Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Only a handful of sequels in cinema history have managed to live up to, let alone surpass, the quality of the first film in a prospective franchise.  We all know the parameters of this debate -- and also the examples --very well: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Aliens (1986), The Godfather Part II (1972), and perhaps The Road Warrior (1982). 

You'll notice that Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), the first sequel to 1968's Planet of the Apes, doesn't make that short list. 

To be certain, Beneath is not a bad film. Perhaps, given a little perspective, it's even a pretty good one.  But in terms of the franchise, director Ted Post's sortie simply can't live up to the memory created by Schaffner's watershed, landmark original. 

Where Planet of the Apes was sprawling, brawny, and intricate in visual presentation, Beneath the Planet of the Apes feels mundane and a little rote by comparison.   Where Apes shocked and awed us with its amazing, special-effects presentation of an original new world, Beneath is largely satisfied (at least in its first half...), to a stage a simple return trip to Ape-ville.

This critical assessment does not mean, however, that Beneath the Planet of the Apes is less than a valuable piece of the five movie cycle.  It is that indeed.  The second film introduces to the franchise a dedicated enemy for the apes: the underground mutant dwellers of NYC.   And with the introduction of General Ursus, the film more fully diagrams the Ape culture's caste system.  The gorillas really did not play a very prominent part in Planet of the Apes, but here they take their rightful place in the hierarchy as the militaristic, aggressive drivers of ape politics and policy.

Perhaps the sense of disappointment Beneath the Planet of the Apes invariably provokes may simply result from the fact that it had a very, very high benchmark to surpass.  Regardless, the two most obvious concerns with Beneath the Planet of the Apes are these:

First, in direct contrast to the original, the action scenes in Beneath are largely underwhelming and poorly staged. 

And secondly, the sequel simply does not lead with its strongest material.  Instead, the film takes a good forty-or-forty five minutes to get to the real meat of the tale: a war between two species which both believe that they are God's chosen.  Up to that point, the movie plays a little like what Charlton Heston feared a sequel might be, just a few more (amusing) adventures with the apes.

The absence of Heston, actually, is at the very root of the second problem.  Since the actor would only agree to book-end appearances in the sequel, the inventive writer, Paul Dehn, had to conceive a new human hero in James Franciscus's astronaut Brent.  Introducing Brent to the audience, and also introducing Brent to the world of the apes, however, effectively sets the movie back about thirty minutes. 

Instead of literally taking off at the Statue of Liberty, the audience returns to square one as another human astronaut meets Nova, visits Ape City, meets Zira and Cornelius, and is hunted by the gorillas.  After another escape, it's back to the Forbidden Zone -- where Planet of the Apes ended -- and finally the story proper seems to commence with the introduction of the mutants. 

Also, it's very clear that this should be Taylor's story, not Brent's, though Franciscus does an admirable job of bringing life and distinction to his not-very-well-delineated character.  The movie never quite gets over the perception that Brent is a fill-in character for Taylor.

All this criticism established, Beneath the Planet of the Apes demonstrates some remarkable sci-fi ingenuity in its final act, pitting Brent and Taylor (and the apes too...) against mutated humans who live underground, in the ruins of 20th Century New York City.  These mutants are gifted with psychic capabilities and worship a most unusual deity: the Alpha-Omega "Doomsday" bomb. 

This strange set-up provides the filmmakers plenty of opportunity to make commentary on the nature of religion, and on the nature of man too.   And indeed, this commentary very nearly (or perhaps fully, depending on your perspective), redeems the whole enterprise.

In particular, Beneath the Planet of the Apes reveals how two species (simian and human) use religion and "God's will" as cover for military conquest and aggression.  This is very much in keeping with the anti-war tenor of the 1968 Apes film, but Beneath the Planet of the Apes pushes the theme as far as it can absolutely go. 

Specifically, the film ends on a distinct but extremely gutsy "down note:" the destruction of the planet Earth itself.  Bloodier and more brutal even than its predecessor, Beneath of the Planet of the Apes thus goes out on a note of high inspiration, even if it is notably dark inspiration.

The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!

After Taylor (Heston) disappears in the Forbidden Zone under strange circumstances, Nova (Linda Harrison) makes a return to civilization to seek help. 

Along the way to Ape City, she meets up with John Brent (Franciscus), an astronaut who has followed Taylor's trajectory in hopes of rescuing him and also crash landed.. 

Nova and Brent visit Ape City, and find that charismatic but belligerent General Ursus (James Gregory) is plotting a "military adventure" into the Forbidden Zone to stake claim to new territory where the apes can grow crops. 

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) is not happy about going along on this excursion, fearing "the unknown." He visits Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson) to share his concerns, and also to recruit them to fulfill his duties in his absence. 

When Nova and Brent are captured by apes and are to be used "for target practice," Zira helps free the duo from a prison wagon.  Brent and Nova escape into the Forbidden Zone and seek sanctuary from the Apes in a cavern.  There, they unexpectedly find the remnants of a 20th century subway system.   Brent and Nova explore the cavern, and discover the ruins of the New York Stock Exchange, the Public Library and Radio City Music Hall. 

The denizens of this subterranean metropolis are mutated humans, survivors of the nuclear war who have developed the powers of their mind. 

These mutants claim they are peaceful, and that their only weapon is "the power of illusion."  But they are not being completely truthful in this description.  They also possess a fully operational atomic bomb, the The Alpha Omega Bomb, which is capable of burning to a cinder the planet Earth.   The mutants worship the bomb (and "the holy fallout") and plan to use the device to defeat the aggressive Apes.

Brent and Taylor join forces to prevent the bomb's detonation, but Ursus's gorilla army arrives and decimates the mutant population.  After Nova is murdered by an ape soldier, Taylor loses his belief in the mission and -- fatally injured -- activates the Alpha Omega Bomb himself, putting an end to the planet's hatred and conflict once and for all.

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

In its best moments, Beneath the Planet of the Apes sets up a fine comparison between the conquering ape army and the under-dwelling mutants of bombed-out NYC. 

Both races express the notion that they are God's select; that God is talking explicitly to them. In Ape City, Ursus's speech notes that it is the "holy mission" of the apes to plant their flags and guns upon new territory.  What Zaius considers a "great crisis," Ursus views as an opportunity for fulfillment of destiny.  The apes -- chosen in the image of the Almighty -- shall expand their power, and Ursus shall have the opportunity for glory; to exercise his highly trained milita.  His campaign to the Forbidden Zone is even described as a "holy war" in one instance. 

It is the general's faith in God's blessings that allow him to so readily dismiss and disband a peace protest in the streets of Ape City.  There, a group of young chimpanzees (read: liberals) stand in the way of the mobilizing cavalry, and are brutally swept away by gorilla authority.  The protester's street signs -- urging peace -- are trampled underfoot by the marching militia.

Shot in hand-held fashion, the gorilla disruption of the chimpanzee peace demonstration is highly reminiscent of both Civil Rights and Vietnam protests of the time; making the point that a civilized nation's entrenched establishment -- buttressed by armed authority -- will always win out, even over courageous citizen activism.  Although the protest is anti-war (recalling Vietnam) in nature, it simultaneously falls along caste or race lines: Gorillas sweep away pacifist chimpanzees and their concerns.   This is just one instance (and one scene) where the Planet of the Apes saga proves so rich in allusion and metaphor; able to comment readily on more than one matter roiling Nixon's America.

Later in the film, Dr. Zaius witnesses the terrifying image of The Lawgiver bleeding, an illusion created by the mutants, and once more, he speaks in terms of religious fanaticism, and of some imaginary divine preference.  "We are still God's chosen," he insists "This is a vision...and it is a lie. 

His words, and the religious underpinning of the war make plain that this not just war, but a crusade.  what is at stake for the apes is their vision of their own superiority.

Meanwhile, in the wreckage of Manhattan, the mutants also view themselves as God's champions.  They are "Keepers of the Divine Bomb," and the bomb itself is a "holy weapon of peace."  Again, the mutants are deluding themselves about their true (violent) nature, and using religion as a shield; a shield by which they can do whatever it is that they please.   For instance, the mutants use their fearsome mental powers to make their enemies fight one another, to make Taylor and Brent fight.  But the mutants repeatedly exonerate themselves from responsibility for this action because they are not the ones actually picking up physical weapons, or throwing punches.  But they are every bit as violent as the apes.

Where Planet of the Apes pointed out the role of religious hypocrisy in the suppressing of truth and the suppressing of science, Beneath the Planet of the Apes utilizes the notion of dueling religious viewpoints, and suggests that such incompatible visions of the Divine (and the Divine's wishes...) very often serve as the root cause of  international conflict.  If God tells you to conquer, right?  If you think God is on your side, it's easier to drop bombs on your enemy.

Given the incompatible viewpoints of the ape leadership and the mutant leadership, it is no surprise that the film ends as it does.  There can be no peace between those of such diametrically opposed viewpoints.  Taylor seems to understand this dead end, especially after Nova's meaningless death.  "We should let them all die...look what it comes to.  It's time it was finished."   

Nova's death, in some ways, concerns the idea of collateral damage.  She is a total innocent, a person of no ideology or particular belief, who gets caught in the crossfire when two ideological states  (ape and mutant) go to war.  She is the people of Vietnam, perhaps, caught between warring ideologies of capitalism and communism.

And finally, Taylor does finish things.  He activates the bomb and brings to an end both the apes and the mutants' delusions of God's favor.  It's a notably dark ending to the film.  It's actually more than dark, it's downright nihilistic.  The universe is better off with man and monkey dead, than at each other's throats.   In the film's last frame, Earth is left a cinder, and a narrator announces (in solemn voice over) that a "Green and insignificant planet is now dead." 

Notice the use of the word insignificant.  What the omnipotent narrator's choice of words reveal is that the apes and the humans ultimately lived and died by delusion and hypocrisy. They built themselves up as important and beloved in the eyes of a mythical Supreme Being, when in fact...they were no such thing.  All of their toils and battles went unnoticed in the universal scheme of things.  The apes and the men were fools...and they died as fools. 

When Beneath the Planet of the Apes adheres closely to this theme of dueling cultures and clashing religious viewpoints, it proves rather impressive, in my opinion.  And the mutant civilization, down to the presentation of the ruined city and the ghoulish make-up, is every bit as impressive as the special effects work done on the original Planet of the Apes

The moment here in which the mutants reveal their "innermost" selves to their God, the bomb, is more than bracing.  It's ghoulish.  The unmasking of the mutants may not equal the psychic jolt of the Statue of Liberty revelation in Planet of the Apes, but it certainly rivets the attention, and visually brings forth the horrific toll of nuclear war upon both the human flesh and the human visage.  It also assures that this sequel contributes some real visual "punch" to the franchise.

On the downside, Beneath the Planet of the Apes certainly raises some questions of series continuity.  In Planet of the Apes, Taylor's ship crashed in 3978.  In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the year is established as 3955 instead, and that's the date utilized going forward into Escape and the other films. 

Also, Dr. Zaius regards Cornelius and Zira and notes the "two" chimpanzee psychologists.  Of course, only Zira is a psychologist. Cornelius is an archaeologist.  Again and again, the film seems to bizarrely misremember the specific details of Planet of the Apes.  Cornelius even notes that Brent doesn't want to end up like Taylor's two friends, stuffed and mounted in the "Zaius" museum.  Of course, only Dodge ended up stuffed in the museum; Landon was lobotomized.    I know the film was created before VCRs made films widely available for review and research, but it seems that someone should have screened the original Apes film on the studio lot before crafting the detail of the sequel.  Just a few minor tweaks, and all of these problems would have been easily resolved.

In terms of the film's action scenes, they are rather underwhelming.  The worst scene in the film is likely Brent and Nova's escape from an ape prison wagon.  The scene employs terrible rear-projection, and features cross-cutting between exterior long shots that don't seem to match the close-ups.  Worst of all, there's no soundtrack at all during this lengthy, would-be-tense sequence, so the whole scene just kind of sits there, about as flat as could be on an emotional or excitement level.   

Additionally, the scene in which Brent and Nova are chased across a grassy hill, and captured by the apes, is a very pale shadow of the intricate, brilliantly cut corn-field hunt in the first Planet of the Apes film.  The location is dull, there are relatively few ape soldiers (extras) in pursuit, and the scene is underwhelming both in terms of shots (mostly long and medium shots) and the unimpressive editing.  Moments that should generate anxiety and suspense fail totally to engender those emotions.

David Watson does his best to imitate Roddy McDowall's Cornelius here, but several of the scenes between Zira and Cornelius play as silly or inconsequential.  And during Ursus's big speech to the Ape Council, it's obvious that many of the citizen apes are simply wearing crude pull-over masks.  Again, there's the feeling that with a little more time and care, some of these moments could have been avoided, or at least downplayed to a certain extent.

On the matter of General Ursus, however, there can be no debate.  James Gregory gives a terrific, swaggering performance as the "glorious" leader of the apes, delivering one stem-winder of a political speech.   Although his words are (deliberately) racist and barbaric, the strutting performance is nothing less than rousing.

Gregory's Ursus -- right down to his uniform and hat -- is every bit as interesting a villain as Dr. Zaius or any other ape character featured in the film and TV series.  Evidence of this is that all succeeding generations of ape stories (the TV series, the cartoon, and the re-imagination...) have provided a substantial role for a militaristic gorilla general.  Ursus or Ursus knock-offs (Urko, for instance)  are part of the very gestalt of the franchise now, and it is Beneath the Planet of the Ape that introduces him. 

In some ways, Beneath the Planet of the Apes appears a truly schizophrenic film.  The first forty minutes are a mildly amusing retread of Planet of the Apes highlights, but the last hour or so is a daring, ably-presented descent into utter darkness and despair.  The introduction of the mutants and their divine bomb is a brilliant, inspired facet of the film (and reflected in the final stage of the five-strong film series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes.)  But more than that, Beneath the Planet of the Apes earns its artistic stripes by not cow towing to sequel conventions or audience demands for happy endings.

In the last several moments of the film, Brent is shot in the head (and we see it in close medium shot), Ursus is gunned down, and Taylor is mortally and bloodily wounded.  Then, just when you think the movie can't possibly descend further into despair, Taylor destroys the Earth.  It's gruesome and yet somehow also pure. 

Nobody gets out of the Planet of the Apes alive.

Well, almost nobody, as tomorrow's selection, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) quickly reveals...


  1. This is a very good film. Perhaps not great. Much of the film feels like it is rushed--everything right up through the point where Brent and Nova enter the underground tunnel.

    As an aside, this cave seems EXTREMELY close to the Ape City. One wonders why the Apes did not explore more thoroughly and discover it. But clearly, they felt no need to do it. As opposed to the rush and urgency to go to war in the Forbidden Zone. Most likely, the Mutants have been quite aware of the Apes for some time, and screening them from discovering the cave or 'urging' them to not explore into the area.

    But the arrival of Taylor threw a literal human wrench into everyone's comfortable lifestyle. The status quo of the Apes and the Mutants, as well as the status quo of the gorillas and orangutans and chimpanzees, goes nutso.

    Lots of people saw Taylor in Ape City. So the society of the Apes is now in upheaval. Ursus clearly was not in Ape City during Taylor's visit, or else he would have had him shot.

    For all his faults, Ursus is brilliant, much as Dr. Zaius is. Dr. Zaius wants to keep things calm, as befits the Defender of the Faith. But Ursus wants to keep things under control, which is much different. In fact, while the series is well-regarded for its commentary on politics and race relations in this country, and the divisions of science/liberalism (the chimpanzees), religion/conservatism (the orangutans---notice the see/hear/speak no evil photo at the top of the review of the first film---they are all orangutans!), and the military/expansionism (the gorillas). Ursus, I feel, is pushing for this war against the human threat, not just to secure Ape City against humans from the Forbidden Zone, but also to take control of Ape City completely from Dr. Zaius! He was probably prepared to kill Zaius on the expedition personally, but willing to blame it on the humans (and knew nobody would find him out).

    Ursus is a powerful and much under-rated character in science fiction. James Gregory's performance was brilliant, and I think he probably could have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor were the Academy more friendly to science fiction and fantasy in the big categories. I am actually thinking that Ursus was much like Khan, if we could have seen him before his downfall in 1996. Not the same, but similar. General Chang is much like Ursus, too. I believe as you do that Ursus is as interesting as any ape in the franchise.

    to be continued

  2. Part II

    Other matters: the naming of the Apes ape characters is rather fascinating. In the first film, we were introduced to Cornelius and Zira, Zaius and Lucius (notice the 'us' endings of the names), and here we get Ursus as well. This could be a trend in Ape society. In earlier centuries, we'll later see (the joys of time travel language, lol) Galen and Urko, alongside a Zaius. Clearly, our Zaius who met Taylor must have been named after the Zaius of 3085. The only other apes from Ape City society we see are the jailor at Zira's experimental facility/prison and Dr. Milo who get screen time and dialogue (that I can recall).

    I think Heston was completely wrong to pooh-pooh the idea of making an Apes series of movies, both artistically and commercially. I suspect he probably had never read Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books, or he would have seen the possibilities inherent in trying to take over the planet and mold it in his own image. Commercially, this would have been a good franchise to rival the James Bond series of films. Artistically, he would have a chance to play several different types of roles---warrior, diplomat, explorer, king, father of his people, statesman, scientist, teacher. That would be not unlike John Carter who had to do all of those things except be a scientist, or Conan, who was a warrior, explorer, treasure-hunter, thief, pirate, general, and king in various parts of his career. By rejecting this possibility, he set up his own downfall for the rest of his career. From Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments through the first Planet of the Apes, he was a top box-office draw. From Beneath on out, his career went downhill. Yes, I love The Omega Man, but it was more of the same stuff he was doing in Planet of the Apes (or could have been doing: warrior, explorer, scientist, father of his people, diplomat, etc). Yeah, sure, he did Earthquake, but he was better and more effective in Airport '75. And he ended up in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes on the other side... the nadir of his career (that and his increasing obsession with the Second Amendment).

    Okay, off my version of the Avatar-is-not-anti-American soapbox, LOL.

    to be continued

  3. Part III

    Major plusses in this film: Seeing the damaged ship; the ruins of New York; the makeup on the Mutants; James Franciscus as Brent (yes I know he had a turkey script but it was rushed and originally written for Heston) was a cool, likable man of action; Linda Harrison as Nova; the lady who was a Mutant but joined our side as the scientist who befriended Cornelius and Zira, the lovely Natalie Trundy; the really cool bars in the prison cells which conveniently became cool mace-weapons; Maurice Evans as Zaius (again, the script wasn't good for him, but he was great again) and Kim Hunter as Zira (you are the second human I have ever kissed--that was a touching scene.

    Major negatives: the downer ending (well-done) but in theory it put an end to things; the religious insanity of the Mutants (they have clearly kept more knowledge of their past yet still worship the damned bomb!---I can't believe they kept that thing in working condition; they must have been insane because they knew what it could do) and their song/chant "I reveal myself unto my inmost God". Religious fanaticism, yeesh...also seen in The Omega Man. Oh, and also a major negative was the lower budget. For whatever reason or reasons, Escape actually looks like it has 5 times the budget of Return, even though it is actually less (I guess the money in Return went to the makeup and Chuck's salary...LOL)

    The biggest minus, of course, was Roddy's non-appearance. Also a shame was that we didn't get to see Lucius, Zira's nephew, perhaps in the protests. A well-rounded depiction of a society will eventually show its juveniles, and we got to see Ape youngsters in Battle as well as in the television series.

    Thanks for your great review!

    Gordon Long

  4. Hi Gordon,

    A great, three part comment on Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment: the film is good, but ultimately falls short of being great.

    Ursus is a great character (and Gregory was great in the role). Ursus is the final piece of the ape puzzle, I agree, bringing us a powerful gorilla character to complement the chimpanzees (Zira and Cornelius) and the orangutan (Zaius). With Ursus, the balance is complete, which is why the Ursus character (even named Urko...) recurs in so many incarnations of the franchise.

    I also agree with you that Heston made a mistake not starring in at least one sequel, full-on. Had he done so, the budget might not have been cut so drastically (it was cut 50% percent), and a lot of the film's issues (in terms of a rehash opening, and a rushed feeling) would have likely been ironed out. It was a missed opportunity, and I like your comparison to the John Carter series.

    All that said, I do very much agree with you that James Franciscus did a terrific job bringing something unique and important to Brent. The character was designed as a Taylor-wannabe, but does manage to register some individuality and character. Again, a useful comparison is to the Burton film. Brent is still far better delineated than Leo in that film.

    I also missed Roddy McDowall here. :)

    Great comment, my friend. Thank you again for your thoughts on the film.

    best wishes,

  5. Anonymous10:11 PM

    Wow... I do love Beneath... but you know, John, you (and those who posted comments) really have hit the nail on the head regarding its faults. I can't disagree with any of it.

    The film's pacing is way off--as you say, we're completely sidetracked for the first half-hour of the film, until we finally get to the part that matters: the adventures in the Forbidden Zone. And the unimportance of Taylor, Zira and Cornelius is a major disappointment after they were so vital in the first one.

    That said, Ursus remains one of my favorite characters in the series, the mutants are such a wonderful commentary on religion and paranoia, and the ending is simply phenomenal. There's something about Beneath that always thrills me, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps it's the scene in which the mutants' nature is revealed. Perhaps it's the war council scene. Perhaps it's the Psalm of Mendez II. Perhaps it's the chimp protestors. Perhaps it's seeing the ruins of New York City. Perhaps it's the tragic deaths of Nova, Brent and Taylor. Perhaps it's all of this combined.

    This is a film I've long seen people trash. I constantly see it hailed as the worst of the sequels, which is not something I agree with at all--that label, for me, squarely falls on Battle's shoulders. Beneath may not live up to the masterpiece of the original, but really, how many sequels in ANY series do?

    Your point about second films is a good one, and I'd add Superman II to the list. But I'm ALMOST put Beneath on the list as well. I'm sure I'm in the minority on that point, but when I find that a POTA film is playing on TV, I rarely ever watch it since I've got the Blu-rays and can't stand seeing commercials... unless it's Beneath, in which case, I somehow can't seem to turn away.

    --Rich Handley

  6. Hi Rich,

    I agree very much with your comment. Beneath -- whatever the flaws -- casts a spell. I think it's pretty rare that a movie start off poorly and then really pull it together, but that's what this sequel does. Usually, if the first act is poor, everything descends down from that point into a death spiral.

    Beneath is the opposite. It starts diffident and repetitive and unoriginal and then rallies itself to a point of originality, excitement, horror and even inspiration. This is a reason to admire the film, certainly.

    I also love the Ursus character, the bloody demises of our beloved characters and the go-for-broke ending and commentry on "holy war."

    I think the film is very good, and I can watch it anytime...I just wish the Alpha were as strong as the Omega.

    Great comment, my friend.


  7. When I first watched Planet Of The Apes, I too knew of the grand finale, but I had no knowledge of the sequels or their content. So for me, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was my first "oh my god" moment in the series. I neither anticipated nor considered it even possible that the film could end in the manner that it did. Taylor, who had left earth in search of something better than man, something better than a self destructive species, is, in the final analysis, the man who brings the end of existence. This is, in my view, the true gravitas of this film.

    Rehashing the film as a whole, however, does no less than make me feel schizophrenic. It has so many great concepts, so many great specific moments, that I can not help but feel severely disappointed at their execution. While I appreciate the positive aspects of the film that you point to in the final act, to me its seems that one has to work a little too hard to appreciate them. Granted, on first viewing the deaths of Nova, Brent, Ursus and of course the ignition of doomsday were all very shocking. But to me that was only the case when it was unexpected. On repeat viewings, the moments feel empty. They are not impactful. Watching them felt like going through the motions. Yet, to take a more contemporary film (and one whos title seems apt in light of the subject matter here) the ending of 12 Monkeys remains entertaining and impactful no matter how many times it is viewed. The staging of the deaths in BTPOTA takes the humanity out of the scene. It may as well have been Daffy Duck who got shot.

    The reasons for this are varied, some of which you mentioned. Poor editing, poor directing, negligible special affects. All of which are likely functions of the lower budget, which itself is a function of Charlton Heston deciding one film was enough for him to lead.

    Perhaps many of the issues are a sign of the times. As was mentioned, the film was made before the internet existed where information was as readily available as it is today. It was made before hundreds of people lined up at Comic-con to ask panelists the most specific and detailed questions that the average observer might overlook. I understand this, but there are just too many issues which I can not rationalise. The major issues I have with this film are:

    - The poor narrative conceit of Brent going after Taylor to "rescue" him. In Taylor's opening monologue of the first film he makes it clear that it was anticipated that his journey would take him well into the future. So how would Brent have known that Taylor needed rescuing? And it is clear that Brent was from Taylor's time as they recognised each other in the cell. This is a glaring hole.

    - The inconcistency of dates. 3978 vs 3955. I simply refuse to accept that no one out of the army of people that it takes to make a film knew that 3978 was the date from the first film.

    - The poor visual delivery of the narrative. In the first act, as Taylor encounters the illusions, it is not entirely clear what we are seeing. Taylor should not have to verbalise that the terrain was changing before his eyes.

    - The poor production values. When Brent and Nova were in Zira and faux-Cornelius' house, I lost myself for a moment and felt that I was watching the 1974 tv series.

    I could go on but this post is getting too long. I don't think I have more of a love/hate relationship with a film than I do with this one. I want to like it, and there is so much about it that I do, but there is as much about it that pains me when I watch it. Yet it plays such a significant role in the overall series. It has a fitting end for Taylor. It excruciatingly touches on issues which I wish so much would have more meat to them in the film.

    To me, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes is like that relative who inherently get on your nerves, but you still unconditionally love them because they are part of your family. And yeah, maybe they have some redeeming qualities too. Maybe.

  8. Henry:

    Thank you for your thorough and insightful comment on Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which gets at -- quite adroitly -- the yin/yang of this sequel.

    I think you really pinpoint one of the big problems with the film: the almost slipshod execution of several big moments. The ideas (of the mutants, of Taylor destroying the world, etc.,) are eminently powerful, but they just kind of rush by us. On repeat viewings, you're right, the shock has worn off and you're left with nothing but a feeling of how inadequately some of the moments are staged.

    I totally understand your love/hate feelings about the film. There's a lot to appreciate, and a lot to wince over too.

    Excellent comment!


  9. This might have been said before but presenting the idea that Taylor was killed or alluded to as dead might have done this film a bigger favor than even having Heston involved in it. If we as the audience don't believe Heston is really coming back(in our minds) we are able to accept it more and focus on the current protagonist as the one we are stuck with going forth. It's a necessary trade off as if we see the (ahem Brent) enough we eventually will empathize with him at some point like we had with Taylor once he gets developed properly by the story(If the script is strong enough which wasn't the case with this film). By having Brent framed as this fill in from the start he was never given a proper chance to sit easy with the audience. The actor himself wasn't unlikeable, yet his Brent character eventually was because we felt the story wasn't really about him or even his growth as a character. The whole vibe the producers conveyed is that Taylor is the real protagonist but sorry we don't have him for the full film for whatever reason.Try to like this new guy instead. It doesn't work that easy i'm afraid.

    In my opinion it is possible to make proper sequel that doesn't rely on all the characters from the first film to still have merrit. Hollywood has shown this can be done with the right vision and a cast that isn't trying to outdo the original, just progress the story.The potential of a third film where everyone,including Heston who has been involved up to this point comes in and makes the push for a final resolution was actually a possibility the entire time yet no one seem patient enough to even realize this.No one had the patience to see how everything played out isolating Taylor entirely from the scenerio. If a third film is made that builds upon the first two,all the characters you have grown attached too can be there and in their proper context naturally. All the plot holes are tied up and we can enjoy further progression of the story in a natural unforced way. At that point we don't even care that Taylor was absent and we have another character involved we have grown to care about.Beneath tried to do that to an extent, but we needed more time away from Taylor and more with Brent and just one film wasn't enough to do that properly.

    Overall,Heston's real flaw in his whole "Andy Hardy" ideology is that he should have seen how the sequels played out without him and been at least open to casting in future ape films depending on if the producers were concerned about making a quality franchise out of POTA. It's not unfair for an actor who wishes to protect his credibility. That was really never anyone's real gripe with Heston. However,his attitude the entire time was one that of any sequel based on further POTA would fail without him . That particular attitude haunted the entire production and led somewhat to it failing when it came down to it. Heston bullied his own ideology onto the producers and they were forced to take the franchise down a road that was less satisfying overall as a result. It didn't have to end at the statue of liberty. Planet of the Apes had enough depth as a film to build upon that revelation and further the understanding into the true nature of mankind.

    Some could say that we did get Escape which does comes close to the social message of the first film even if slightly in reverse and slightly less enduring, yet I feel a trilogy based on the original setting could have been more satisfying and gave us a series that didn't feel so fragmented and isolated between each movie. Heston's reputation could have been preserved like he wanted all along if he would have just "played it out" and we as the audience could have a series that could have been really special as a whole.

  10. Anonymous3:26 PM

    What a great review of, yes, a great movie.

    Beneath is a cautionary tale about the destructiveness of war, and the grotesque hypocrisy of competing claims to a monopoly on Divine Providence.

    Cited flaws notwithstanding, in a sense Beneath is the perfect compliment to the original. Visually stunning images abound. The pace, once the introduction is over, is quick. Once below the surface, the viewer is treated to one bizarre, memorable turn of events after another.

    The hideously warped, irreconcilable mores of Ape and Mutant begged for the sublime conclusion provided by Taylor. The ending sequence, in my opinion, is every bit as memorable as the original's famous last image.

    I believe that Escape, the third film, is campy and verbose to the point of being unwatchable. It started the downslide of the series. But the first two chapters of the POTA saga are eminently watchable, again and again. This I believe is the proper yardstick in judging what makes a movie great.


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