“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970)
I will pass on writing a review of “Planet of the Apes” (1968) since I reference that film many times in this article about its sequel. Marooned astronauts, social commentary, a twist ending. All great stuff. I know Rod Serling was just one of several writers who worked on the screenplay, but “Planet of the Apes” did play like a 112 minute episode of “The Twilight Zone.” “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was an atypical sequel where the original film’s protagonist, Charlton Heston, only makes a glorified cameo. Roddy McDowall, who becomes the face of the ape franchise, only appeared in stock footage from the previous film. A different actor, David Watson, plays Cornelius for the rest of the film. Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans do return as Zira and Dr. Zaius respectively. Zira and Cornelius don’t have much purpose in the story other than to give occasional aid to the human protagonists. Perhaps the absence of Roddy McDowall was the reason for their reduced screentime? But, Linda Harrison had a lot more screentime as Nova. A definite plus.
Without Charlton Heston as Taylor for the vast majority of the film, James Franciscus was introduced as Brent, the sole survivor of a two man rescue team sent in search of Taylor. I suppose that was the first problem with the screenplay. According the original film, even if Taylor’s mission had been a success, he and his crew still would have been away from Earth for 700 years (give or take a century), so Brent would have been long since deceased when Taylor’s spaceship was declared overdue. There was not a specific reason given for a 2,000 year passage of time in the original film. The astronauts could only speculate. Either their equipment malfunctioned and kept them in their suspended animation for too long or their spaceship was pulled into some sort of time warp. I’m betting on a time warp since “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” (1971) specified time travel. ASNA (this universe’s version of NASA) was really wasting its time by sending another crew after Taylor. How valuable was he to the space program? Especially after so many centuries? Both he and his ship would have been deemed archaic. But, a new protagonist was required.
There’s no arguing that James Franciscus was a “Charlton Heston type.” This makes some sense since according to the original film, “all humans look alike.” So, you can understand why Zira initially mistook Brent for Taylor. The audience never gets too familiarized with Brent. Act one of “Planet of the Apes” took the time to flesh out Taylor before the apes were introduced. Brent was given no such treatment. In a way, one could say that James Franciscus was to Charlton Heston what George Lazenby was to Sean Connery.
Brent and Nova discover a race of mutated human telepaths living underground in the ruins of New York City. General Ursus, played by James Gregory, is leading the gorilla army into the forbidden zone, looking to engage whomever resides their. Unbeknownst to the apes, the telepaths are worshiping an atomic bomb. A doomsday weapon. Brent is reunited with Taylor, who was being held captive by these telepaths. I enjoy how they react to each other. Brent knows all about Taylor, while Taylor is only vaguely familiar with Brent. During their escape, Nova is killed. Taylor and Brent seem to have different agendas following the death of Nova. Brent wants to stop the telepaths from detonating their bomb, but I think Taylor had already reconciled himself with the end of the world. Both of the heroic astronauts are gunned down. Before Taylor draws his last breath, he takes it upon himself to detonate the atom bomb, destroying the world as Dr. Zaius had predicted man would.
Overall, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was a disjointed, but enjoyable sequel. There was great deal of violence considering the anti-war themes of the film. I don’t know if the filmmakers were entirely successfully in conveying their message. The violence in “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972) was better justified because the theme of that film was revolution.
Posted on January 2, 2014, in Planet of the Apes and tagged Charlton Heston, James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison, Planet of the Apes, Rod Serling, Roddy McDowall. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.