Title: Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: The Definitive Unauthorized Chronology
Publisher: Hasslein Books
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How much Planet of the Apes is too much? Rich Handley strives to answer that question in Timeline of the Planet of the Apes, a book that is so obsessive compulsive about Apes continuity minutia that I want to medicate it.
If you’re a fan of the Planet of the Apes series you know
that its unique circular timeline makes it a haven for the detail nerd;
events that are throwaway lines in the first two films become of major
consequence in the final three, and events in the final three inform
what happens in the first two. And, in true pre-internet fashion (and
pre-planned franchise fashion; the filmmakers (and screenwriter Paul
Dehn in particular) were just trying to top themselves in each outing),
the continuity of the films never quite matches up, which lends itself
to lots and lots of fanwankery. These elements make the idea of a book
like Timeline seem appealing – here’s a guy who has sat
down and figured it all out, putting events in chronological order and
making sense out of the mishmash of facts, dates and events.
Except that Handley goes farther. He decides that his version of canon
won’t just include the movies. He’ll include the short-lived TV series,
which blatantly defies continuity (in the TV series humans talk and
cats and dogs, wiped out hundreds of years earlier according to canon,
show up). Then he’ll include the cartoon series, which had almost
nothing to do with continuity (in the films and TV shows the apes were
stuck with horses and wagons, while the cartoon had them in jeeps and
airplanes). Then he’ll include the Marvel Comics, which came out in the
70s, then he’ll include the many other licensed comics, which came out
in the 90s and beyond. Then he’ll include the books on record stories,
released in the 70s for an audience that couldn’t read for themselves.
Then, just when you think Handley has presented himself with an utterly
fucked continuity that cannot possibly be reconciled, he decides to
include the Tim Burton ‘re-imagining.’
I don’t really know why Handley has opted to do that, to be honest.
Each layer of added continuity actually detracts from the book’s main
mission, and instead of making Apes chronology more
accessible, it makes it impossible to follow. Events of the last three
movies, which stretch from 1973 to 2020, are interspersed with weird
asides from licensed media, much of which doesn’t even gibe with
itself. Did Taylor, the astronaut played by Charlton Heston in the
first two films, have no kids, one or two? It’s all three, thanks to
decades of poorly managed continuity, and Handley, instead of
untangling this web, simply lays it out as he finds it.
Even the author becomes exasperated when he tries to include the events of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes;
the fact that he even decided to do this boggles the mind and sort of
shows how the project was essentially doomed from the start. Burton’s
film was never meant to be a part of the other Apes continuity,
and I don’t think there are many sane fans out there clamoring for a
way to squeeze it in. Which is fundamentally impossible, by the way, as
the film takes place (chronally) decades after much of the Earth was
laid waste in a nuclear conflagration in the original films, and long
after apes had ascended to being talking animals.
Handley also opts to not do the most sensible thing when approaching Apes continuity
– instead of going for alternate timelines, he tries to shove
everything into one, messy timeline. Watching the original five films
it becomes obvious that the history that led up to the first Planet of the Apes has
been subtly changed in the final three, which take place thousands of
years before the first film (it’s all sort of confusing). The
introduction of time travel into history appears to change history; it
also makes continuity less of a headache. But that’s not good enough
I feel like I’m giving the guy short shrift here. While I assume he is
in some fashion completely insane, he is also insanely thorough. Buried
deep inside of this book is the ultimate reference for all Planet of the Apes licensed
material. Unfortunately instead of presenting each licensing group in
turn – ie, a chapter on the Marvel Comics continuity, a chapter on the
TV continuity, a chapter on the Adventure Comics continuity, Handley
sprinkles it all throughout, making finding info on specific licenses
tough. The research has been done, but the format in which Handley has
opted to share it is lacking.
What’s not lacking is a terrific gallery at the back of the book featuring video, comic and book covers for all sorts of Planet of the Apes tie-ins.
Handley does also list the different licenses in order back there, but
it’s just titles, no actual info. Missing in the back is an index of
any sort, meaning finding the entries about Escape from the Planet of the Apes requires you to be familiar with the timeline in the first place.
That said, who would be reading this book if they didn’t know the timeline? Timeline of the Planet of the Apes is only for the hardcore Apes fan,
and even then it might be overwhelming. I still haven’t finished
reading through the chronology, mostly because about 80% of the
timeline, the stuff between Battle for the Planet of the Apes and The Planet of the Apes, is
filled with absolutely BS tie-in and extended universe stuff. There are
at least two separate alien invasions of Earth, for example. There are
plenty of nobody characters (like Frito and JoJo – seriously terrific
names for monkeys) that populate the entire middle section of the book.
After a while the whole endeavour felt more like homework than anything
else, and like homework in a dead language.
What I wish that Handley had done was taken this information and contextualized it more. Maybe offered the chronology as a history book instead of a series of bullet-pointed moments. It also would have been nice to see him be more discerning with what he included; yes, I do want to know what happened between Caesar’s uprising at the end of Conquest and the new Ape society at the beginning of Battle, but I don’t want to have to wade through pages of contradictory, half-explained information to find out.
The final strike against Timeline of the Planet of the Apes is the hefty 30 dollar price tag. That said, Handley’s mountain of research will be of interest to hardcore Apes fans. Half of my apartment is a shrine to this series, so Timeline belongs
on my shelf, but if you’re unfamiliar with, say, the two MacDonalds or
the difference between Cornelius and Caesar and Gaelen, this isn’t the
introduction to the series for you. If you like taking an already
complicated continuity and making it impossible to ever untangle, Timeline of the Planet of the Apes is your dream come true.
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