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Reviewed by:
  • Planet of the Apes and Philosophy: Great Apes Think Alike ed. by John Huss
  • Stina Attebery
John Huss (ed.), Planet of the Apes and Philosophy: Great Apes Think Alike. Chicago: Open Court, 2013. 288pp. US$14.00 (pbk).

Planet of the Apes and Philosophy: Great Apes Think Alike unfortunately bears all of the hallmarks of a pop philosophy collection. It only briefly explores the most basic philosophical premises of the Planet of the Apes films, assumes that the reader is uneducated and easily distracted, and forces every other essay title into a pun. While the essays collected in this book draw on several versions of Planet of the Apes, the original 1968 film (Schaffner US) and the 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt US) are the most commonly chosen primary texts. The other sequel films, television show and 1963 Pierre Boulle novel on which the first film was based are mentioned, but none of the essays featured in this collection explores these texts in depth. The 22 essays in this collection are subdivided by topic, although the divisions between these topics are not always clear, as the essays categorised as ‘Ape Minds’, ‘Ape Identity’ or ‘Ape Equality’ and so forth are not significantly different in terms of the questions these authors are pose.

The standout essay in this collection is William L. McGinney’s ‘Inside the Underscore for Planet of the Apes’, which analyses the soundtrack of the 1968 film in the context of modernist music trends. The connections McGinney finds between the sound design of Planet of the Apes and other film scores in the 1960s and 1970s also make this essay one of the most useful ones in the collection for film scholars generally. However, the usefulness of this particular essay highlights the fact that most of the contributors to this collection avoid analysing filmmaking techniques altogether. Only one other essay, John Huss’s ‘Serkis Act’, considers how the technology of film can influence the presentation of animal issues therein. Although they do not consider the medium specificity of film, Jason Davis’s ‘Aping Race, Racing Apes’, which considers the racial implications of the orangutan–chimpanzee class divisions, and Norva Y.S. Lo and Andrew Brennan’s consideration of the sociopolitical context of the first Planet of the Apes film in ‘The Last Man’ also manage to present reasonably focused interpretations of the original 1968 film.

In addition to paying bafflingly little attention to the techniques of filmmaking, the essays featured in this collection also fail to reference any [End Page 279] scholarship in the field of animal studies. Two of the essays in the collection draw on the authors’ personal experiences with apes or monkeys in primate research centres, which does productively ground their philosophical musings, but even these essays do not make any reference to the foundational scholarship of writers such as Donna Haraway or Jacques Derrida, a glaring oversight for any academic or philosophical exploration of human–animal communication or animal cognition and behaviour. This oversight significantly limits the effectiveness of these essays, as they often have to reinvent the wheel in terms of the scholarly conversations on animals and science, animal language use and other central issues to animal studies scholarship, instead of drawing on this established conversation to produce more nuanced readings of the films. Overall, the essays in this collection do not productively address the issues surrounding species identity and communication that the Planet of the Apes franchise explores. The publication of Planet of the Apes and Philosophy perhaps indicates the need for a comprehensive scholarly collection on these films, but this book is not it.