(PARIS) These days we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Planet of the Apes in the cinema. But who remembers the French writer behind this saga? Pierre who?
Fifty years ago, almost to the day, the first film of The Planet of the Apes was launched . Nine feature films, a TV series, a cartoon and dozens of derivative products later, the most monkey film franchise has become a real empire, just like Alien, Batman or Star Wars. Few know, however, that the origin of this immense success is a small 190-page novel, published in 1963 by the French author Pierre Boulle. La Presse spoke with Jean Loriot-Boulle, the heir to this pioneer of French science fiction, today a little forgotten …
The first film of The Planet of the Apes , launched in 1968, took some liberties compared to the novel. What had Pierre Boulle thought?
The first part of the film for him was excellent. He found the maquillages of monkeys particularly successful. On the other hand, he did not like the end with the Statue of Liberty, which was not in the book. But the critics loved it. So he figured he might be a bad judge. He ended up getting the idea.
The next four films, released between 1970 and 1973, were even further from the original work. Did he appreciate them?
To be honest with you, I’ve never heard him rave about the movies. But he assumed that he was a writer and not a writer. He said to himself: why not if it leads to something good … It was a kind of kindly passivity.
Had he agreed to these suites?
On the purely legal level, one can not imagine that he did not agree. Especially since there were advantages. It must be remembered that the first film in the series was a real triumph with revenues of over $ 30 million. So it was obvious that every time the Americans wanted to continue the adaptation of the film with its complements, they paid important fees, divided between Pierre Boulle and the publisher of the book, Julliard.
Did the planet of the monkeys make it rich?
More than the adaptation of the Kwai River Bridge [its other great success]. For Kwai , the publisher was so convinced that the American offer was a miracle, they said to themselves: do not ask too much. So the rights were sold to Columbia Studios for a handful of dollars – no more than 15,000 euros, according to Pierre Boulle!
On the other hand, the success of the film, released in 1957, made it famous. So when Fox asked for the rights to The Planet of the Apes , he went for a cheaper contract. Rich? It has not changed anything in his life, in the sense that he has always kept his work discipline. But it gave him means. He bought an apartment in Marseille. A house in Auxerre. He was traveling a bit. Spoiled his sister and niece, with whom he lived. You must not think he was a billionaire, but he lived well.
How did the idea of The Planet of the Apes come to him ?
He did not remember anymore. He thought it was after a visit to the Paris Zoo where he had observed gorillas. He was impressed by their almost human expressions and that led him to imagine what a relationship would give ape-men. Many thought it was the King Kong movie that inspired it, but it’s totally wrong.
Pierre Boulle has more than 40 books to his credit. What place did the Planet of the Apes occupy in his work?
He never considered it one of his best novels. Nor like a science fiction novel. Initially, for him, it was more a kind of fantasy, a story a bit philosophical science fiction was a pretext.
He felt that he could have done better parts of the book. He had no idea that several decades after his death, we would still talk about it.
The films were very successful, but we have a little forgotten the existence of the novel, even Pierre Boulle himself. How to explain it?
I do not know. It’s a bit like Pierre Boulle’s drama. I think he was eclipsed by his lonely side. He spoke little and fled the media. But when you run away from the media, after a while, they leave you out. Suddenly, Pierre Boulle became this “illustrious unknown”. That would explain why he is a little out of the way today. There is a blackout on Pierre Boulle and his work, which some people find scandalous.
A work that also counts some unpublished, including this scenario, entitled The planet of men …
Yes. In 1968, after the success of the first film of Planet of the Apes, producer Arthur P. Jacobs asked Boulle to write the sequel. But the Fox people made so many changes to his script that he ended up losing interest in the project … After his death in 1994, we found the script. We sent it to the Fox. Who would be studying it right now? I can not tell you more. But we can hope that the sky gets involved and we will talk soon about Pierre Boulle and The Planet of the Apes …