Pierre Boulle

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From Hugh Schofield of the BBC, more about Planet of the Apes novelist Pierre Boulle, who was always mystified by the success of his story about a simian civilization:

“In Boulle’s original book the story is told by two honeymooners holidaying in space, who find a bottle containing a manuscript. It is by a French journalist who tells of his adventures on a planet run by monkeys, where the humans are the dumb animals.

At the end of the account, the journalist arrives back at Orly airport in Paris where he finds the staff… are apes. And there is a kicker when we discover the two honeymooners are themselves chimpanzees.

The one moment the book does not contain is possibly the most memorable point of the film – the discovery at the end of the half-buried Statue of Liberty.

In the film, this communicates the astounding fact that the travellers have fast-forwarded in time, and that they are back on Earth – an Earth devastated by nuclear war, in which the apes have emerged as the new dominant species.

In Boulle’s book, the events take place not on Earth but on a distant planet. (In fact the 2001 film remake by Tim Burton was closer to the book’s plot.)

‘It is a big difference. In the film there is this sense of human responsibility. It is man that has led to the destruction of the planet,’ says Clement Pieyre, who catalogued Boulle’s manuscripts at the French National Library.

‘But the book is more a reflection on how all civilisations are doomed to die. There has been no human fault. It is just that the return to savagery will come about anyway. Everything perishes,’ he says”

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Pierre Boulle wasn’t exactly embarrassed, just perplexed, by the success of The Planet of the Apes, his 1963 French novel which became an unlikely American film franchise in a time before franchises were really a thing. It seemed to him an odd, little fantasy that shouldn’t have approached the popularity of something like the Oscar-winning The Bridge Over the River Kwai, yet it did. A good deal of the big-screen appeal was the remarkable make-up work of John Chambers, who made monkeys out of men (and women), and Boulle was aware of this contribution, but he still couldn’t account for the reception. Here’s a (rough) translation into English of an interview Boulle did about Apes, though I’m not sure of the source:


What inspired you to write Planet of the Apes?

Pierre Boulle:

I do not really remember. I think it was during a visit to the zoo, watching the gorillas. I was impressed by their almost human expressions. This led me to imagine what would a man/monkey relationship. Some believe that I had King Kong in mind when I wrote my book, but this is totally false. Frankly, I have never considered it one of my best novels, but more like a fun fantasy. I’m not very happy with the final result: I think I could have done better with parts of the book.


Do you think the film is faithful to the book?

Pierre Boulle:

You should never ask that of an author whose novel has been made into a film. There have been a lot of changes, and some very disconcerting. My planet had three suns for example. The first part of the film is excellent, and the monkeys’ makeup is particularly successful. I do not like the end with the Statue of Liberty. I prefer mine where finally we were not on Earth but of course on another planet. But critics loved it, so maybe I’m a bad judge. I knew from the outset that the producer Arthur P. Jacobs wanted this. He had it in mind from the first day and told me about it. I replied ‘Why not try it?’ Critics have approved, but I’m a little more rational writer and I prefer everything to be explained from A to Z. I am also completely unable to work in a group, which seems a necessity in the production of a film. When I write, I am alone. I give the book to my editor, and do not want to change anything, to the last comma.


But you have started working on the sequel to Planet of the Apes?

Pierre Boulle:

True. After the success of the first film, Arthur asked me to write more for him. It was called Planet of Women. They initially agreed, but then there were so many changes. I read the script of the Secret of the Planet of the Apes, and it interested me because it had nothing to do with my work. It was completely different. This does not bother me because the film did not ultimately matter to me. I rarely see movies. It is also strange that what I write inspires such visual and adaptable on-screen elements.

What would you attribute the success of the Planet of the Apes?

Pierre Boulle:

Honestly, I have no idea.•

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