Escape from the Planet of the Apes

May 21, 2016 at 6:56 pm Leave a comment

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is probably my favorite of the Ape sequels. They took an interesting approach to this one. How do you make a sequel to Beneath the Planet of the Apes? Spoilers, Earth explodes at the end of the previous movie. The answer is time travel. In a humorous moment while watching this movie, my two year old daughter asked “Where’s the Doctor?” I believe she was just in the mood to watch Doctor Who rather than Planet of the Apes. Also, the previous two movies were heavy and dark movies with little opportunity for humor. Half of Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a lighthearted, comedic love story. They brought back two of the most likable characters from the first two movies, Zira and Cornelius. The social commentary is all over this movie and may be more effective than the other movies. I think it was important for them to have fun in this movie if for no other reason than to keep this series from getting too depressing.

We start out with a spacecraft crashing in water. We are in 1973 America and the military is there to greet whoever comes out of the spacecraft. They build it up to the moment that the astronauts remove their helmet revealing three apes. Two of these apes we know from the previous movies, Zira and Cornelius. The third is Doctor Milo. Apparently, off screen, he fished Taylor’s spaceship out of the drink in the Forbidden Zone. He figured out how to operate it and left the planet near the end of the previous movie with Zira and Cornelius along for the ride. The explosion from the last movie sent them through time and crashing towards Earth. They are put in a zoo and, at first, refuse to talk. Milo has his reasons for secrecy but Zira can not stay silent for long. Milo tries to piece together what has happened and what they are going to do about it when he is strangled by a gorilla. There are some obvious continuity questions that will arise during this movie but I can simply wave those off as retconning for the sake of a more interesting story. My question is just how forbidden was the Forbidden Zone? The apes were so married to the words of the Lawgiver except for the part about the Forbidden Zone. Milo recovered Taylor’s spacecraft. Ursus let an invasion. Cornelius performed an archaeological dig. It seems anyone can do anything they want in this so called Forbidden Zone.

Zira and Cornelius speak with their human counterparts Lewis and Stevie (female Stevie for the record.) They have similar scientific occupations. They also have sympathy for the apes that Zira and Cornelius showed for Taylor in the first movie. The ape couple explain that they escaped from their planet during the war completely by accident. They also explain that where they come from human don’t speak but apes do. There is a government panel commissioned to determine how real these apes are and what is to be done with them. Zira and Cornelius explain some of what they know but omit certain details such as knowing who Taylor was and that Zira dissected humans. They win over the government with some humor and likable personality, convincing them that they are not a threat. Doctor Hasslein is less convinced and takes his case to the President of the United States. What is shocking to him is how accepting and reasonable the government and the President are portrayed in this movie. This was in the middle of the Nixon administration. I could wax on for hours about the finer points of President Nixon for better and for worse. For the purposes of a movie review though, I will tell you that Hollywood did not portray him as a sympathetic character. Even to this day he is the subject of movies and always shown as a sinister person. The Apes franchise was always in the mood for social commentary but it seems like the writers of this movie had no issues with Richard Nixon. I can’t believe they would pass up the change to comment on a controversial President. All I can figure is that they must have like him or not wanted to get into it. More perplexing is how transparent the government is about the discovery of talking apes. They are put up in a hotel, host parties, talk with the media, attend boxing events, and shop out in public. America falls in love with Cornelius and Zira. I appreciated these lighthearted moments in the movie and felt hopeful by the warm welcome they receive from the public.Heavy topics will be explored in this movie but the public as a whole seems very welcoming of these outsiders.

Hasslein is horrified to learn from Cornelius testimony that apes will one day dominate man. He believes that eliminating Cornelius and Zira is the best way to prevent this from happening. He becomes even more alarmed to learn that Zira is pregnant. Seeing this as the beginning of the end, he pleads his case to the government. They integrate the apes again and after getting all of the details that they know decide that Cornelius and Zira should be allowed to live in peace but never reproduce. Accidentally,  Cornelius kills a hospital employee and they make a run for it. Lewis and Stevie help smuggle the apes out of the government facility and puts them in touch with Armando. He runs a circus and a love of animals. He would be glad to hide the apes and keep them safe. He shows them the ape in this circus that has given birth and says they would be more than welcome to travel with him.  Pressure from the government is coming down hard and they are forced to run to an abandoned shipyard. Hasslein makes it his business to track them down personally. Which he does leads to the stirring conclusion that you should see for yourself because this movie is awesome.

Kim Hunter, who plays Zira, and Roddy McDowell , who plays Cornelius, do the best job anyone has done so far of acting in these movies. With their body language, line delivery, and eyes, they communicate everything that these characters are feeling throughout the movie. With the ape makeup, that has proven to be difficult. With this being their third movie, they master what needed to be done to make these characters lovable. How apes living in modern society plays on a screen could have mixed results. With less talented actors, an identical script could fall apart. The premise is very shaky ground to be standing on and the actors have to be given a lot of credit for making it work.

The social commentary was less heavy handed than the previous two movies. It was fun to see through the eyes of outsiders what our society looks like. The ape village may look primitive and savage  but, in their eyes, things in our society look primitive to them. Boxing and murder seem to be their biggest culture shock. Through Hasslein we see religious devotion to destruction of these intelligent apes. This can be an analogy for many types of bigotry. Similarly, we see through Armando religious devotion to compassion. I will let you sift through the commentary in this movie. I just wanted to say that I think they handled their commentary in a clever and even handed way.

I like this movie a lot. When I was young, these movies were shown often on cable. During a marathon, they would sometimes skip Beneath and move on to Escape. I can see why. Escape is a fun movie that is well made and heavy enough to keep the franchise smart. The ending of this movie is not cheerful but it keeps with the tone of the series. I feel like this movie could stand alone. It helps a lot to have seen the first movie but they explain the parts that are important to the plot of this movie. The ending of this movie is custom designed for a sequel but it is not like this movie is incomplete. I would recommend this movie to anyone. If you watched Planet of the Apes and are curious about the sequels, this is a good place to start. Go ahead and check this one out.

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

Beneath the Planet of the Apes Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

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