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IUPUI Communications and Marketing
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Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Anthropologist, English lecturer comment on 'Planet of the Apes' popularity, cultural themes

Aug. 3, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- The newest installment of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, opens in theaters this weekend.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology Professor Paul R. Mullins and IUPUI English Lecturer Michal Hughes are available for comment on the popularity and cultural themes of the movie series.

What is the secret of the popularity of the Planet of the Apes series?

  • Hughes: "The secret to that is Rod Serling. Although his original script was rewritten, the creative team kept Serling's trademark twist ending: it captured the imagination of a generation of viewers who had seen and read a large body of post-apocalyptic literature. Most post-apocalyptic stories from this period of time were more like Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog, people scavenging the ruins for scraps of food. Serling provided a far more devastating image; humans as subspecies."
  • Mullins: "Planet of the Apes is fascinating because it delivers a cautionary tale about what might happen should the weak inherit the earth; in this case, the weak are apes -- our closest relatives -- who inherit the world following humankind's own destruction of itself, so it is about the way we hold the seeds of our own destruction. That tale was originally spun in the 1960s in a Cold War moment and in the midst of racist strife, and much of the series involves racial symbolism (e.g., apes are sold in some of the films in sales that are clearly meant to invoke slave markets) and the fear of nuclear warfare that hung over the film when it opened in 1968 . . ."

Is Planet of the Apes "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," and therefore worthy of placement in the National Film Registry?

  • Hughes: "It most certainly is. The original film spawned four sequels, a television series, comic books along with the remake and this reboot of the franchise. An entire generation of science fiction fans grew up watching all of these Planet of the Apes movies at from dusk-till-dawn drive in theaters . . . It would be hard to list all the television, film and science fiction stories with references to the Planet of the Apes franchise."
  • Mullins: "What the last Tim Burton movie showed is that just a beautiful looking movie with apes in clothes is not enough to make a movie popular; somehow those themes of racial and cultural apocalypse need to resonate to make the film anything more than a momentary entertainment, and the original had that pertinence so it is often hailed as being a landmark because it speaks to its moment so well."

Mullins, chair of the Department of Anthropology in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and popular culture expert, has taught a class that includes Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics and Popular Culture as a required textbook.

Hughes teaches science fiction literature in the Department of English in the School of Liberal Arts. His academic interests include science fiction and fantasy. Hughes' writings include "The Confessions of a Science Fiction Reader: Notes upon values taught by Science Fiction and Fantasy" in Reaching Young People through Media.

To arrange an interview with Mullins or Hughes, please contact Diane Brown at 317-274-2195 (office), 317-371-0437 (cell), or