PLANET OF THE APES RETROSPECTIVE: BEST TO WORST

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What a great series to review this year. Brilliant characters, excellent commentary on real life events and news headlines. Amazing costumes and later special effects. Crazy plots and twists. Excellent set design and imagination. The Planet of the Apes series has endured decades and has had many highs and many lows. In 2014 with the release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I decided to look back at the series from the original 1968 classic Planet of the Apes all the way to 2014’s Dawn. It has been a great experience reviewing this film and below I’ll list the best to worst in the series.

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1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

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2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

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5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

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6. Planet of the Apes (2001)

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7. Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

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8. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Although I love Dawn of the Planet of the Apes dearly I still find the original 1968 film to be the best of the series. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an excellent reboot for the franchise and introduced us to Andy Serkis mo-capped Caesar. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was an excellent thriller and showed the beginning of the Planet of the Apes. Beneath the Planet of the Apes was a fun sequel to the original with a completely insane ending. However with a (mostly) absent Charlton Heston the film ultimately struggled. Tim Burton’s remake was disappointing but had some fun elements and excellent costume design. Escape and Battle were pretty forgettable entries in the franchise. All up a great series and I had a lot of fun watching them all.

REVIEW: BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

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“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium sized star, and one of its satellites, a green insignificant planet, is now dead” – Voiceover

Director: Ted Post

Cast: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston

Synopsis: Astronaut Brent crash lands on a planet populated by humanoid apes. As he searches for his lost friend Taylor he discovers a buried New York city and a group of telepathic super-humans who worship an atomic bomb.

Review:

Reading the above synopsis one can see how quickly this franchise went from curious to completely insane. After the shocking finale of the first film the producers were insistent on not only another shocking ending but also a shocking beginning as well. After several rewrites producers agreed on this story of apes waging war on humans, telepathic super-humans, religious satire and the most nihilistic ending ever put on film. This film drove the franchise into much more crazier territory even though the first film was already highly unusual and inventive.

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The film begins with a prologue recapping the events of the first films finale. Taylor and Nova then ride off into the Forbidden Zone, where they discover the earth crumbling around them. Taylor then disappears as Nova rides off for help. We are then introduced to the films new protagonist, Astronaut Brent. His ship has also crash landed and we discover he was on a rescue mission to find Taylor. Initially he goes through the same motions as Taylor went through in the first only without a crew to interact with. Things move faster for Brent as he discovers the apes and their attitudes towards humans. New ape General Ursus represents the evil militant leader archetype who hates man and wishes for war without completely understanding the situation. Dr Zaius, Zira and Cornelius also return and continue the same beats as the first film. After Zira and Cornelius help Brent the film then begins to follow its own path.

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Brent and Nova discover that New York has been covered by the Forbidden Zone. As Brent searches on he discovers a group of terrifying telepathic mutant humans who question Brent through telepathy and get him to try and kill Nova. Brent eventually discovers Taylor who is held captive and they wage war on the mutant beings while the apes also declare war and the film ends on a shocking note that in my opinion is a lot worse than the originals.

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This film is tight paced, gripping and filled with enough sci-fi satire to fill a book. Not only is the race theme satired again with the apes versus the humans but also religion gets satired this time as well with the super humans reciting a hymn and prayer to the atomic bomb.

Mendez: Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.

It is unsettling to watch these mutants pray over an atomic bomb and you have to wonder what was going on at this time for the producers, director and writer to come up with this stuff. Nevertheless it does make for an enjoyable sequel, with intense direction from Ted Post, a more epic scale and enjoyable twists. The only downside is the new protagonist Brent played by James Franciscus, who isn’t given much to do with his character but to wonder around in a loincloth and fight apes. Missing is Heston’s bitter Taylor from the original who not only had a great backstory and hero’s journey, but also an incredible performance from Charlton Heston. Franciscus can’t match Heston’s intensity and once Heston reappears you have no care for Brent or his closing scenes. The film could have easily been Taylor’s journey and it is this missing link that detracts from the films overall enjoyment.

Rating: 3 Stars