Comparison and Analysis

Major Differences Between Planet of the Apes Novel and Film

  Novel    Equivalent in 1968 Film
 Planet Soror Earth
 Names of Characters Ulysse Mérou    Taylor
  Professor Antelle    Landon
  Arthur Levain Dodge
 Minor Characters Hector (Earth chimpanzee) None
  Sirius (Ulysse's child) None
  None Lucius (Zira's nephew)
 Major Details and Plot Events Spaceship lands Spaceship sinks in lake
  Apes speak simian language; 
 Ulysse initially cannot understand, speak to, and therefore communicate with apes
 Apes speak English;
 Ulysse shot in neck and cannot speak
  Ulysse formally addresses the ape community, which then accepts him   Taylor curses the apes upon his capture after his failed escape, after which the apes consider him a threat
  No religion Apes have religion based on the Sacred Scrolls
  Antelle naturally reverts to bestiality    Landon loses intelligence and consciousness through a lobotomy


Turning Pierre Boulle’s novel into a film involved two different processes of translation, one from French to English and another from the written medium of a novel to the visual medium of film. As a result of both translation processes, the novel and film differ in several aspects to best cater to their respective form of media while still retaining the fundamental concepts that comprise Planet of the Apes.

The movie both simplifies and changes several major points in the novel to better adapt the story for a medium more limited by the human attention span. The film omits many details present in the novel: While the novel presents a language barrier as a significant obstacle for Ulysse to overcome, the film omits it entirely to save time by foregoing the entire time-consuming process of learning a new language. The film also makes significant and appropriate additions: only present in the film, the escape scenes from the spaceship and from the human cages excite and engage the audience with the thrilling possibilities of death if the escapes fail, keeping momentum where the novel can instead devote chapters to passive description. The film's ending on Earth streamlines the story’s message into a powerful one about humankind’s capacity to self-destruct, whereas the novel closes with the more subdued folly of the apes’ ingrained beliefs. The use of action to lead towards a specific message in a brief period of time gives the film its power.

On the other hand, the novel's length and descriptive capacities allow it to explore more nuanced concepts more deeply and at its own pace. In order to preserve its concision and accessiblity, the film makes several substitutions for the sake of simplification: the film cuts out Sirius, Ulysse’s son, and instead introduces Zira’s nephew Lucius and has Professor Antelle permanently physically altered through lobotomy rather than through treatment as an animal. Thus, the film avoids having to address the social and ethical repercussions of interplanetary birth and the power of dehumanization to naturally induce a permanent state of bestiality. The film replaces such equivocal issues with more straightforward ones, introducing a clear-cut religion vs. science conflict in which Zira and Cornelius alone defend their theory of a once human-ruled planet, so that although audience members may oppose the outcome, they can nonetheless take comfort in the definite philosophical positions of the characters rather than be burdened by the numerous philosophical complexities brought up in the novel.

Whether on Earth or on a distant planet like Soror, the prospect of apes succeeding humans as a planet’s dominant species serves as an alarming TEOTWAKI (The End of the World As We Know It) scenario in both the movie and novel, raising several different not-easily-answerable questions:

Do all intelligent species possess an equal capacity for eventual rational, conscious thought?

Did humans become the sole possessor of it on Earth solely by chance?

Could humans truly be overthrown by newly-intelligent animals?

Do animals deserve treatment as animals, even if they are human?

Simian society also functions as a symbol for a defective, backwards human society. As Laurence M. Porter notes in his "Text of Anxiety, Text of Desire: Boulle's Planète des singes as Popular Culture," the apes “lack creativity” (Porter 710), their transportation stagnating at cars in the novel and at horseback in the film. Additionally, the division of the apes into their respective species— gorilla, orangutan, and chimpanzee—and assigning them specific character traits and vocational leanings evokes racism among humans, and yet the sympathetic and three-dimensional portrayal of individuals such as Zira and Cornelius in both the book and film do not entirely rule out simian society’s capacity for good.

All in all, the Planet of the Apes works broaden its audiences’ worldviews by raising a multitude of questions regarding the commonly-held assumption of human superiority, the divide between species, and the difference between an animalistic existence and a conscious, intelligent one. The concept of Planet of the Apes in both written and visual media has held its universal appeal for over half a century and continues to do so today unabated, its every character and plot turn both grabbing the attention of excitement-seekers and provoking thought in the more reflective.