Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Capsule Reviews – Beneath the Planet of the Apes

December 21, 2010

Beneath the Planet of the Apes – US, 1970

In the category of “what were they thinking,” I can now add the follow-up to the 1968 science fiction classic Planet of the Apes, a clunky film that is more like a bad episode of Star Trek than the continuing adventures of Colonel George Taylor. In fact, the film removes Heston’s character rather quickly – apparently on Heston’s request - and focuses on yet another captain, John Brent (James Franciscus), who has been sent to rescue Taylor. With a new captain come the same discoveries that Taylor made – that the apes can talk and that the planet he is on is in fact Earth. It’s not nearly as interesting the second time. The film has a few fairly interesting subplots – there’s apparently a food shortage despite the abundant presence of lush green forests, and the gorilla army has started what amounts to genocide against the humans. A gorilla general even shouts the chilling hate-filled line, “The only good human is a dead human.” In addition, we get a glimpse of the dissent that exists between the chimpanzee population and the apes when a group of young chimps stage a sit-in while holding signs and shouting, “We want freedom! We want peace!” – a clear allegory to the anti-war protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

However, none of these subplots go anywhere. Instead, the film focuses on the supposedly strange events that are taking place in the Forbidden Zone and the impending war between the apes and whoever is causing them. As part of this storyline, the film introduces a small underground colony of humans that can somehow both communicate telepathically and speak. Just how long they’ve been down there and why they’ve done nothing to help their fellow humans is never explained. Instead, we get strange prayers to an atomic weapon and speeches about how they are peaceful people as they prepare to set off a nuclear weapon. The song they sing in church consists of truly bizarre, smirk-inducing lyrics that I have to believe were intended to be chilling. And of course Nova (Linda Harrison) finally speaks – at just the right time, too. I guess all she needed was the right emotional moment for her vocal chords to finally function properly. I won’t give away the ending except to say that when I saw it, I wondered aloud how there could possibly be three more films in the series. And yet there are. However, Beneath the Planet of the Apes will probably not make anyone excited about watching them. (on DVD)

2 and a half stars

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