BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1970
Starring: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, David Watson, Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston
Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) is sent on a mission to find Taylor (Charlton Heston). He discovers the Planet of the Apes (Earth) and with Nova (Linda Harrison) he explores the even more terrible world beneath the planet of the apes.
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Few sequels are as good as their originals. ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ is one that comes really close. Admittedly many of the qualms I have possibly verge on nit-picking but I’m not saying that this is a bad film; it’s a great film, just not as good as the original although it comes closer than other sequels do.
The film starts off with the ending of the previous film, the discussion between Taylor and Doctor Zaius, Taylor wants to find out the ‘why’ a planet of the apes who evolved from men exists, Doctor Zaius tells him not to look for the answer cause he probably won’t like what he finds. This is true because when Taylor sees the destroyed Statue of Liberty he breaks down and damns us all to hell.
The opening credits are overlapped onto scenes of Taylor and Nova riding through the Forbidden Zone. Suddenly Taylor disappears through a rock wall right in front of Nova. The blue screen effect here is pretty good for its time, the blue-ish outline around Taylor is hardly visible and although anyone watching it today could tell that Charlton Heston was in a studio for that scene it’s highly unlikely that anyone in forty years ago could tell. The animated lightning bolt which they avoid whilst on horseback is not so good. But it was 1970 and it is only an illusion so possibly we can forgive them that special effect.
We cut to a crashed space craft, somewhere else in the Forbidden Zone; two survivors have escaped from the craft, Brent and Maddox. Maddox is blind and slowly dies leaving Brent to search for Taylor. There are two odd things about this; firstly Brent says that he thinks the year is 3955 however in the previous film the read-out on the chronometer on Taylor’s ship displays the year as 3978. I find it odd that no one on the film crew bothered to check this as it would have been an incredibly easy thing to do; then again it is just a minor detail. Secondly why the hell did NASA bother to send a rescue party after a ship whose mission wasn’t going to bring them back to Earth anyway? I guess we just have to suspend disbelief.
Nova runs into Brent, again suspend disbelief. She takes him to Ape city where a General Ursus (James Gregory) is giving a speech to the citizen’s council. It is here that we get back to what the planet of the apes movies are about; racism and inequality. Ursus wants to eradicate all humans. His speech seems to have similarities to those made by white power types. He quotes from the apes’ great law giver “Never, never will the human have the apes divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good.” Very reminiscent of what KKK leaders would say about other races being inferior due to lower intelligence.
Of course Brent and Nova are capture, but they escape with the help of Doctor Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson). They hide inside a strange cave which Brent recognises as Grand Central Terminal. This leads them to be captured by the telepathic mutants from beneath the planet of the apes. At first the mutants look just like people however during their religious ceremonies they pull off their human face masks to reveal that they have been disfigured by years of radiation poisoning. Which makes me question why they wear the masks at all? They are all disfigured even the children, why would they bother trying to look human?
James Franciscus’ acting is superb. His character is more caring than Charlton Heston’s was and he doesn’t seem to have as much of a disdain for humanity than Taylor had. His acting at being mentally tortured is done very well. Usually being tortured by thoughts can be so overdone and end up looking hammy but James Franciscus does a fine job of giving the impression of being bombarded with thoughts.
What was lacking in this film was perhaps that the themes and motivation behind the original film was kind of lost. The apes are still oppressing the humans but there is also a civilization beneath the surface planning on one day taking over. It does lead to some interesting ideas, such as the religion the mutants have to what Taylor calls the Doomsday bomb. The mass that the mutants have praising the Bomb is both funny and intriguing. They sing a corrupted version of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and declare their love for the almighty Bomb. This bomb worship was parodied in an episode of Futurama. The mutants who live in the sewers of New New York worship a similar looking nuclear weapon. However the pig girl points out that it’s mainly a Christmas and Easter thing.
Charlton Heston was a great actor and he plays this role just as good as he did in the original even though he didn’t want to perform it. He even went to the point of asking that his payment for the role be given to charity and that his character be killed off. Thankfully this doesn’t show up in his acting. It is even rumoured that he came up with the ending, like the original it’s a killer ending, in which the entire world is destroyed by Taylor detonating the Doomsday bomb. Allegedly Charlton Heston came up with this ending in an effort to end the franchise. A plan which failed as three more sequels, a television series and a cartoon series were still to follow.
‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ is not a must see however if you have watched the first movie and enjoyed it I would highly recommend it but with a caution. After you watch ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ it will make the rest of the sequels a must see on your movie list.