Published on June 13th, 2014 | by Brad0
Ape Fridays – Beneath the Planet of the Apes
If there’s anything we can hold for certain in this world, it’s that Hollywood studios are very fond of money for old rope. No sooner was Planet of the Apes a hit than the good folks at 20th Century Fox set to work on a sequel. Original director Franklin J Schaffner was off making Patton, so he managed to escape the Planet of the Apes (arf!), taking Jerry Goldsmith with him. Charlton Heston had no great interest in doing it, eventually agreeing to do a couple of minutes at the beginning and the end (the alpha and omega, so to speak), and Roddy McDowall was unavailable. No one wanted this film, except the money men at Fox. Joy of joys, eh? I’m going to go full spoilers with this one, because frankly are you really that bothered about being spoiled or do you just want to see a stream of my getting mad at a movie for an hour and a half? This is Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
So our movie opens with… Roddy McDowall? Well, that’s weird, I just said he wasn’t in it like a paragraph ago. The lines he’s saying are oddly familiar. It’s as if they’re opening the movie with the closing five minutes of the first movie. We’re in trouble from the off, folks. That is never a good idea. Also, it’s really jarring when Cornelius, the first character you see in the movie, changes faces after the opening scene. It’s a baffling decision because frankly, why on Earth would you watch this movie if you haven’t seen Planet of the Apes?
So after we see the end of Planet of the Apes again, things start to go downhill with our first original footage. We cross-cut between Taylor and Nova (Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison) as they wander through the desert in the aftermath of the fantastic ending to the first film, and the arrival on the planet of Brent (James Franciscus), an astronaut who went in search of Taylor, and has also crash-landed in the Forbidden Zone. On which I’m going to have to call bullshit, in a section I’m going to call “Reasons This Is Stupid”;
- Taylor’s ship was never lost. The missions was to go into space, travel at near-light speed for six months and then return to Earth hundreds of years later, due to time dilation.
- Taylor wasn’t the only astronaut on board. Why doesn’t he care about Landon, Dodge or Stewart?
- What are the odds that his ship would go through the same issue as Taylor’s and end up in exactly the same time?
- Taylor and crew only survived because their ship crashed into a lake. Brent’s hit the ground, and quite visibly from the wreckage suffered a massive explosion. No way has he lived through that unharmed.
- Why does Brent look just like Taylor? Are we supposed to forget that that’s not Charlton Heston?
So Taylor and Nova are riding through the desert, when suddenly they are confronted by a horribly fake-looking wall of fire. Then an even faker looking lightning storm. Then an even faker looking earthquake. Taylor gets off the horse to take a look, and Heston manages to get out of the movie for a while as a dissolve effect causes him to fall through a wall. Or something, I was too busy laughing at how awful it looked. Nova rides off and bumps into Brent. After taking an age to realise the lady’s a mute and can’t tell him anything, they eventually ride to ape city. A brief rehash of Planet of the Apes ensues as Zira helps them, Cornelius bumbles, Dr Zaius is kind of cool, the humans get captured in a hunt, Zira helps them escape again, blah blah. Twenty minutes of your life you won’t get back.
Peppered within are little moments of promise. Our villain this time is a gorilla warmonger named General Ursus (James Gregory), a violent creature who wants nothing but total ape supremacy. The role was originally offered to Orson Welles, but he turned it down due to the requirement that he be in a mask and make-up the entire time, which is a shame. Ursus’ desire to conquer the Forbidden Zone runs counter to Dr Zaius’ MO of keeping the secrets of the Forbidden Zone secret, and that conflict could have been interesting in a better film. Brent’s discovery that the planet is Earth is a much quieter affair than Taylor’s, and it is a quiet, effective moment until he starts repeating roughly the same sentiments as we saw Taylor do at the end of the first movie at the start of this one. These slight moments of promise are few and far between, though, and in a way make all the terrible stuff seem even worse.
So whilst Ursus and Zaius ride out into the Forbidden Zone, Brent and Nova investigate a cave that turns out to be a New York subway station. An eerie noise reverberates around the hall, and they set off to discover its source. As they walk through rubbish green-screens of cool matte paintings, they eventually find what’s making the noise. And it’s… well, there’s no easy way to break this, so I’m just going to flat out say it’s an order of telepathic monks who worship an atomic bomb. I shit you not. I can barely work out what the hell they were thinking of, but there they are. They mess with Brent’s head a bit to discover that the apes are coming, and then throw him in a cell with Taylor, whose return indicates that it’s nearly over. One of the telepaths forces Taylor and Brent to fight to the death (go Chuck!), but then Nova arrives and yells Taylor’s name, presumably proving that the power of Charlton Heston in a loin cloth can overcome such piddling things as evolution. The apes attack, and Nova is killed, inspiring Taylor and Brent to use the bomb and end it all. This turn of events must surely prompt a welcome return for “Reasons This Is Stupid”;
- This is completely contrary to Taylor’s philosophy that we can be better than the destructive force Dr Zaius believes us to be.
- The fuck does Brent care? I mean sure, he’s hung out with Nova for a couple of days, but blowing up the planet?
- Wasn’t this movie called Beneath the Planet of the Apes? Why are we in a city populated by telepathic mutants who worship an atomic bomb? Isn’t this a bit 70s-era Doctor Who?
- The entire religion of these guys is Christianity but with the word God replaced by Bomb.
So the apes show up and the main mutant tries to set off the bomb but gets shot. Brent creates a distraction, which allows the shot and injured Taylor to get to the trigger and, after one last confrontation with Dr Zaius, he presses the button. The screen goes white, a voiceover decrees “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead”. No explosion, no aftermath, just a rush to the finish and a crappy voiceover. A terrible ending to a terrible movie. I have no picture to break this bit up. Help me, Dr Zaius!
I have seen some bafflingly terrible sequels in my time, but nothing like this. Quite how you go from an intelligent satire on the ills of doctrine over scientific curiosity and our poor stewardship of the planet to telepathic monks with removable skin who worship an atomic bomb is beyond me. The makeup effects are horrendous, the actor playing Cornelius is truly woeful, Brent is such a non-character it’s utterly impossible to care about his situation, AND IT HAS A CITY OF TELEPATHIC MUTANT MONKS WHO WORSHIP AN ATOMIC BOMB. And the ending… Taylor is, despite everything, a hopeful man. Even at the start of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, despite being shaken by the revelation of his circumstances, he talks about children, a future, hope. Burning the planet leaves no hope. No future. No possibility for further sequels… or is there?