Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Directed By: Ted Post

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

As I watched Planet of the Apes once again, it reminded me just how bold Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its upcoming sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really are.  In Planet of the Apes and its sequels, the apocalypse has come and gone.  In these newer prequels, we're focusing squarely on the turbulent times that lead to mankind's downfall, which makes for some immensely compelling filmmaking.  Don't get me wrong.  I have plenty of love for the original series, but this is a rare instance in which revisiting a big movie franchise has paid big dividends creatively.  When studio execs at Fox opted to revisit the franchise after the success of the 1968 original, however, the payoff was pretty much nonexistent.

Riding on horseback through the Forbidden Zone, Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) flirt with a fiery demise when a great wall of fire mysteriously rises right in front of them and the earth opens up during an earthquake.  Curious about these bizarre occurrences, Taylor decides to investigate them and somehow disappears.  Elsewhere, a spaceship crash lands on the planet.  Brent (James Franciscus), an astronaut sent in search of Taylor and his comrades, has arrived.  He finds Nova, and notices that she is wearing Taylor's dog tag.  Following her lead, Brent winds up in Ape City and encounters scientist chimpanzees Cornelius (David Watson) and Zira (Kim Hunter).  There, he also learns of General Ursus (James Gregory) and his intentions to conquer the Forbidden Zone.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a bizarre sequel that feels almost unnecessary.  The talents that helped build this franchise are missing in action.  Franklin J. Schaffner decides not to return to the direct this sequel.  Charlton Heston reprises his role as Taylor on the condition that his screen time is limited and that his character's story reaches a definitive conclusion.  Roddy McDowall isn't even in the movie to reprise his role as Cornelius.  With hurdles like this, the studio is forced to jump through hoops to come up with a halfway decent product.  Without Schaffner's directorial vision and with the need to build the story around another star while still bringing Heston's story to a meaningful conclusion, it's easy to see why Beneath the Planet of the Apes misses the mark.

There are parts of Beneath the Planet of the Apes that are just simply weird.  We've got nonverbal communication with these telepaths in the wreckage of New York City.  We've got a supposedly more evolved human species worshipping a "divine" bomb in a manner that's meant to resemble Catholicism, especially as they each reveal their inmost self unto their god. We've got three main characters — one of whom can't talk on screen and another of whom won't work.  With their bizarre love triangle, we have a new Tarzan and the same old Jane.  This all spells for one strange, cartoonish affair.  These unusual developments take away from what could be more than just another science fiction film.  The one plus is that the militaristic gorillas give the film a bit of an edge and add some intrigue to the film.

The cast offers a mixed bag of performances.  For his part as Brent, James Franciscus does what he can with the character.  However, there's nothing significantly interesting about Brent considering he's a B version of Heston's Taylor.  For his part as Taylor, Heston mails in his performance.  His reprisal of the role isn't the rich, in-depth portrayal of the astronaut to which we were treated in the original, nor does his performance build on his prior interpretation of the character.  As Nova, Linda Harrison is there for one reason alone, to be eye candy.  Reprising their roles as Zira and Dr. Zaius, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans deliver solid performances respectively.  Lastly, we have James Gregory as the gorilla General Ursus.  I must give Gregory credit for bringing a menacing presence to the screen and offering a very different antagonist as compared to the original.

Failing to match its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Viognier with this one.