ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1971
Starring: Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Eric Braeden
The third instalment in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ series but now the tables are turned. Three apes crash land in American waters in 1973. They are quickly whisked away and imprisoned at the Los Angeles Zoo. Doctor Zira (Kim Hunter) is pregnant and Doctor Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) wants the child aborted in order to save the future of the human race.
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A third instalment in a movie series being close to as good as the original is even rarer than a sequel being close to as good as the original. ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ achieves this equal amount of quality as the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ and knocks ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ down for the count. As I write this I can think of only two other part threes which are better than their originals (The Star Trek and Star Wars franchises). And I’m trying really hard.
‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ takes the story in a completely new direction. Which honestly it had to do if it wanted to continue considering that at the end of ‘Beneath’ the entire world was destroyed. The film starts in the United States in 1973, some marines have been sent out to recover a crashed space ship. When it is brought ashore three astronauts exit, they are greeted with salutes until they remove their helmets to reveal that they are apes; Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), Doctor Zira (Kim Hunter) and Doctor Milo (Sal Mineo).
The apes are kept at a secluded part of the L.A. Zoo and it soon becomes apparent that they are no ordinary apes, when Zira speaks to the human scientists to express her loathing of Bananas. The Apes are called before a special Presidential Commission to determine their intelligence and what became of Taylor’s mission.
The apes become celebrities and are loved by all except for Doctor Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) who believes that the apes could be responsible for the downfall of humanity in the future. Braeden, the future Victor Newman from ‘The Young and the Restless’ plays this part perfectly. He truly is a great character, so often in films, in fact at least 90% of the time; villains are played as people who are truly evil, being selfish or greedy or just wanting to harm others for no real reason. In ‘Escape’ however Doctor Hasslein is concerned about the future of humanity. In a way he is doing what any hero would do in many comic books, he wants to save humanity at all costs. Braeden portrays Hasslein as concerned and passionate about the future of humanity. In a way at times you feel like he is right and that Zira’s foetus should be aborted and both Zira and Cornelius should be made sterile, to save the human race from a future of slavery and brutality at the hands of the apes.
Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score for the film is probably the best of all the ‘Planet of the Apes’ films. He seems to have gone back to his original score from the first film and built on it a bit. Not too much, just enough so that you connect this film with the original but go along the road that the new film is taking.
The screenplay for ‘Escape’ tried to be more like the original French novel only in reverse, meaning that the apes are like the main human character in the novel, Ulysse Merou. In the novel Ulysse is experimented upon and is eventually proven to be intelligent. He becomes something like a celebrity to the apes and ultimately father’s a child.
Like its predecessors the main reason to watch ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ is for the twist ending. Cornelius and Zira are on the run from the government who want them and their unborn baby killed. They meet up with Armando (Ricardo Montalban) Zira gives birth to a baby which she names Milo in honour of their friend. But I won’t ruin it, I will say this, after all the death and heavy moral/philosophical questions in this film at the very end you will laugh.
‘Escape’ brings the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise back on track in terms of the many messages of the original film which ended up getting muddled in ‘Beneath’. Race relations, sexism, questions about what is intelligence, animal rights and the possibility of nuclear war, it also adds a few more to the mix; the rise and fall of celebrity and questions about eugenics. There is also a hint of that old time travel question “Is it right to travel back in time and kill Hitler when he was a baby?”