams (under the guise of “Johnny Williams”) scored it as such.

The score to “Island in the Sky” can be found in its entirety in the 40th anniversary soundtrack by La-La Land and in a less than complete form on Volume One of the old GNP Cresendo set.

“Island in the Sky” opens with “Strange Planet/John’s Descent”, a powerhouse suspense cue that builds with a pulsating wave of brass, flourishing with both vertical and horizontal movements beyond the grasp of most composers working today. Immediately there is a sense of danger and mystery. The amount of musical depth packed into this short cue is amazing. Many moments feel like they could be out of the darker shadings of a “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” movie.

“Helmet It” is downright scary. Among the many treasures to indulge in here are some of William’s best horror music moments foreshadowing later work in “The Fury” and “Dracula”.
“Strangle Hold/Landing” is the showcase piece of the score; an absolute knockout action cue bursting with layered motifs, propulsive brass, escalating rhythms, and a relentless sense of excitement. This 6:27 cue is a precursor of many set pieces featured in future William’s blockbusters. This complex, intricately action music that is always accessible and goes somewhere with a sense of purpose.

“Lil’ Will and The Robot” continue the suspense and dramatic tension with escalating swings of brass in what became the trademark music of this series, and reservoir of motif gesturing used in later works by Williams, especially “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World”.

“Search for John” is a full-fledged, beautifully crafted dramatic suspense cue with a building sense of mystery and danger. The excitement and shimmering wonder continue as the score soars to its finale in “Monkey’s Doo”, “Operation Rescue”’ and “Personal Chauffeur/Electric Sagebrush/Will Is Threatened”. Every moment in this score has something musically rich for the ear to hang on to. As with his future works. Williams always develops his ideas and knows where he wants to go with them.

Bottom line: “Island in the Sky” is an exciting, propulsive, colorful, avant-garde musical masterwork and a wonderful chance to explore the musical formations of John William’s blockbuster style of scoring.

My top ten everything

There is something irresistible, something addictive about top ten lists. I am incapable of passing one by if a link pops up on a page I am browsing. I love reading them—and writing them. As always these are favorites, highly subjective, and intensely personal in a “hey dude you need to get a life” kind of a way.

TV shows (all genres and formats)

24 – FOX (2001-2010, 2014)
The X-Files – FOX (1993-2002)
Unsolved Mysteries – NBC (1987-1997)
Mad Men – AMC (2008-2015)
Star Trek – NBC (1966-1969)
Homeland – Showtime (2011-present)
The Simpsons – FOX (1989-present)
The Walking Dead – AMC (2010-present)
Fringe – FOX (2008-2013)
Bewitched – ABC (1964-1972)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Videodrome (1983)
Falling Down (1993)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
JFK (1991)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Wall Street (1987)
The Bear (1989)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Books (fiction)

Brak the Barbarian (John Jakes)
Logan’s Run (William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson)
The World Inside (Robert Silverberg)
The Bastard (John Jakes)
Conan the Adventurer (Robert. E. Howard)
Batman comics (Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams circa 1970)
Crash (J.G. Ballard)
Contact (Carl Sagan)
Brainwave (Poul Anderson)
Firefly Lane (Kristin Hannah)


So Close - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz performed by Jon McLaughlin (2007)
Gods and Monsters – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay (2008)
Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
Push it – Garbage (1998)
California Dreaming – The Mamas & the Papas (1965)
Kokomo – The Beach Boys (1988)
American – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Make That Move – Shalimar (1981)
I See You (Theme from Avatar) – James Horner and Kuk Harrell performed by Leona Lewis (2009)


Amy Adams
Eva Green
Viola Davis
Mia Kirshner
Julianne Moore
Kate Beckinsale
Dakota Fanning
Naomi Watts
Zoe Saldana
Brit Marling


Denzel Washington
Michael Douglas
Al Pacino
Tom Hanks
Christian Bale
Samuel L. Jackson
Gene Hackman
Morgan Freeman
Jeff Bridges
Vin Diesel

Related links 

Hollywood Search for ‘Caitlin Star’

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Music of ‘The Fantastic Journey’

Remember “The Fantastic Journey”? Chances are you do not. This barely seen science fiction television series ran (with little fanfare and zero network support) on NBC from February to June in 1977, just prior to the “Star Wars” sci-fi explosion.
Although it lasted only ten episodes, this seductive, imaginative, and irresistibly entertaining series left an strong impression for anyone who ever saw it, especially if you were of a certain age and stumbled upon the show (it was never promoted by NBC) during its initial run. The series also featured several notable guest stars including Joan Collins pictured above with Jared Martin and Roddy McDowall. 

After its cancellation in 1977, the show vanished—literally—never to be seen for decades and still has never been released commercially on any home video format (VHS, Laser Disc, DVD, online streaming—nothing).
But now people are discovering (and rediscovering) “The Fantastic Journey” for two reasons. Number one is the outstanding coverage of the show by the prolific and popular genre writer John Kenneth Muir at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV. Number two is the availability of all ten episodes on YouTube, apparently recorded from a Bravo Network showing of the series. Thanks to this generous YouTube user, the show can now be seen, and perhaps will gain a following strong enough to entice some production company to produce a DVD set, or at least make the show available in a high-quality streaming format.

While “The Fantastic Journey” suffered from all the usual detriments of genre television shows of the era (low budgets, recycled props, impossible deadlines, static camera work etc.), there was an intelligence about the show. The great Dorothy Fontana (“Star Trek”, “Logan’s Run”) was story editor of the show and brought her usual trademark of exciting, character driven science fiction writing to the series. In addition, the cast did a terrific job of bringing these characters to life, especially young Ike Eisenmann and the always interesting Roddy McDowall.
Another element of “Journey” that leaves a strong impression is the striking music by composer Robert Prince. Besides the D.C. Fontana influenced writing, this is another area where the show emulates classic “Trek”. The producers allow Prince to let loose and compose bold melodic scores with strong themes and aggressive atonal action music. This is a show where the music is given room to breathe. Several of these episodes are worth tracking down and watching on YouTube for the music alone.
The main title theme for “The Fantastic Journey” is pure, unabashed ‘70s. Robert Prince utilizes his jazz background to deliver a funky melodic overture that is as irresistible as the montage and accompanying narration that introduces the characters and sets up the premise of the show.

The two best episodes of “Journey” also features the two best scores.

“An Act of Love”, is part “This Side of Paradise” (the classic Trek episode written by D.C. Fontana) part “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and features some of the best character moments in the entire series. The score, anchored around an ethereal female choral, is absolutely haunting. It contains one of the strongest pure love themes of any genre show ever and infuses the episode with a profound sense of obsessive romanticism, mystery and wonder. The “Temple of Doom” part of the score works well also, creating as Prince uses Goldsmith/Rosenman action rhythms to create a pounding excitement and sense of danger.

“Funhouse” is more or less a pure horror episode that makes brilliant use of its carnival setting to create a claustrophobic house of horrors feel. Once again Robert Prince is called upon to create what the budget could not as his atonal blend of harsh (and effective) electronics mixed with bursts of avant-garde orchestra add to the thrills.

“A Dream of Conquest” guest stars the great John Saxon as a cruel, power mad dictator in a solid “civilization of the week” episode. The score to this episode (which features an intelligent primate the cast must rescue from the abusive Saxon) is highlighted by several rousing action cues featuring aggressive bursts of escalating brass and percussion in the atonal style pioneered by Goldsmith and Rosenman in the “Planet of the Apes” series.
"Atlantium", the second episode in which we are introduced to the enigmatic Liana played by the beautiful Katie Saylor, is another strong score centered around a soaring new age Enya-esque motif. In another classic Trek play, music from this episode, as well as “An Act of Love” was tracked into later episodes.

Bottom line: “The Fantastic Journey” is a lost science fiction gem from the disco decade and features bold, aggressive music that hardcore, old-school soundtrack fans will love.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top five influences on ‘Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever’

Sequels are perilous endeavors loaded with expectations. When I committed to the "Caitlin Star" sequel, my mantra was simple. It had to be better. It had to exciting as all hell. It to work as a stand-alone adventure.

The smashing stand-alone sequel novel to Caitlin Star is more character focused, more epic, and contains much stronger science fiction element than its predecessor. It takes place on a different continent with a much more exotic setting (the Congo Basin in Central Africa).  It is a fast paced, propulsive story moving Caitlin forward on her journey toward her ultimate destiny.

There were many, eclectic influences on the creation of Caitlin Star and the Bull Mongoni saga. Here are the top five that had the most direct effect on the rousing new science fiction action adventure epic, “Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever”.

Birds of Prey

The female heroes/vigilantes/anti-heroes and villains of the DC Comics universe have all had an influence on Caitlin Star. The Bull Mongoni attitude of crusading for social justice can be seen in all of the characters and nobody is fiercer about protecting the earth from greedy humans than Poison Ivy. Physically, both in terms of athletic ability and appearance, there is a lot of Black Canary in Caitlin. Lori, Gunner and Caitlin’s hacker genius operations chief was partially inspired by Barbara Gordon when she was the Oracle character.

Anthropology 101

Lots and lots of non-fiction science and reference books, especially "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" by Nicholas Wade and "The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans".

To paraphrase what Gunner Star said in my first book over a decade ago, “Did you ever study anthropology? Me? I am fascinated by the stuff. Just can’t get enough. Find out about the past. Find out where you came. And you find yourself.”

When studying all of the various species of great apes that sprung off from the hominid branch, I came upon a mythic species called the Bull Mongoni who thrived throughout Africa and Eurasia until the Homo sapiens left Africa and began to spread across the planet like a destructive virus. The Bull Mongoni mysteriously vanished sometime between 10,000 B.C and the rise of Sumeria. But the hirsute hominids left behind a written and illustrated record of their existence and their philosophy in “The Sacred Scrolls of Tarmok.” These scrolls are the foundation of the Bull Mongoni philosophy espoused by Gunner Star and passed on to his protégé Caitlin.

Movie soundtracks

Music is the most mysterious, motivating, transporting, inspiring, profound, emotional artistic creation there is. I always listen to music when I create and write. I hear the music, and I see the characters and the story unfold before me. There were many tracks spinning on my CD player and in my iPod during the creation of “Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever”, especially “The Lost World” by John Williams, “Avatar” and “The Missing” by James Horner, and “John Carter” by “Michael Giacchino.

Land of the Lost

One of the inspirations behind the creators of “Lost” and a whole generation of science fiction writers, (including yours truly), it is astounding how well written this cult 1970’s live action Saturday morning children’s television series was. The first two seasons (1974-1976) featured a who’s who in the elite science fiction writers of the era including Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, Walter Koenig, and “Land of Lost” co-creator and story editor David Gerrold.


I make no secret about my guilty pleasure love of “Supergirl”. The DC Comics New 52 re-launch of the title features Kara/Supergirl as an emotional, powerful, angst-ridden teenager looking for her place in the world. There is a lot of Supergirl in Caitlin Star. In some ways she is Kara Zor-El in black spandex with a cutlass sword.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ soundtrack review

Michael Giacchino is the soundtrack savior for film music fans who grew up on the classic genre scores from the holy trilogy of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner—not to mention a long list of other superb talents such as John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Bruce Broughton, Alan Silvestri, and many others.
Many of those composers are no longer with us. Silvestri recently gave us the outstanding music for the new “Cosmos” series on Fox—but like James Horner—seems to have semi-retired from major film scoring. John Williams (with the occasional rare exception) only does Spielberg films now. Sadly, Broughton has not been given a major scoring assignment since 1998’s “Lost in Space” reboot bombed.
Which leaves us with Hans Zimmer. And understand, I am a Zimmer fan and one of the few soundtrack writers who liked his work for Nolan’s “Batman” films (especially “The Dark Knight Rises”) and his controversial “Man of Steel” opus. But must every single blockbuster or franchise be scored by a Zimmer prodigy, or a Zimmer clone, or a Zimmer rip-off artist third generation removed? After a while it all starts to sound like one big wall of cluttered orchestrations and droning waves of white noise.
Sure there is Alexandre Desplat, and he has delivered a few knockout genre scores including this year’s menacing score for “Godzilla”. But his sensibilities just seem better matched to Oscar bait dramas. When it comes to larger than life, iconic genre cinema, it is Michael Giacchino who is the heir apparent to the classic composers of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Because of this composing lineage thrust upon him by the fans and by the nature of the assignments he chooses, the expectations for a new Giacchino score—especially with a film like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”—are sky high.
And make no mistake about it, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a great film, and great films must have music to match their onscreen ambitions and emotions. I am happy to report that Michael Giacchino’s score for “Dawn” meets those expectations. His music not only synergistically matches the onscreen action and drama, it many places it adds another layer of deep emotion to this powerful, moving, unforgettable cinematic experience.

Giacchino’s approach to “Dawn” is similar what Patrick Doyle did for his excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” score. He concentrates on the characters and emotions. “Rise” was “E.T.”—the story of a makeshift nuclear family and their adopted son. A love story between Caesar and Will instead of E.T. and Elliot. “Dawn” is an epic war drama and Giacchino appropriately scores Matt Reeve’s ape opera as if were “The Winds of War” meets “The Godfather” by anchoring his score in a sweeping, emotional main theme, “The Great Ape Processional”. This is the gorgeous, emotion-drenched music that plays over the opening scenes at the ape village and during the bittersweet finale. There is a beautiful, John Barry-esque melancholy feel to this flexible theme, reminiscent of the love theme from “John Carter” (2012).
I have said this before and it is worth repeating here. Michael Giacchino writes the best sad music of any living composer. “Dawn” as a movie is so many things; epic, fascinating, exciting, super cool, visually spectacular, socially relevant, emotionally involving—but above all it is achingly sad. This is, after all, a tragedy, and Giacchino is the perfect composer to bring out these powerful emotions. This is a movie and a score that will make you feel and will stay with you.

But the composer is no slouch when it comes to action music either. There is a long history of outstanding action music in “Planet of the Apes” movies—from Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde classic to Leonard Rosenman’s atonal brilliance to Danny Elfman’s brooding strains for Tim Burton’s much-hated remake—to Patrick Doyle’s jaunty theme for Buck in “Rise”. Michael Giacchino does not disappoint in this regard by delivering what can only be described as “The Imperial March” of “Dawn”.

This outstanding action march serves as Koba’s theme and contains a wonderful motif that pays homage to Goldsmith’s “The Hunt” from the 1968 classic. This music is featured in several set pieces beginning with “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” when Caesar orders Koba to follow the humans after Carver shoots Nash, and again when apes march into San Francisco in an exhilarating show of strength.
Michael Giacchino’s music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is well represented on the soundtrack album and features several lengthy, well-developed cues including the exciting action tracks “Gorilla Warfare” and “How Bonobo Can You Go”. The composer brings us full circle with a moving statement of the main theme in “Primates For Life” before rewarding us with what all soundtrack lovers crave in any album, a grand reprise of all the main themes in “Planet of the End Credits”.
Bottom line: Michael Giacchino has been given his best film to score and had responded by delivering his best work to date. It is a powerful, epic, exciting, moving score that will please fans of the movie, the composer, and anyone who enjoyed his scores for “Super 8” (2011), “John Carter” (2012), and of course “Lost” (2004-2010).

Friday, July 4, 2014

A guide to ‘The Planet of the Apes’

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” arrives next week on the heels of a fantastic looking trailer and extremely positive early buzz. In preparation to what could end up being the “Empire Strikes Back” of “Planet of the Apes” films, let us take a look back at the previous entries into this storied franchise featuring our great ape brothers and sisters.
There is an entire universe of material to explore in preparation for “Dawn of Planet of the Apes”, including action figures, lunchboxes, a live action television series, an animated show, and an outstanding new “Dawn” prequel novel, “Firestorm” by Greg Keyes. But it all starts with the films.

“Planet of the Apes” (1968)
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Based on the novel “La Planète des singes” by Pierre Boulle
Released during one of the most transformative years in world history, “Planet of the Apes” was one of three science fiction classics released in 1968 (along with “2001” and “Barbarella”) that forever changed cinematic history. Charlton Heston’s powerful presence, Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter’s great performances, Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde score, John Chamber’s revolutionary make up effects—“Planet of the Apes” features one iconic moment after another and has etched its mark into our collective memory and thepop culture fabric as a forever classic.

“Beneath the Planet of Apes” (1970)
Directed by Ted Post
Screenplay by Paul Dehn
Story by Mort Abrahams
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
A rehash of the first film combined with a bizarre storyline about a group of mutant telepathic humans who pray to an atomic bomb and featuring a grudging cameo appearance by Charlton Heston, “Beneath” is the weakest film in the entire franchise. But still, there is some great stuff here. An atonal soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman that is even more avant-garde than Jerry Goldsmith’s classic, the hippie protest scenes are priceless, and there is just an overall weirdness that gives this entry an irresistible cult film vibe.

Directed by Don Taylor
Written by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
Screenwriter Paul Dehn came on board the franchise for “Beneath” and went on to write all of the sequels. He is in many ways, the true auteur of the original classic franchise and beginning with this film (where Cornelius and Zira escape from the atomic explosion at the end of “Conquest” by traveling back in time via astronaut’s ship), he created one of the most fascinating time loops of any franchise. Although this entertaining movie is considered to be the “comedy” of the series, “Young and the Restless” soap opera star Eric Braeden gives a chilling performance as the villain.

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
Dark, haunting, emotionally affecting, and shockingly effective and convincing despite a miniscule budget of only 1.7 million (compared to 5.8 million for the original). Much like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “Conquest” tells the origin story of Caesar. The filmmakers made great use of the then futuristic looking, brand new Century City shopping complex. There is a wonderful, creepy, Orwellian feel to this story. Ricardo Montablan is fantastic as Caesar’s owner/friend and Roddy McDowell gives his greatest “Apes” performance. Jazz fusion saxophonist and arranger Tom Scott composed the minimalistic, atonal score. Acclaimed novelist John Jakes wrote a terrific novelization of Paul Dehn’s screenplay with the original, darker ending.

"Battle for the Planet of the Apes" (1973)
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington
Story by Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
If “Rise of the Planet of Apes” (2011) is kind of sort of a re-imagining of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, then “Battle” is more or less the antecedent of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014). “Conquest” was able to overcome the paltry budget through clever location shooting and spot on performances. But “Battle” is—well—a battle—and demanded more of an epic approach not possible with the shoestring budget. Still, the filmmakers did the best with what they had to work with and were helped out immensely by another great Roddy McDowell performance. An entertaining film that works well as a children’s movie. Science fiction author David Gerrold wrote an outstanding novelization of the screenplay.

“Planet of the Apes” (2001)
Directed by Tim Burton
Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Based on characters created by Pierre Boulle
This long-gestating “remake” is despised by many “Apes” fans—and with good reason. The script is nonsensical, the ending inane, and there is something just not cool when a movie whose theme is the immorality of exploiting another species—actually exploits the species in its title! On top of all of this, the movie simply does not feel like a “Planet of the Apes Movie”. That being said, there is much to like about the film. The art direction is gorgeous (it is a Tim Burton movie after all), Helena Bonham Carter is terrific, Danny Elfman’s muscular score is one of his best, and the great Rick Baker once again sets a new standard for physical in-camera makeup/creature effects.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Premise suggested by “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle
When “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” premiered on August 5, 2011, it caught everyone off guard who was expecting a cynical attempt to cash in on a dormant franchise with golden brand name recognition. Instead of an exploitive popcorn flick, director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver delivered an instant, modern classic featuring an unforgettable main character, Caesar, brought to life in a knockout performance by Andy Serkis, with flawless special effects by Weta Digital of “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” fame.
Despite the state of the art (and stunning) visuals, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a throwback film. It is under two hours long, an extreme rarity in today’s marketplace of bloated, over stuffed movies with multiple false endings. On the contrary, “Rise” is a tight, fast paced beautifully shot and staged film. It is an emotionally rich, character driven story that harkes back to the days of Spielberg’s humanistic approach to science fiction in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “E.T.” (1982).
At its heart “Rise” is a love story about family and the relationship Caesar has with his human father Will, grandfather Charles, and mother Caroline—and the tragedy of how he lost them.