Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Reviewed by Mike Brannon
Rating: 6 Beans
ver see those cereal boxes that promise 10% MORE? Well this movie really should be labeled as containing 60% LESS of everything that made the original Planet of the Apes memorable. Less Taylor. Less Nova. Less Zira. Less Zaius.... and NOW Roddy McDowall free! This is bad, since the characters are what made the first movie work. Still, it was better than the current update (read: travesty) in the theatres, starring the repulsively untalented "Marky" Mark Wahlberg.
Back to the story: it begins on a flawed note. For some reason, a "rescue mission" is sent after a colonization shuttle (are colonization shuttles usually expected to return?), captained by 'Skipper' (Tom Andrews) and John Brent (James Franciscus). As in the last movie, these Earthling Spacecraft can cover huge distances and travel through time, but can't ever seem to land safely. The Skipper dies after uttering about three contemplative lines, leaving Brent to look for Taylor and his expedition.
Almost immediately, he encounters Nova (Linda Harrison), who is riding Taylor's horse and wearing his dogtag. Nova, if you recall, is a beautiful, delectable young hottie who doesn't talk and really doesn't do anything for the story. The same is true here. She's eye candy, jiggling for the males in the audience and looking alternately helpless and vapid. Nova leads Brent to The Apes village (why, I do not know) where we are re-introduced to Zira, Cornelius and Dr. Zaius.
Only Zira (Kim Hunter) seems authentic: David Watson is pinch-hitting as Cornelius for the absent Roddy McDowell, and despite the latex, the differences between the two are glaring. Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans) was one of the best characters in Planet of the Apes, a respected anthropologist who does unethical things to preserve the ape way of life. Here, he seems to be an ultra-watered down version, lacking in his tricky, intellectual evil that made his character work so well in the first movie. Franciscus inexplicably looks a lot like Taylor, and the first half of the movie feels like a tired retread. Sure, it is shocking and disturbing for Brent, but this is old stuff for those of us who saw the first movie.
The ape village sequence is a cul-de-sac that grants the characters of Zira and Cornelius about ten minutes of screen time. It also introduces the hawkish General Ursus (James Gregory), an ape who is planning an expedition into the Forbidden Zone. The reason for this expedition is hinted at (a famine of some kind) but never truly explained.
Brent and Nova go off to the Forbidden Zone to look for Taylor, and things really begin to go downhill. As you know from the last movie, The Forbidden Zone is New York (how appropriate) -- well, what's left of it. It is impressive to see the New York Landmarks (The Library, Radio City Music Hall, Queensborough Station, etc) in their state of ruin, but the shock is gone (The Statue of Liberty shock at the end of the original was perfect, they should have left it at that). Brent and Nova are soon captured by a race of human mutants who live in The Forbidden Zone. These mutants have telekenetic and telepathic powers, and wear rubber masks over their scarred faces (Why?! If I was a mutant in a post-apocalyptic world, concealing my appearance wouldn't seem very important).
Then, of course, comes the near-legendary cinema nonsense about the mutants worshiping a nuclear bomb(!) in a Judeo-Christian fashion. This would be utterly ridiculous by itself, but combine that with the ludicrous scripture they recite (referring to The Holy Fallout) and you've got some serious parody fodder, partner. Brent is sent to their prison after witnessing this bizarre ceremony, where he finds Taylor (a good hour and a half into the movie). They are telepathically compelled to battle each other (not since Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft have I seen such obvious padding) in a pointless sequence. At this time, the apes find the Mutant Lair and begin to slaughter the Mutants, and the resulting mayhem give Taylor, Brent and Nova their chance to escape. Nova is very pointlessly killed off by an ape soldier, and Brent takes on the invading Ape Army, waxing Ursus and 10 zoos' worth of gorillas before getting killed off himself. Taylor is also shot, and with his last bit of strength, detonates the Mutant's "God" Bomb, utterly obliterating The Planet of the Apes (aka Earth) and everyone on it.
Obviously, this was a premise that kind of took a life of its own and got away from the directors. Charlton Heston refused to do more than a cameo for this movie (I think he had about 15 minutes of total screen time): installing a "Taylor Lite" by way of Franciscus' Brent was a very poor choice. Also, the major simian characters from the original are given such small, insignificant roles. The whole mutant rigamarole made no sense and flies in the face of the series' logic (wouldn't Cornelius or Zaius have discovered them on their expeditions to The Forbidden Zone, referred to in the original movie?) and, of course, the ridiculous bomb-worship makes it positively laughable. Be sure to check out the decidely un-PC casting (Don Pedro Colley, who is black yet an equal amongst the mutants, is cast as "Negro"!) which also lists the famous British actor Victor Buono as "Fat Man!" In fact, there is a lot of talent in this cast that is almost universally wasted.
The sequel to this unquestionably closed little tale features Zira, Cornelius and Milo returning to Earth in one of the spaceships (hm, wonder if they pulled Taylor's craft out of that lake, or rebuilt Brent's?). Mind you, they only had about 24 hours to fix the ship, blast off, master the controls and escape from the planet. But that's another review.
Six beans for this massively disappointing sequel to one of the best sci-fi classics ever made.
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