Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Great Moments in Cinematic Archaeology I just realized that 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of Planet of the Apes:

Why particularly archaeology? Why, because one of the main characters, Dr. Cornelius (played by one of my faves, Roddy McDowall), was an archaeologist! The actual archaeology doesn't come in until the end, when Cornelius ("Oh, yes -- the young ape with a shovel"), Zira, Dr. Zaius, and Taylor and Nova, are in a cave site where Cornelius is describing the results of his excavations:

It was at this level I discovered traces of an early ape creature -- stage of primitive barbarism, really -- dating back roughly thirteen hundred years. It was here I found cutting tools and arrowheads of quartz and the fossilized bones of carnivorous gorillas. (Ed. !!!)

But the artifacts lying at your feet were found here, at this level. And that's the paradox. The more ancient culture is the more advanced. Admittedly, many of these objects are unidentified, but clearly they were fashioned by beings with a knowledge of metallurgy.

Indeed, the very fact that these tools are unknown to us could suggest a culture in certain ways almost equal to our own. Some of the evidence is uncontestable ...

(ZAIUS, interrupting)
Don't speak to me in absolutes. The evidence is contestable.

I apologize.

To begin with, your methods of dating the past are crude, to say the least. There are geologists on my staff who would laugh at your speculations.

One figures the "dating" they're talking about is some form of relative dating based on sediments, seriation, etc. Note that throughout the film, Cornelius's work is an attempt to go beyond the Sacred Scrolls which pretty much mirrors the development of archaeology/geology to reconcile Biblical history with the budding of the earth sciences in establishing the antiquity of both humans and the planet.

It's pretty unilineal in its view of evolution, depending as it does on a straight-line evolution from apes -- not just apes, but modern apes -- to Man and vice versa. This was dated even at the time in academic circles at least, but such a view was probably still widespread in popular culture. By then, it had been well established that the precursors to both humans and modern apes were a common ancestor, not actual gorillas, chimpanzees, etc.

I vaguely remember seeing it in the theater when it came out, but I can't be sure. I have a memory of seeing it along with Vanishing Point at a drive-in, but those films were three years apart. OTOH, it might have been something like a re-release double feature that we went to. I have a hard time believing that I could remember something from when I was, you know, six. Errrr, mostly what I remember of Vanishing Point was the car crash at the end and seeing NAKED FEMALE BOOBS for the first time.

I haven't sat through and watched the whole thing in a while, probably 10 years ago when its 30th anniversary was being celebrated. I bring it up now because I think the Biography Channel is running the 1998 documentary on the series. They spend most of the time on the first one, but go into the later ones as well. I do remember watching the TV series religiously; I really liked that.

One other tidbit of perhaps some anthropological interest: In interviews, Charleton Heston remarked that during filming, the actors playing the various species of ape -- gorilla, chimp, orangutan -- would tend to cluster by themselves with their own 'species' on the set. Could be from a number of factors, of course, and Heston himself stated that he wasn't sure if it meant anything or not, but I always found that interesting.