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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

In 1970, 20th Century Fox put out a sequel to their famous 1968 hit: Planet of the Apes. Beneath The Planet of the Apes (BPA) gets mixed grades from fans. Some see it as a meager rehash. Fans think it was a worthy sequel. Charlton Heston plays Taylor again, though he's not the star.The lovely Linda Harrison stars again as Nova. Many other characters from the first film return. This would be the first of several remakes throughout the 70s.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The story opens where the first movie ended. Taylor and Nova ride past the ruins of the Statue of Liberty and out into desert. They encounter a wall of fire, freak lightning, and an earthquake. Taylor falls into an illusory cliff. Meanwhile, Brent (James Franciscus) and his skipper have crash-landed (ship identical to Taylor's). Skipper dies. Brent sees Nova riding up. She doesn't talk, but has Taylor's dog tags. They ride to Ape City where they hear General Ursus giving a speech about invading the Forbidden Zone. Brent and Nova sneak into Zira and Cornelius' apartment. They get some food and directions. Outside of the city, they're captured by patrols and to be used as target practice. Zira helps arrange their escape. Free but chased in the wilderness, Brent discovers a cave that leads into an old NYC subway stop. They explore deeper, finding more of NYC ruins underground. In a cathedral, Brent finds a telepathic "priest" worshipping a gold missile. Other telepathic men take him to a council for interrogation. They torture him with mind pain. He tells them about the ape army coming to attack. They throw him in same cell with Taylor and use mind powers to make them kill each other. Nova interrupts, breaks mind power and the two men kill the mind-man. The apes have meanwhile pressed on despite the illusory wall of fire, etc. and are attacking the underground city. An ape shoots Nova. She dies. All the underlings gather in the cathedral to worship their bomb god before they blow it up to stop the apes. Taylor tries to stop them, but gets shot. Brent tries to hold off the apes, but gets riddled and dies. Taylor utters one last signature line: "Damn you all" and pushes the big red button. Fade to white. A narrator tells how a small green planet was then dead. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Even though half of the film is a re-tread of the original, director Ted Post keeps the pace brisk. Linda Harrison is still great to look at. There are still some unresolved plot threads that give one grist to mull over.

Cold War Angle
This aspect is quite blatant. On the one side, you have mutants who have no weapon but mental tricks and a total doomsday bomb (which they worship). On the other side, you have brutal, chauvinistic militarists. There are not good guys. The nihilist ending is in part tragic, but partially a relief.

Taylor Two -- The first half of the film plays like a repeat of the first -- hunky shirtless hero captured by brutal apes, but escapes with cute girl in leather minidress. But, they had James Franciscus play the hunk. Heston is said to have not wanted to reprise his role, but relented somewhat. His Taylor in BPA amounts to a fairly unnecessary extended cameo.

Whence Mutants? -- Unexplained, is why there is a civilization of bald mutants still living in the underground city of New York. Their mutantness is suggested as coming from the prior nuclear war. Why do they wear rubber face masks all the time?

Subtle Homage? -- At one point, in Mendez's "prayer" to his god, the bomb, he uses the phrase, "…worlds without end…" Were the writers giving a subtle acknowledgment to the 1956 film World Without End? In the old film, we had astronauts who fly into the future, but don't know they've landed on future earth. They find a post-nuclear world, in which weak/damaged humans live in underground cities, while brute savages rule the surface. Nice of the writers to give the old film a nod.

Comes With Frees -- The narrator at the end of the film is the venerable voice talent: Paul Frees. He lent his voice to many golden era sci-fi and even acted in a few. In Spacemaster X-7 ('58), he got more of a central role.

Bottom line? BPA is conflicted as to whether it is a strong sequel to a strong movie, with a story of its own, or a cheap remix of the first film. Try to ignore the cheap remix part and focus on the more imaginative second half. This is only the second sequel. Keep an open mind for the next ones. The end of the planet did not end the franchise.


Maurice Mitchell said...

I never thought about the Cold War analogy in that way. Obvious when you think about it. Nice one.
- Maurice Mitchell
The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
@thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

Ashley Shannon said...

I agree that the film is rather a retread of the first apes film with some very odd sequences featuring the bomb cult. The best addition is the Ursus character as the military dictator as it's one of the only apes movies to feature a prominent gorilla character. I do feel the film would've been better had they focused more on the satirical ape society (I love the bit with the protesting chimps).

They Made Me Do It

Nightowl said...

Yes, "Beneath" squandered several good possible plot threads. The ape society as analog for our own was there, but you're right, it did not get enough play.

The protesting chimps vs. the militarist gorillas was a blatant parallel to the 70s' Vietnam war protests.

I thought interesting, the uneasy co-dependent relationship between the militarists (Ursus) and the establishment (Dr. Zaius). They needed each other, but didn't like each other.

Sebastian Schindzielorz said...

wow i never even thought that there is another one.

Nightowl said...

Hi Sebastian,
Actually, there will be a few more coming up in the 70s. Stay tuned.

Randall Landers said...

A couple of notes: Linda Harrison was Nova, not Linda Hamilton (Terminator). Also, "World Without End" is a line from the Doxology, a hymn. I've always thought that scene was a bastardization of that music. Lastly, we get a good look at Paul Frees in a couple of classic sf movies: The Thing (he played a scientist) and War of the Worlds (he played a reporter).

Nightowl said...

Quite right on the LIndas. A typo. I'll fix that. As for the Doxology, perhaps you're right. I grew up with a different doxology, not the "Gloria Patri" doxology (being more a Catholic / Anglican thing).

Good notes on Paul Frees' small screen roles. Quite right.

Stephen Souter said...

"Heston is said to have not wanted to reprise his role, but relented somewhat."

Check out the 2-disk special edition of the first film. On the 2nd disk is a 2 hour documentary ("Behind the Planet of the Apes") on all five movies of the original series. Two of the interviewees are Heston and BtPotA director Ted Post, who recount how Heston came to be in the first sequel. a reluctant Heston finally agreed to return as a favour to Riohard Zanuck (whose support had been crucial in allowing the original film to be made) after Post insisted that he would not do the film unless Heston was in it. Heston did impose a condition: that it be only a cameo (by having himself killed off, originally in the opening scene). He also asked that his payment for doing the sequel "be given to a school or something". It was apparently also Heston who came up with the blow-up-the-world ending, in the hope of killing off any more Ape sequels!

Incidentally, the documentary also highlights a major problem with all four Ape sequels: each of those sequels had a smaller budget that the preceding film! The impact of that is especially noticeable in the last two films, and in particular the last where the director was unable to do the final battle on the scale he wanted because he simply did not have the money. It is also given as the reason there was never a sixth film! To do a sixth would have required a very much larger budget than the cheapskates at Fox were willing to shell out.

BTW, one further point: your "Frequent themes" links don't work, at least for me. I keep being directed to a login page at "accounts.google.com".

Stephen Souter said...

One further postscript: there is still a reference to "Linda Hamilton" (in the "Why is this movie fun?" section).

Nightowl said...

Thanks for the catch, Stephen. Fixed it.