First published back in 1963 as the novel ‘La Planète Des Singes’ by French author Pierre Boulle  (translated as ‘Monkey Planet’ in the UK and ‘Planet Of The Apes’ in the US), the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ tale has since become a highly revered science fiction story, with the basic premise (and subsequent franchise) adapted numerous times over the years for tv, film, audio and comic books. 

Here we have the original novel read in its full and unabridged format by the highly revered audio reader Greg Wise which is presented in a six CD set by the BBC.  The audiobook was first released in March of 2012.

DLS Synopsis:
It is the distant future and Jinn and Phyllis are out in space on a pleasure cruise when they come across a ‘message in a bottle’, floating through the endless void of space.  The couple bring the bottle and its contents on board their spacecraft and start to read the contents.  The message enclosed is a fantastical story that is far beyond the capability of belief...

After the aging scientist Professor Antelle’s ground-breaking spacecraft has finally been realised, together with his friend Ulysse Mérou, the physicist Arthur Levain and their chimpanzee, Hector, the trio and monkey leave the relative comfort of Earth in the year of 2500 and take to the star system that houses the red sun Betelgeuse where the professor believes there is the possibility that life could be sustained.  With the ship travelling at just under the speed of light, and because of time dilation,  the crew will travel for around two years, whereas the time that passes back on Earth during this period of travel  is in fact close to 350 years.

After finally arriving in the desired star system, they land upon a planet that appears much akin to that of their home planet of Earth.  They immediately name the planet ‘Soror’ after the Latin word for ‘Sister’.  Leaving their spacecraft, the explorers find that the planet contains many of the same properties as Earth.  They can breathe the air, drink the water, and the vegetation appears as lush and green as that back at home.  Approaching a nearby expanse of water, the group spot a beautiful naked young woman who takes instant exception to the presence of their travelling chimpanzee Hector.

Before they can take command of the situation, the woman launches herself at the monkey, killing it with one brutal but finely tuned manoeuvre.  Shocked by the sudden explosion of violence from the woman against their chimpanzee companion, the trio is put instantly on guard.  But gradually, as the woman shows that she is no further threat to the group, they gradually begin to become enticed into the beckoning games she is playing in the water.

When they come out of the water and back on to land, the explorers quickly find themselves confronted by the colony of people that the woman they have now dubbed as ‘Nova’ is clearly from.  The three explorers are stripped of their clothes and their spacecraft is ravaged by these seemingly primitive beings.

And then the apes arrive.  Chaos and madness ensues.  The apes, monkeys and chimpanzees launching an assault on the whole colony of humans.  In the manic violence, the humans are quickly rounded-up by the highly organised monkeys, and locked up in motor-powered vehicles with purpose built cages secured to their main body.

Ulysse finds himself being carted off with the rest of the captives, to be driven into a great city where the apes are the sole rulers.  Along the streets Ulysse sees apes carrying weapons, using machinery and living what would appear to be a more ‘human’ existence.  And slowly it dawns on him that he, as a human, is no longer at the top of the social pecking order.  Somehow, here on Soror, the apes have become the dominant species.  And the desperate madness of the situation is only to get a whole lot worse for Ulysse and his travelling companions...

DLS Review:
Since its release, ‘Planet Of The Apes’ has become somewhat of an iconic story.  Moreover, the concept has become a franchise unto itself.  With numerous adaptations, sequels, spin-offs and re-workings of the story still being produced even to this day, that in itself is a testament to the stark originality of the original tale.

So, does it stand up to and ultimately deserve such tremendous recognition?   As an original concept alone it most certainly does.  But behind the undoubted originality of the tale lies a slightly more mediocre storyline.  Okay, so this statement is more than likely not going to win me many friends.  I can certainly appreciate that.  But after sitting through the seven odd hours that this audio presentation runs for, I have to say that I came away feeling just a little bit underwhelmed by the whole tale.

True enough later adaptations, such as Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film, or indeed Tim Buton’s 2001 reimagining, have created some truly spectacular re-workings of the original concept. The most noticeable alteration being the overall thickening out of the storyline as a whole, creating a more involved and action-rich plot, with layered subplots and a more urgent pace.

Sadly, Boulle’s original reaches a pinnacle at around the halfway mark and then slowly but surely begins to tail off.  The pace soon enough grinds almost to a halt, with more emphasis put on ‘monkey politics’ alongside a whole ‘animal testing’ parody than on anything else.  As the second half of the tale creeps along, it begins to feel more like William Kotzwinkle’s ‘Doctor Rat’ (1976) without the much needed comical relief than a powerful sci-fi classic.

However, the tale certainly has its moments.  To be fair, the first half is action-packed, exciting, engaging and well-paced.  The characterisation, although lacking in much depth other than a brief ‘once over’, still holds its own with the way the plot never really deviates from its final goal.

Greg Wise’s reading is clear, his soothing vocals setting a generally relaxing atmosphere whilst still adding a small degree of urgency or drama where required.  However, during scenes of heightened suspense, Wise’s voice seems to fall slightly short of the levels of drama required to really portray the scene.  The moments of chaotic action feel softened and less desperate, the moments of nail-biting tension a little less intense.

However, all in all the BBC’s six CD audio presentation still offers up an excellent reading of the massively influential story, and one which many good science fiction fans will no doubt enjoy time and time again.

The audiobook runs for a total of 7 hours (approx).

© DLS Reviews

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