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March 19, 2018

Highlights From Planet of the Apes Exhibit

By Jessica Romer, Photos by Roberto Gomez

Throughout the Spring 2018 semester at the School of Cinematic Art Hugh Hefner Exhibit Hall in the George Lucas Building there is a special exhibit showcasing Planet of the Apes memorabilia. It is a part of a semester long tribute for the 50th Anniversary of the Planet of the Apes franchise. The exhibit accompanies a film retrospective featuring films throughout the franchise’s history from the classic Planet of the Apes (1968) to War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).

Typically, the Hugh Hefner Exhibit Hall features a display of the School’s old camera equipment. However, last year the School wanted to find ways to offer more variety of what goes into the exhibit space. Last semester the space featured an exhibit on Steven Spielberg that featured costumes, memorabilia, and photography from his films like Jaws (1975), Lincoln (2012), Jurassic Park (1993), and more. The exhibit accompanied Drew Casper’s course The Style of Steven Spielberg which Spielberg himself came and spoke to.

In a brainstorming meeting last year, the School’s Director of Programming and Special Events Alex Ago had a similar idea to feature the Planet of the Apes franchise for students and the community via an exhibit. He explained the concept came from the 50th anniversary of the franchise, the success of the new movies in recent years, and the fact that SCA alum Matt Reves is currently at the helm of the massive franchise. Also, Ago really wanted an exhibit that was interesting and engaging for students and passer-byers, and he felt that Planet of the Apes was just that with its intricate costumes, sensational world building, and universal notoriety. The exhibit features costumes from the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes films, makeup prosthetics from the original films, photography from throughout the franchise, film clips, and ancillary products from throughout the decades.

“The overall exhibit was meant to present artwork, designs, and costumes, props, posters from across all nine feature films. When we actually started to figure out what was available, we realized that the original films had no costumes and only a couple of props available but there was a lot of archival photography, artwork, concept art, behind-the-scenes set photography, and more,” Ago says.

Ago worked closely with Fox for several months in organizing the exhibit. From Fox, he was able to get a lot of photography from across the franchise, although they didn’t have much physical memorabilia from the early films that Ago had hoped for. “The archives at Fox didn’t start until the late 70s, so they weren’t actively archiving things from their films when Planet of the Apes were made. A lot of things either went home with the producers or were auctioned off to fans or passed hands along the way, so the items became dispersed. Luckily, some of the fans have done an incredible job collecting things and thereby creating their own archives of the Planet of the Apes and from that we wound up getting almost all of the significant pieces that are a part of the original five films.”

In the process of promoting the exhibit with the Planet of the Apes international community, Apes fans from all over reached out to Ago to share items from their personal collection with the School. These contributions from private collectors compromise a great majority of the exhibit, including some of Ago’s personal favorites which are original plaster molds made of actors faces created by Academy Award recipient John Chambers.

The exhibit features plaster models used to create the prosthetic alongside the prosthetics themselves that were designed and made for Apes actors Roddy McDowell, Morris Evans, Kim Hunter, and others. These pieces are complimented with photography of makeup pieces being applied to the actors. “It is really a comprehensive look at some of the rare items that were used in the makeup process which at the time were considered truly revolutionary and those items are genuinely one of a kind,” Ago explains.

Although with passing homage to the monumental artistic achievements of the films, Ago also wanted to highlight the cultural significance of the franchise. “I always had in mind that the exhibit would also cover the fan related items like merchandise and ephemera that allowed people to experience and enjoy the franchise outside of just watching the films themselves.”

Ago had the concept of having a case that featured comic books, toys, collectables, and more related to the films. He was concerned that these sorts of things would be difficult and expensive to find or purchase, but was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of fans who shared these items with the exhibit.  “It is very much an integral part of what I want to do with this retrospective which is to explore the ways in which films actually explode into our popular culture through fan engagement and merchandising but also expanding the storytelling into different formats like novelizations, books, comic books, and video games.”

This variety and breath of the items on display in the exhibit accomplished Ago and the School’s hopes for the exhibit. Its eye-catching human-sized ape costumes and vintage comic books draw passer-byers in the Planet of the Apes universe as they walk through campus. Ago really wanted students and the community to actively engage with the exhibit. He felt that students would only really be able to fully engage and appreciate the exhibit with a knowledge and appreciation of all of the franchise’s films. “In order to do that, I felt that a full film retrospective was necessary that would have ongoing discussions about Planet of the Apes and its enduring influence and how the new films honor that and take it in new directions.”

“As the film programmer for the School, I wanted there to be the complimentary side. If the students haven’t watched the original Planets of the Apes, I wanted them to have that experience on the big screen so they would appreciate the items that are being showcased in the exhibit,” Ago says.

The USC School of Cinematic Art is presenting a semester-long retrospective produced by Alex Ago on the Planet of the Apes franchise that Ago hopes will expose students to the splendor and significance of the films historically and currently. “I felt like it was vital to connect the old and the new and not just help students discover the originals but also understand how incredibly well-made and thoughtfully conceived the contemporary trilogy was in honoring the social themes of the original films and how they’ve explored them in a way that is relevant to contemporary society. “