Escape from the Planet of the Apes

Directed By: Don Taylor

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, and Ricardo Montalbán

Beneath the Planet of the Apes has a pretty definitive conclusion.  After all, just about everybody dies.  The film's explosive ending could not kill Hollywood's addiction to sequels, however.  Studio execs somehow resurrect the series and march onward.  This is some pretty unbelievable stuff for the early 70s.  This second sequel to Planet of the Apes predates Jason Voorhees and his death in every installment of the franchise.  This predates the Ripley clone in Alien Resurrection.  Moreover, this predates many of the countless other films where the protagonist has somehow cheated death to indulge Hollywood’s greed.

After the events of its predecessor, the film picks up with Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall).  They partner with a genius chimp named Milo (Sal Mineo) to rig a spaceship and escape the planet. Though they escape Earth before its looming destruction at the hands of men and gorillas alike, the trio find that they have no place to call home.  What's worse is that somehow they land back on earth once they've concluded their journey.  As they look at the machinery within the spaceship they realize that they've gone back two thousand years and have arrived on planet Earth two years after Taylor actually left on his journey that took him ahead to the 40th century.

The spaceship lands in the Pacific Ocean to lots of fanfare from NASA.  The staff awaiting them is shocked to find apes and not the astronauts they originally sent on this grand mission.  Unsure what to do in this situation, NASA sends the chimps to the Los Angeles Zoo where they meet scientists Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) and Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman).  Reluctant to reveal their ability to speak, Zira, Cornelius, and Milo keep their mouths shut at first.  After enduring demeaning tests to assess her basic intelligence, Zira eventually breaks and voices her opposition to all these tests, making her capacity for speech abundantly clear.  Meanwhile, NASA's discovery has found its way to the Oval Office, and the President is convening a commission to investigate the chimps and their mysterious arrival.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is one intriguing way to circumvent the deaths of the franchise's main characters.  By elevating the two remaining supporting players and sending them back in time.  Zira and Cornelius are not only sent to a different age but they've also switched roles with their former subjects.  Instead of observing and examining humans, they're now being observed and examined by humans.  This is a clever twist from the writers.  Moreover, the overall narrative premise of Escape from the Planet of the Apes pays big dividends and breathes new life into what should have been a dead franchise.

Though the film doesn't have tons of action, the rich story director Don Taylor tells here is full of drama, intrigue, and thought-provoking moral and ethical questions.  There's plenty of drama reminiscent of the original Planet of the Apes whereby humans discover that there are individuals within a species they consider to be inferior that rival them in terms of their intellectual capacity.  There's plenty of intrigue in seeing how the various players in the American government and society decide to act on this new revelation.  Lastly, there's the ethical dilemma of acting on one's knowledge of the future in the interest of self-preservation to circumvent an apocalyptic demise down the road.  All of this makes for one engaging piece of cinema.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a well-written and well-directed sequel that gives the Planet of the Apes franchise a fresh start.  This third installment gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.