Beneath the Planet of the Apes

May 19, 2016 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Now days, the idea of making a sequel to a popular film seems only nature. If those films keep making money than it is only natural to make it a franchise and keep pumping out movies. The Fast and the Furious and Pirates of the Caribbean  are good examples of this. But back in the 60’s, this was almost unheard of. There was James Bond and Godzilla but those series were mostly episodic, with each film not necessarily tying into the others. So it was a bold move in those days to make the string of sequels to Planet of the Apes.  They probably should have taken some time to work on these scripts though.

Charlton Heston only agreed to come back for this movie if they killed off his character. We hear this happening a lot and I have never understood this line of thinking. Bill Murray has stated he would only do another Ghostbusters movie if his character dies. Leonard Nimoy only agreed to do Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan in similar circumstances. I don’t know why actors are so reluctant to embrace their success but whatever, it’s their career and they can do what they want. I do think the producers of Beneath the Planet of the Apes handled it in a clever way. They put him in the beginning and the end in a pivotal role  although the amount of screen time qualifies his role as a cameo.

In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, we start out by revisiting the end of the first film. After that, Taylor and Nova wander the Forbidden Zone aimlessly. They are stopped by a wall of fire and odd visions. Taylor tells Nova to go find Zira then disappears into a false wall. Meanwhile, Brent crash lands in the Forbidden Zone. He was on a mission to follow after Taylor’s crew and suffers the same fate. Brent’s commander dies quickly following the crash. By happenstance, Nova runs into Brent. Nova has Taylor’s dog tag, which Brent notices. He asks her to take him to Taylor. Instead, she takes him the Ape City. From a distance, they observe a open air town hall meeting. General Ursus, the gorilla commander of the military, is giving a rousing speech. He lays out his plan to invade the Forbidden Zone. Twelve scouts have enter the Forbidden Zone, only one has returned and he has complained of strange visions. Ursus declares war on no one in particular. The chimps, including Zira and Cornelius, are quietly skeptical of Ursus plan. The orangutans, which includes Doctor Zaius, are somewhere in between.  Zaius attempts to ride both sides of the fence by offering to come along on the invasion as a scientific adviser. Zaius’s goal is to keep things as they have always been. It would be too strong a statement to say that his goal is peace but he doesn’t want to see things get out of control either. Nova and Brent track down Zira, who is both pleased and alarmed to see them. Cornelius and Zira help out Brent and Nova as best as they can and send them on their way. Nova and Brent get captured on their way out of town. They are put through a sequence similar to what Taylor experienced in the first movie. Once we get through all of the padding, Brent and Nova find the remains of a New York subway system. Brent has the same disdain for what humanity did that Taylor had in the first movie. They go deeper down the subway system, passing many New York landmarks along the way. Brent and Nova run into a mutated race of humans with psychic powers deep within the bowels of old New York. The mutated humans claim they are peaceful but they have erected a religion around a nuclear war head. The warhead is their only line of defense and the ape army is on the march. I will avoid spoiling the rest of the movie. Just know that everyone failed their diplomacy check.

I will be the first to admit that Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a big disappointment following the first movie. Much like my review of Psycho II, this movie had an impossible task of follow an absolutely classic. While I felt like Psycho II was underrated and unappreciated for what it was, Beneath the Planet of the Apes has many flaws. I still love it though. The acting is about on the same level as the previous film. Perhaps it’s a little more subdued because of less Charlton Heston and more Nova, who emotes silently for much of the film. James Franciscus does a good job in this role as Brent. The character isn’t terribly deep but he isn’t trying to be a rehash of Charlton Heston’s Taylor either. The actors in the ape masks have the same performance in all of these movies. Check my previous review for my thoughts on them. I felt like they missed an opportunity to do more with the cinematography in the mutant city. The lighting is very even, bright at times. Better use of shadow and dark colors could have communicated what they were going for more effectively. The main weakness of this movie is the story. They moved quickly into production after the success of Planet of the Apes. They should have taken a few passes on the script to hammer out the details.

Who are the apes declaring war on? They don’t even know if there is anyone in the Forbidden Zone to fight. They have one scout reporting odd visions and based on this they raise an army. They wanted so badly to deliver their anti-war message, the writers failed to craft it in a way that would make sense in the context of the movie. I am not going to get into the finer points of the Vietnam War but I understand what was the sentiment at the time. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the scout at caught glimpse of a human civilization minding their own business but General Ursus wanted to declare war on them anyway based on the teachings of the Lawgiver? This would couple the anti-war message with the science verse religion theme that plays through the movie effectively. But the human society was underground, you say. Ok, what if the scout ran into one child, curious to see the surface, which communicated with him? How much more emotionally satisfying would that have played rather than the military declaring war on a desert for no reason what so ever? The militaristic dialogue was very well written but didn’t fit the situation in which the apes were facing. General Ursus claims that this war is necessary because of a famine that the apes are experiencing, which we never see. He claims they can use their technology to seed the Forbidden Zone and end the famine. Why can’t they use this same technology to reseed their own land? We never find out what is happening in the world outside of this one ape village throughout these two movies. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the apes, experiencing a famine, wanted to go beyond the Forbidden Zone to find more fertile land? These are not small details. They are key to the entire plot but they do not hold up to scrutiny.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was a success which ensured more sequels. Considering what the ending is, it is surprising that they had planned more sequels. If you plan on watching all of these movies, then this movie is essential. The ending of it adds so much to the impact of later movies, particularly the final one. Because here you see the consequence if the characters fail in the last movie. In a vacuum, this movie does not hold up. Omega Man is a Charlton Heston movie that tells a similar story much more effectively. Don’t stop with this movie though. The series does get better, in my opinion. If you are going to watch this movie, commit to watching the rest of them. I feel like when they are all put together, they tell a worthwhile story. As a stand-alone, you might want to avoid this one.

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Entry filed under: Action, Science Fiction. Tags: , , , , , , .

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