If you give a mouse a cookie, he'll want a glass of milk to wash it down. If you give an ape an automatic weapon, he'll want hollow point ammunition to reload. I rushed out to the moving picture show to see the latest installment in the Planet of the Apes saga, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." It continues the cycle of time that I have been reviewing since the early seventies: The one in which super-intelligent chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas end up taking over the world, only to succumb to the very same frailties that were the undoing of their oh-so-human predecessors. For the record, I am as helpless in this matter of buying tickets to see the Apes movies as I am to buying the latest Stephen King novel. It wasn't a question as to when I was going to go see the latest chapter, but how many people I would drag along with me. This is the vortex of pop culture to which I continue to subject myself, my family, and my friends.
That said, what possible wrinkle could I expect this time, as I watched Caesar lead his simian army against the threat of extinction at the hands of a terrified and brutal band of human survivors? My wife, who chose not to go along with us on this trip down Hasslein's Time Curve already had her ideas, having seen the previews: "I'll bet there will be a bunch of monkeys with guns, trying to kill a bunch of humans with guns." She may have missed some of the nuanced bits of story and character, but pretty well captured the gist of what happened this time around. That's the thing about a time curve, it tends to bend around on itself and starts to repeat. The idea that Caesar would not take up arms against his oppressors seems like a pretty tough pitch in the offices of Twentieth Century Fox. Especially in the twenty-first century.
But there was something else, just below the text, what I'll refer to as "subtext." This was an anti-gun movie. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. Al Gore's Internet is filling up with voices from both sides of the gun control issue, ready to take this summer's popcorn fest and turn it into a rallying cry for more or less guns. Pick a side: Apes or humans. Guns or no guns. It's a pretty simple conclusion to draw, but I confess on my initial viewing I was more caught up with the naming of the big orangutan Maurice and the search for further echoes of the original series. Apes will tend to get guns, and that's just the way this chunk of evolution works. Now, how are they going to work James Franco back into the sequel? And where is Ricardo Montalban? Back in the early 1970's, the kind of revolt we were watching was thinly veiled allusion to the unrest in our inner cities. That's why nervous executives asked the makers of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" to add a poorly looped speech from that Caesar suggesting that it was time to let the fires burn out and for his ape supporters to put their guns down.
Ape shall not kill ape. We know that because that is what the Lawgiver taught us. Apes often kill humans. That's what sells tickets after all. But if the guns had just stayed locked up in the armory, whether at the end of "Dawn" or the climax of "Battle," could lives have been spared? Would we have needed to pry a rifle from Colonel Taylor's cold, dead hands? Or would he be more concerned with the paws of apes? Maybe we could all afford to be just a little more philoosphical. Science fiction gives us all a chance to reflect on our current reality, with an eye to possible futures. Do we want to live in a world where apes have automatic weapons? Maybe DEVO was right about everything.