From Apes to Martians
by Angela B. Chrysler
Last night, I watched The Martian. But I’m not here to talk about how great the movie is (and it is). I’m here to talk about something else. I remember watching this film and thinking, “Wow. This is the first of its kind.”
Sure, there has been “My Friendly Martian” and “Attack From Mars.” And over the next ten years, Hollywood writers are going to throw more “Mars Colonized” and “Chaos on Mars” and “Man on Mars” movies as NASA embarks on this next chapter of getting the homo sapien sapien to Mars. But The Martian was the first. The year is 2016, just thirteen years after we first launched the Mars Rovers in 2003. We are very close to the day when Man takes his first step on Mars.
Our attitude is certainly different, isn’t it? Our nay-saying “Putting men on the moon? That’s ridiculous!” has become excited waves of optimism. One could almost say we have the confidence of a certain ship about to embark on her first voyage in 1912. This era reminds me so much of that moment in First Contact when the hyper drive alerts our advancements to the Federation of Planets.
What happened this morning ignited a thought I had never had before and requires a slight tangent.
If you’re a frequent flier on my site, you’ve noticed my passion for classic television. It has always bothered me that my children don’t know names like Marlon Brando, Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn (They’re watching My Fair Lady at the moment… for the first time. I got tired of explaining to them that “Loverly” isn’t bad grammar)… So this morning, I finally decided to start them on classic films. Every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, I introduce them to a new classic. But which one to start with?
I browsed my 1960 televised options for something “kid friendly” to ease them into this transition in case they go into this kicking and screaming. I smiled when I landed on one of my first classic: Planet of the Apes from 1968 starring Charleton Heston. I watched this first when I was barely 12 (I think) and loved it the moment I heard, “Get you paws off of me you damn dirty apes!” Best. Movie line. Ever.
I put the movie in and told the children I would be going to work in a moment. But I sat there instead and watched. My kids were asking a plethora of questions. I had to stop the movie a couple times and explain that impatience kills curiosity. While they are asking all the right questions, they need to shut up and listen. Old movies nurture your curiosity. You’re supposed to sit and wait and think to see how the movie enfolds. Another article for another time “Impatience kills curiosity.”
As is the way with old movies, Taylor (Heston) engages in philosophical conversation with his ship mate, Landon, and poses the big question. “Is there any species out there better than Man?”
That is the question isn’t it? And so we sit and watch. That is the movie. I couldn’t tear myself away until that immortal line of “Get your paws off of me you damn dirty apes!” And that is when my mouth hit the floor. And I think wow… just… wow. So here I am writing this article.
The Planet of The Apes was released in 1968 while NASA was doing then with the moon what NASA is doing now with Mars: they are scouting out a region with the intent of putting a man there. Both are just one step closer to the ultimate goal: colonizing another M Class planet. While Planet of the Apes had nothing to do with moon landings, it did have something in common with The Martian by Andy Weir: it launched the first possibility of real space travel and presented a “what if” scenario that entertains our imaginations where lunar landings, space and time travel, and space exploration are concerned.
Now yes, Star Trek began exploring that “What if” on a Deep Space level in 1966—a year before filming even began on Planet of the Apes—while the Doctor began exploring his “What if” with the TARDIS in 1963. But Planet of the Apes didn’t just present a glorious possibility that our technology and mind are one day so advanced that our prime directive is to explore. Look, but don’t touch. Who would have thought Museums would come to rule the universe? Science Fiction presented a real possibility NASA was dealing with… and is still dealing with.
If you recall, Planet of the Apes began all because four astronauts went on an expedition to observe the affects that prolonged space travel has on the body. That is it. It is upon their return that they learn of another complication that becomes the plot—just like The Martian—and the concept of sending astronauts into space to observe the affects on the human body is one that is very real. We’ve done it! There will come a day when we send Man into Deep Space. It is an idea that is as real as sending astronauts to Mars to collect samples.
As real as the theory is presented by the Federation of Planets and the Doctor—to be so advanced in space and time that we can move about in both time and space to boldly go where no man has gone before—these epic sagas present a possibility that is so many light years away that these dreams are currently a Science Fantasy (Why isn’t this a genre yet!?). While The Martian and Planet of the Apes begin with a very realistic mission that NASA has addressed, both films present a very real “lab experiment” that results in a very possible disaster. Not that I’m saying our astronauts will come back twenty centuries later to find the planet run by apes. But is it possible for them to come back later to find that the earth they know and love isn’t how they left it. I can see us in ten… fifteen years… within our lifetime, us sending astronauts on their first mission to Deep Space.
Now what I really see is NASA sending our astronauts into space for a fifteen year voyage into Deep Space and, upon their return, the planet was invaded by aliens who implanted a “virus” that killed humans then reanimated their maggot-infested bodies, which they then used as remote controlled “pods” because the aliens found the air on Earth toxic. Kind of a like a Planet of the Apes meets The Walking Dead meets War of the Worlds. Don’t touch this idea! It’s mine I tell you! MINE! It is my dream, one day to write sci-fi. One day, I’ll build up the confidence enough to actually embark on that expedition.
We’ve come a long way haven’t we? From 2001 Space Odyssey—”Open the Bay Pod doors, Hal”—to time travel, space exploration, The Apollo missions… and now the Ares missions. More than ever it truly does feel that we are getting closer to boldly going where no man has gone before. That time is so close, the tips of my fingers ache to reach out and grab it at the mere thought.
Take my hand and descend into the bowels of darkness! Join me so that you may lay upon your death bed and say that you have lived! Adventure so that you may taste the sweet nectar that flows from the earth… and receive a monthly newsletter from me.
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