Thursday, December 23, 2010

Capsule Review – Escape from the Planet of the Apes

December 22, 2010

Escape from the Planet of the Apes – US, 1971

Let me see if I have this right – While their planet is erupting in civil war and their friends are in grave danger, those lovable pacifist chimpanzees Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) go on an experimental space joyride with Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) aboard Col. Taylor’s magically restored spaceship. From outer space, they witness the destruction of their planet and are sent back in time by the force of the explosion to 1973. On Earth, they are eventually taken shopping for new clothes, Zira gives a speech to a women’s group on the need for equality at home, and Cornelius is taken to see a boxing match. These parts of the third film in the Planet of the Apes trilogy can perhaps best be described as ridiculous.

Fortunately, mixed in with the silliness mentioned above is a rather interesting film in which people discuss the correct response to the news that their society is going to be completely turned upside down. They now know what future awaits them, and they debate whether it is proper to attempt to change it given the opportunity to do so. Moreover, who’s to say that the events that are unfolding are not what led to that future in the first place? In the film, people fall into are two camps: those that subscribe to the views of Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Breaden) that they must do whatever is necessary to prevent the ape’s future from occurring and those like Dr. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and the President of the United States (William Windom), who are deeply troubled by the moral implications of what attempting to do so would entail. This is made even more ambiguous by the news that Zira is pregnant. The conversations in which the president and the scientists discuss the best course of action are insightful and thought-provoking, making it clear that neither position is without merit. Watch for the scene in which Cornelius and Zira explain how apes eventually evolved. It’s quite fascinating. Also fun is Ricardo Montalban as Armando, the head of a traveling circus. He has some interesting views on the notion of changing your destiny. Escape from the Planet of the Apes does not match the greatness of the original, but it is certainly a step in the right direction after the disappointment of the previous film. (on DVD)

3 stars

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