Written By: François-Noël Vanasse
“In the beginning God created beast and man so that both might live in friendship and share dominion over a world of peace. But in the fullness of time, evil men betrayed God’s trust and in disobedience to His holy word waged bloody wars, not only against their own kind, but against the apes, whom they reduced to slavery. Then God in his wrath sent the world a saviour, miraculously born of two apes who descended on Earth from Earth’s own future and man was afraid for both parent apes possessed the power of speech.” – Lawgiver
Pierre Boulle was a French novelist known mostly for writing the novel The Bridge over the River Kwai (1951) upon which the similarly named 1957 film is based. In 1963, however, he published the science-fiction novel La planète des singes inspired by trips to the zoological gardens where Boulle was impressed by the human-like expression and gestures of the apes exhibited there. The story is presented as a message in a bottle written by a journalist from the year 2500 who claims his group of explorers discovered a planet remarkably similar to Earth orbiting the star Betelgeuse. The group surveys cities and roads before landing in the forest, where they are accosted by primitive humans while bathing, and are eventually captured by a group of gorillas out hunting. The journalist, named Ulysse Mérou, eventually learns to speak the simian language while his caretaker, a chimpanzee named Zira, learns to speak French. After being experimented on by the skeptical orangutan Dr. Zaius, Ulysse is allowed to present his case at a public symposium. Awed by his ability to speak their language, public opinion ousts Dr. Zaius and grants Ulysse freedom. Ulysse accompanies Zira and her fiancé Cornelius to an archaeological expedition where they discover the remains of a civilization dominated by humans. Another ape’s experiments demonstrate that human beings became lazy while apes became smart until the former descended into animalistic primitives and the latter became dominant and wise. The novel ends with Ulysse returning to Earth along with his new wife Nova, whom he teaches to speak, and his son Sirius who is just as healthy and intelligent as any Earth child. The twist ending is that upon arriving in Paris after his harrowing seven-year expedition Ulysse is greeted by a gorilla and the people who discovered his message in a bottle are revealed to have been apes all along. Jinn and Phyllis, the couple traveling through space who found the manuscript, refuse to believe there could ever have been intelligent, rational humans and relegate the account to little more than a practical joke or the musings of a madman.
The idea of a civilization of talking apes taps into many real-world ideas and concepts from science and culture. Ancient humans around the world have had contact with their primate cousins. In many creation myths, monkeys are believed to represent a failed attempt to create humans or a cursed transformation of them by deities. The word “primate” itself derives from Latin and carries with it the notion, given by taxonomist Linnaeus, that they represent the first, or “highest” order of animal. The words “ape” and “monkey” are of less obvious origin but almost immediately gained derogatory meaning in reference to the perceived mimicry and foolishness of primates. As scientific research advanced and came up against taboos about human experimentation, primates represented ideal test subjects due to their resemblance to humans. Many of the ancient physician Galen’s misconceptions about human anatomy are said to be derived from his dissections of barbary macaques.
In the late 19th Century, ideas about Evolution finally became accepted publicly and academically thanks to the work of naturalists, including Charles Darwin. As chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans became common sights in zoos, it became nearly impossible to deny the kinship between humans and so-called “great apes”. In response, a great deal of effort was spent distancing humans from their closest relatives. The long list of qualities that supposedly separated men from beasts found its way into the hands of bigots and racists, always eager to accuse their enemies of being less than human, and more than capable of twisting research and evidence to suit their needs. Primate research also became more advanced as philosophers, linguists, medical researchers, behavioral specialists, and psychologists turned to these creatures looking for answers about human nature and ways to improve our understanding of and control over the human mind and body.
In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s pioneering field research from women like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey led to much of the world falling in love with these animals. Their image of sex and violence was replaced with on of love and tenderness as exemplified by the reappreciation of the closely-related pygmy chimpanzee or “bonobo” as peaceful, clever, and strikingly human. Animal rights activists petitioned against the captivity and abuse of all non-human animals, especially monkeys. Apes began to disappear from television, movies, and circuses. Serious cases were made for extending the rule and rights of law to our closest relatives on the grounds of their intelligence. Advancements in enrichment and conservation has made captivity in zoos and research laboratories more pleasant than it was in Darwin or Boulle’s time but many species of primate remain threatened in the wild from habitat loss, poaching, and even hunting. Planet of the Apes seems originally intended to represent an intolerable reversal of the natural order but modern audiences, and indeed the works themselves, have a more sympathetic eye to the plight of these beasts, one perhaps fostered by the series itself, which begs us to question how we treat animals on our own planet, in our own time.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
“I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.” – George Taylor
Science-fiction has very little to do with the year in which it is set and everything to do with the year in which it was written. The original Planet of the Apes (1968) came out the same year as the Thule Accident in which a B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed and burned in northern Greenland. The threat of nuclear annihilation would have been omnipresent and the senselessness of such an epic tragedy was on everyone’s minds during the Cold War. The same year saw the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre in the Vietnam War as the horrors of war were broadcast nightly to American televisions for the first time in history. 1968 was also marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Protests against the Vietnam War and in support of the Civil Rights movement escalated worldwide. Just about the only thing that seemed to inspire hope and optimism was the Space Race, which culminated the following year in the first manned moon landing carried out by NASA’s Apollo Program.
The film begins in space with odd lights meant to symbolize the unnamed space vessel’s approach toward Orion’s belt. Six months into an 18-month journey through space George Taylor (Charlton Heston) finds himself alone recording a final ship’s log transmission while the rest of the crew rests in suspended animation. With him are the scientist Dodge (Jeff Burton) and the All-American astronaut Landon (Robert Gunner). They are on their way to a solar system whose star forms part of the constellation Orion. Due to the effects of relativity, over 700 years have passed on Earth since their launch date in 1972. As Taylor smokes his cigar and sits back in his chair he finds that being lonely in the eternity of space “squashes the ego” and wonders about all that’s taken place on Earth in the meantime. “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother and let his neighbor’s child starve?” Still contemplating his fate, and the fate of the world, Taylor takes a last look at the sleeping face of the fourth member of the crew Stewart (Dianne Stanley) before entering his own sleep chamber.
Twelve months later, from Taylor’s perspective, and 1,305 years later, from Earth’s perspective, the ship crash lands into a small body of water surrounded by lifeless desert cliffs. Stewart, dead for over a year, has turned into a mummified corpse and the rest of the crew barely makes it out alive as water bursts through the door. Dodge tosses out an inflatable raft, Landon grabs a few backpacks, and Taylor hopes he managed to send the signal to Earth that they’ve landed. The three men make it ashore while watching their ship sink beneath the surface. With returning home not an option, Landon bemoans their fate while erecting a miniature U.S. flag to Taylor’s amusement while Dodge analyzes the soil and begins surveying the area. With only enough food for a few days the crew heads in a direction randomly chosen by Taylor. It’s 24 minutes before the first glimpses of other humans can be seen prowling around the edges of the frame and over half an hour before the first ape appears. In the meantime, the three astronauts do a lot of walking and climbing over desolate landscapes. After dodging death by falling boulder, Taylor and Landon have a heart to heart. Taylor accuses Landon of volunteering to join only out of obligation to his image and to secure his fame and legacy. Landon fires back that Taylor is simply misanthropic and his seemingly suicidal tendencies are ill-suited for the expedition. Taylor replies that he is not prepared to die but was glad to leave the 20th Century behind because he believes that in the vastness of space there must exist something better than mankind and he hopes to find it.
They come across some sparse vegetation and eventually stumble upon some furry X-shaped crosses. Taylor rushes forward despite the warning after hearing the sound of rushing water. As in Boulle’s novel, the men strip and bathe in the pool they find. They come across human footprints on the shore but their clothes and supplies are strewn and torn while they try to hide their nakedness. They follow the savage-looking humans to a farm and orchard where the mute people gather and consume the crop and fruit. A hunting party of gorillas on horseback wielding rifles, nets, and clubs attacks and the group scatters in a frenzy. Dodge is shot in the back of the neck, Landon is clubbed unconscious, and Taylor’s neck is torn open by a bullet. There is a moment at the end of this scene where the hunting gorillas proudly pose beside the dead humans they have just slaughtered. Presented without the fanfare of drums and trumpets which propel the earlier action, it is perhaps the film’s most disturbing and haunting image.
Taylor finds himself strapped to a slab while a chimpanzee named Dr. Galen (Wright King) treats his wound. Another, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) admonishes Galen over the lack of cleanliness of his operating chamber which Galen blames on the humans themselves and his belief that they are not sufficiently cleaned before being brought in despite the fact that they carry communicable diseases. Galen is jealous of the leniency and favor with which the National Academy treats Zira’s research. By trade, Zira is a psychologist who believes much can be learned from the study of human brains and behavior. Zira takes a special interest in Taylor whom she names “Bright Eyes”. She marvels at the way he appears to be struggling to speak, ignorant of the fact that his recent injury is what is causing his muteness. Impressed, she introduces him to her husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), an archaeologist, and her superior Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans). Dr. Zaius is severely skeptical of her research. Despite being her apparent benefactor, he is harshly critical of her interest in Bright Eyes and urges Zira to abandon her behavior research and focus her attention on brain dissection. He exclaims, “To suggest one can learn anything about Simian nature from the study of man is sheer nonsense, a view that reflects the thought of many opposed to primatology not on ethical or moral grounds, but because it threatens their worldview.
Unable to speak, Taylor tries to communicate with Zira through writing. His first attempt to steal her notepad and pen is thwarted by the gorilla warden Julius (Buck Kartalian). Later, he scrawls “I CAN WRITE” into the dirt at his feet but this attracts the attention of Nova (Linda Harrison) and a native man who begin pawing at the letters. This results in a fight which ends with Taylor taken into custody followed by Dr. Zaius scratching out the remaining letters with his cane. Eventually Taylor succeeds in stealing Zira’s notepad which is returned to her along with “My name is Taylor”. She decides at this point to defy the rules and brings Taylor to the home she shares with Cornelius.
The ape society in the movie is stratified according to species. Leadership and political positions are occupied by orangutans, researchers and doctors are chimpanzees, and guards and hunters are gorillas. The foundational document of ape society is something called The Sacred Scrolls which were written by an orangutan, considered a prophet known as Lawgiver some 1,200 years ago by their reckoning. It is revealed that Zira and Cornelius hold heterodox ideas. On a recent archaeological expedition, Cornelius claims to have discovered an ancient settlement inside The Forbidden Zone which predates The Sacred Scrolls. Cornelius is skeptical of Taylor’s claims to have come from another planet orbiting a distant star but the construction and launch of a paper airplane to make a point stuns them to silence. The moment is interrupted by Dr. Zaius, who returns Taylor to his cage and crushes the toy without bothering to test it. Taylor overhears guards saying that Dr. Zaius has ordered him castrated and orchestrates an escape. Taylor runs wild through the city. The highlights are his interruption of a funeral and hiding inside a museum. To his horror, he finds the stuffed and mounted corpse of Dodge who is once again shot by a gorilla. Legend goes that Charlton Heston was recovering from a cold while filming the scene where he is captured and strung up, which adds an extra level of hoarseness to his famous words “Take your stinking paws off me you damn, dirty, ape!” Finally he is able to voice his displeasure at this new world. The hose used to wash the cage floors is turned on him with both anger and glee by Julius so the other guards can remove Nova from his cage. It’s difficult not to recall fire hoses brandished against protesters during Civil Rights demonstrations. “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!” shouts Taylor. Finally, a hearing is convened to determine his ultimate fate.
The tribunal is composed of Commissioner for Animal Affairs, Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey), the President of the Assembly (James Whitmore) and Dr. Zaius who is revealed to be Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith. The prosecutor is Minister of Justice, Honorious (James Daly). As the scene gets going, Taylor is stripped on the pretense that his rags stink. It’s an easy way to render him more vulnerable. The prosecution attempts to prove the absurd notion that the talking human is little more than a hoax and at worst an abomination of modern science. Taylor is prevented from speaking to defend himself and his written testimony is rejected as being a joke in poor taste. Because the whereabouts of Landon are still unknown the tribunal attends a gathering of all the humans captured alongside Taylor. There it is discovered, to Taylor’s horror, that Landon was lobotomized during surgery to treat a skull fracture. The orangutans whose job it is to determine and uphold the truth bury their heads in the sand and literally adopt the pose of the Three Wise Monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth respectively. Afterwards, the tribunal is dismissed and Dr. Zaius has Taylor brought to his office. Here Dr. Zaius reveals that the tribunal was largely political and allowed the state the pretense it needed to oust Zira and Cornelius as apostates. He also hints that Landon’s lobotomy was deliberate.
Taylor and Nova are later freed by Zira’s nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner) and together with Zira and Cornelius the group journeys to The Forbidden Zone in search of the archaeological site. After arriving, Taylor shaves off his beard to the bemusement of the others. He seems to have struck up an interesting rapport with young Lucius, pointing out that when he left his world only boys his age wore beards and later encourages him to “never trust anyone over the age of 30.” Dr. Zaius catches up to them but their capture is prevented by Taylor taking Zaius hostage. Taylor accuses Zaius of bias and dogmatism and convinces him to follow them into the cave. Inside, Zaius remains as skeptical as ever until the smoking gun is unearthed. A human doll that electronically speaks “mama”.
After a brief and pointless gunfight, Zaius remains a hostage and is tied to a log by Taylor for an interrogation. Although this works as a comeuppance to Dr. Zaius for the way he has treated Taylor and other humans throughout the film, a small taste of his own medicine, it also highlights how far Taylor has drifted from his earlier ideals. Starting out as a dreamer with no special love for mankind and a distaste for violence, Taylor has now desperately fought his way to freedom. Although we sympathize with Taylor most of all, it’s difficult not to appreciate where the apes are coming from when they discuss man’s propensity towards violence. Zaius is accused of having already known the truth about history and of guarding a terrible secret. Zaius responds by quoting his scripture. Earlier Zaius proclaimed that “man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of Simian survival,” and here the Sacred Scrolls read:
“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.”
Dr. Zaius eventually relents and declares that he has dreaded Taylor’s arrival all his life, that the evidence of the human civilization proves to him that despite what they achieved men must have been stupid, emotional, and violent. Taylor presses Zaius for information on The Forbidden Zone and what lies beyond. Zaius further reveals that the area used to be a paradise before humans destroyed it and rendered it barren. He goes on to warn Taylor that he won’t like what he finds. Taylor frees Dr. Zaius in exchange for supplies and takes his leave with Nova. Zira and Cornelius are summarily arrested for heresy while Lucius accuses Zaius of standing in the way of knowledge and the future. Dr. Zaius enigmatically proclaims that he may have just saved it.
Following the coast of the small sea, Nova and Taylor come across a ruined hulk of metal. “Oh my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it.” Taylor collapses to his knees in the foam and beats his fists against the sand in anguish. “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” The ruined structure is revealed to be the remains of Lady Liberty, half buried in sand. The implication is that mankind brought its civilization to an end through nuclear war.
Fifty years ago, Planet of the Apes spawned 4 sequels (some of which are arguably prequels), a television show along with an animated series, a remake in 2001 and a 2011 reboot trilogy with a fourth film planned. Novels, comic books, video games and, arguably the first big Hollywood toy and merchandise craze a decade before Star Wars, as well as hundreds of spoofs, and thousands of references. Its pop-culture legacy is undeniable. The themes of the series are pretty unabashedly about animal rights by vividly depicting the mistreatment of humans at the hands of intelligent monkeys. It’s good fodder for an episode of The Twilight Zone or perhaps an ill-conceived ad campaign from an animal-rights organization. It also grapples with man’s inhumanity to man since all too often humans treat their fellows as little more than beasts as pointed out by Heston’s opening monologue. The hypocrisy of Zaius’ role as Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith is directly called out by Taylor. Cornelius is shown to be skeptical of Taylor’s claims but Dr. Zaius is shown to be in denial, to be purposefully suppressing the truth for personal reasons. Like a zealot, he believes that he is acting in accordance with his faith and that he is doing the right thing. In a sense Zaius and Taylor agree that humans are no good, but the apes don’t seem to be any better and display the same selfishness, violence, and small-mindedness that Taylor hoped to leave behind.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.
His sound has gone out unto all the land.
And his light unto the end of the world.
He descendeth from the outermost part of heaven, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
There is neither speech nor language, yet His voice is heard among them.
May the blessings of the Bomb Almighty and the fellowship of the Holy Fallout descend on us all, this night and for evermore.
– Psalm by Mendez II (abridged), read by Mendez XXVI
This film begins with a slightly edited version of the original’s finale. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) reads aloud from The Sacred Scrolls, Zaius declares humans to be base and evil and warns Taylor, and then he and Nova stumble upon the Statue of Liberty. Continuing from there, the couple is stopped in their tracks by a great wall of flames, watches in horror as the land buckles and falls away at their feet, and ultimately realize it’s all a hallucination. Taylor advances alone, intent on learning the truth, and disappears into a wall of rock and from the film. Nova, wearing his dog tags, carries on. She stumbles across the crash site of yet another 20th Century space ship where John Brent (James Franciscus) has just finished burying his crewmate. Together, they fulfill Taylor’s final instructions to Nova which are to return to Zira should anything have happened to him.
Upon arriving at Ape City, Brent and Nova spy on a council meeting led by Dr. Zaius and the gorilla General Ursus (James Gregory). Ursus is drumming up support for a campaign to venture into The Forbidden Zone and eradicate humans once and for all. Apparently a scouting party was wiped out and he is determined to find and destroy whatever killed his men. Strangely, Cornelius (David Watson) and Zira have not been tried as heretics after all, or have been found not guilty. Dr. Zaius is also a more sympathetic character than before. He dreads the notion of war and claims scientific curiosity as his main motivation. He counsels caution, patience, and deliberate restriction of the truth, but that’s as evil as he gets. Other continuity errors include Brent claiming the date to be 3955 when it should be 3978 according to the readings from Taylor’s ship. These changes are probably the simple result of having to unexpectedly produce a sequel; sequels were rare at the time and Planet of the Apes was never intended to spawn a franchise.
Brent and Nova sneak into Zira and Cornelius’ home where Brent learns Taylor’s last known location. Captured while attempting to leave, Brent and Nova escape with Zira’s help and are chased down by a party of gorillas. Brent and Nova take refuge in a cave on the edge of The Forbidden Zone. The cave is revealed to be an underground version of the Queensboro Plaza New York City Subway Station and Brent’s reaction is similar to Taylor’s. Shocked that “they finally really did it,” Brent wonders aloud whether “all that talking around all those tables” ever amounted to anything. While pondering a sleeping Nova, he similarly muses over whether the world would have been better if humans had stayed like her, before they “learned to talk, and made a mess of everything.” Urged on by a mysterious psychic humming noise, he and Nova move down the unusually well-lit tunnel where they eventually climb a short ladder and emerge in the ruins of Manhattan. Time is either very condensed, the disaster somehow pushed everything together, or the producers are simply as unfamiliar with NYC as the depiction of the subway station suggests because Nova and Brent walk past the ruins of the New York City Public Library, The New York Stock Exchange, and Radio City Music Hall in a matter of minutes before ending up outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Inside, they find a man praying to a shiny golden atomic missile labelled AΩ on one of its fins. All of the crucifixes have been flipped upside down to better resemble the rocket’s shape.
Remnants of human civilization have survived the nuclear holocaust and live underground to hide from the apes. These future humans use their psychic abilities to communicate with one another as well as to torture, interrogate, and control intruders. By using their psychic powers these humans can induce pain in others to torture them, create surreal and terrifying visions, and even force individuals to attack and kill friends or loved ones. Despite such brutal tactics, the future humans consider themselves pacifists and according to their twisted morality they do not directly cause others harm since the pain is mental, and by forcing intruders to kill each other they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong. The ape army manages to break through the illusion created to stop them when Dr. Zaius is unable to accept the vision of the Lawgiver’s statue burning and bleeding. As the apes advance through the tunnels, Brent is thrown into a cage with Taylor where the two are forced to do battle. While the resemblance between the two actors was striking, the differences become obvious once the two are together. For one, Heston is a great deal taller and older than Franciscus and Franciscus has better teeth. Nova is able to free them in the chaos that ensues, but meets her fate when she is shot by a gorilla soldier. Taylor and Brent fight their way back to the cathedral where they witness the human religious leader Mendez (Paul Richards) activating the weapon.
The humans have been planning to activate the bomb, which they call a weapon of peace, in fulfillment of some religious duty. Unbeknownst to them, perhaps, is that this is the ultimate doomsday weapon with a cobalt casing. The explosion, according to Taylor, will be powerful enough to ignite the atmosphere and burn the planet to a cinder. Ursus orders his soldiers to tear down the rocket despite Dr. Zaius’ warnings. Brent and Taylor initiate a counter attack after the fallen bomb begins to spew smoke. Taylor is fatally wounded by Ursus who is then killed by Brent. After watching Brent’s death at the hands of Ursus’ soldiers, Taylor pleads for Dr. Zaius to help him. Scoffing at the idea, Zaius says he has no reason to because men are capable only of destruction. “You bloody bastard”, replies Taylor who then decides the world’s fate and detonates the bomb with his final breath.
A narrator appears for the first time and closes the film with “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.” It’s a sobering message about the irresponsibility, horror, and finality of nuclear war.
This film has a few interesting flourishes. It’s nothing quite as good as the first film, which included such arresting moments as humans cowering in terror from a gorilla wielding a flaming torch, but is important and rings true nevertheless. Zira rejects Dr. Zaius’ excuses and correctly points out that he exists only in service of the status quo. Like many leaders, his only duty is to preserve his power and prevent any change which could potentially unseat him. It is a timeless and poignant critique of retrograde, conservative politics. That moment is followed by Ursus’ and Zaius’ warpath literally getting stopped in its tracks by a protest of young chimpanzees apparently led by Lucius. They wield crude picket signs, chant snappy slogans, and shout “gorilla brutality!” when they are forcibly removed. The depiction of chimps as peaceful scholars and gorillas as warmongering brutes is perhaps far removed from the biological reality of these animals, but it works for the movie’s fiction.
By focusing in on the nuclear holocaust aspect of the first film, the sequel loses itself a bit. The world isn’t so much an upside-down madhouse through which it can explore political, social, and religious themes as it is just another version of the future where the planet is doomed because of our inability to stave off nuclear Armageddon. Comparing our political and military leaders to monkeys is less powerful when the peaceful protestors and innocent bystanders are also monkeys. The twist reveal at the end, aside from Nova yelling out “Taylor!” moments before she is killed, is that the humans living underground in their warped cathedral are all wearing masks which hide their disfigured mutant faces that place them somewhere between The Phantom of the Opera and the Star Trek aliens from “The Menagerie part II”.
As a sequel, it is fine enough but it definitely wrote itself into a corner. Luckily there are three more Planet of the Apes films in the original series which feature Cornelius, Zira, their son Caesar, and Ricardo Montalban as Armando.
APPENDIX (PART ONE):
**WARNING: SCIENCE CONTENT**
The shoulder of Orion is a pretty common location in sci-fi, the extrasolar system second in popularity only to the nearest stars to our Sun: Alpha Centauri. For the record, Alpha Centauri is a star system made up of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, B, and C. C, the nearest to the Sun, is also called Proxima Centauri. The light from these stars is visible from Earth in the Southern Hemisphere; and together they form one of the points in the Centaurus constellation, specifically the front leg.
Trouble is, Orion the archer has two shoulders. On the left is Bellatrix a small blue giant, and on the right is Betelgeuse, a massive red supergiant and one of the brightest visible stars. Complicating this affair is that constellations are really only arbitrary groupings. Being grouped together in a constellation says nothing about the relationship between the stars themselves. Betelgeuse is 640 million light-years from Earth, Bellatrix is 245 million light years from Earth. For the uninitiated, a light-year is a unit of measurement determined by how far light would travel in a vacuum for an entire year. It’s the equivalent of approximately 6 trillion miles. Although we know the astronauts did not reach their destination we do know they intended to reach Bellatrix. Planning to do so with only 18 months of relative travel would require astounding speeds attainable only in the realms of science fiction. For a fictional story featuring time travel, talking monkeys, and nuclear bombs powerful to crack the Earth in two this is perhaps the biggest leap in science the film expects of us, even if it is a common one in science fiction.