Saturday, February 24, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: (1975) "Escape from Ape City"

In the second episode of the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes, which aired on NBC in 1975, displaced human astronaut Bill Hudson is captured by gorilla soldiers and taken with other “humanoids” to Ape City.  There, Zira and Cornelius hope to study this human -- whom they name “Blue Eyes” -- over Urko’s protestation that all humanoid subjects are required for soldier training.  Thanks to Zaius, the chimpanzees prevail. 

After Bill reveals himself capable of intelligent speech, Zira and Cornelius realize just how unusual their new subject really is.  A gorilla guard also overhears him talking, and alerts the authorities.  Bill escapes with the help of his two friends, and meets up with Nova and Jeff.  They burn up the gorilla wagons so that no more humans can be captured by the apes, and then flee to the wilderness.

Jeff and Bill realize that the humanoids on the planet are defenseless, but a new sanctuary could be provided in the mountains if only they can retrieve their laser drill from their downed spacecraft, still stuck at the bottom of the dead lake in the Forbidden Zone… 

“Escape from Ape City” feels very much like a re-imagination of the middle section of the 1968 original film, and the early section of its first sequel, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  

Specifically, the story here involves an astronaut from the 20th century coming into the custody of Zira and Cornelius, and their dedicated efforts to help him escape. In the film, Taylor was “Bright Eyes” and here Bill is, similarly, “Blue Eyes.” 

At least Taylor didn’t have to reckon with General Urko, however, and here Bill must also contend with that power-hungry military leader, as Brent did in Beneath. In both scenarios, the ranking ape general is rounding-up all captured humans for use in military training or war game exercises.  Also, one of the most intriguing parts of this episode involves Zaius decision to dole the humanoids out to various interest groups and locations, including pet shops, labor camps, and even a nature preserve.  As Zaius makes his decision, the episode cuts to a montage revealing each locale he describes. We see a humanoid woman sitting in a pet shop window, for instance.  

In a splendid bit of continuity between original film and animated re-imagination, Zira suggests in “Escape from Ape City” using the “Hopkins Manual Dexterity Test” on Hudson; something her corollary also suggested in the 1968 Schaffner production. Another faithful touch: in the spirit of Ursus, Urko declares in this episode that the only good human is a “caged” or “dead” one. Ursus spoke an almost identical line (“the only good human is a dead human”) during his rabble-rousing speech in Beneath.

Although a retread of so much familiar material from the Apes mythos, this second episode proves worthwhile mainly because of the close-up detail it provides on the Council of Elders in the “Simian Nation,” as well as that body’s motivations.  Dr. Zaius heads this governing council, which is populated by orangutans, and reports here the reason for the edict regarding the extermination of all mankind, should even a single man prove himself capable of speech.  

In particular, Zaius reveals the history of the planet: that mankind rose to prominence on Earth but then destroyed himself and nearly the entire planet with him before his fall to utter barbarism. The apes now live in fear that if man once again becomes intelligent, the whole world is at risk. This information “humanizes” Dr. Zaius and his ilk since it explains the reasons for ape fear regarding mankind.  Damningly, you can’t say the apes don’t have a cause for concern.

“Escape from Ape City” also features the weird verbal quirk of every character calling humans “humanoids,” which seems like a misnomer.  Aren’t the apes also, technically, humanoid?  Perhaps the series creators changed the moniker “human” to “humanoid” in anticipation of the Under Dwellers, another human-like enemy depicted in upcoming episodes.

The tail end of “Escape from Ape City” also clearly points to a plot-line of future importance.  The astronauts need a device -- a laser drill -- from their ship, and will attempt to recover it.

But first, we meet the Under Dwellers in the next installment: “The Unearthly Prophecy.”

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