REVIEW: ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

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“Wedded” – Angry priest after discovering future apes got married.

Director: Don Taylor

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman

Synopsis: After crash landing on earth, Zira, Cornelius and Dr Milo discover a planet ruled by humans.

Review:

After the shocking finale of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, this film had nowhere to go but the time travel route. With shades of Lost Season 5 and Austin Powers this film mixes smart sci-fi with inane comedy.

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The film opens with a spacecraft drifting in the sea. Soon we discover that Cornelius, Zira and (new ape?) Dr Milo have crash-landed on earth in the past, prior to the rise of the planet of the apes. Their destination is in fact the 1970s, with the retro funky soundtrack and comedic tone this franchise has found itself in a new direction, one vastly different to the two films preceding it. It is not for the better, nor the worst, merely an interesting side trip with two characters we have learnt to love over the past installments. From the opening scenes we can see that the ape costume design and make-up effects don’t translate as well in a modern setting away from the post-apocalyptic ape future. Also the apes find themselves in a predicament that is a stark contrast of how the characters were treated in the previous films.

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Zira and Cornelius discover that humans once ruled the earth and find themselves trapped in a zoo only to be tested on and researched. Although not as violently as Charlton Heston’s Taylor was in the original. Soon the two apes are welcomed into society and are the talk of the town as everyone wishes to get to know these two apes.

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Their welcome is soon turned to darker terrain as Dr Hasslein (Eric Braeden), fears for his planets future as Zira confesses how the ape war ended.

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This is smart sci-fi, only it’s mixed with silly humour and obnoxious characters that it can’t succeed as the previous films did. With its lack of action and twists, the film is enjoyable however after the last two entries it fails to rise above.

Rating: 2 Stars

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