Saturday, August 24, 2013

#1,104. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Directed By: Ted Post

Starring: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Tag line: "Earth's final battle is about to begin - Beneath the atomic rubble of what was once the city of New York!"

Trivia: Due to the smaller budget of this film, many of the extras cast as apes wore masks instead of the famous ape make up

A direct sequel to 1968’s Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes introduces us to Brent (James Franciscus), an astronaut whose mission was to find out what happened to Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crew. Shortly after his ship crash-lands, Brent makes the same startling discovery as his predecessor: that this very strange, futuristic world (the year is 3955) is controlled by apes! With the help of scientists Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson, taking over for Roddy McDowall), Brent travels to the Forbidden Zone, the area where Taylor was last seen. What he finds, however, hidden deep beneath the ground, is a subterranean race of mutated humans who worship what turns out to be a powerful atomic bomb, a so-called doomsday machine that, once detonated, will destroy the world. When Ursus (James Gregory), the ambitious commander of the ape army, leads an expedition into the Forbidden Zone, he threatens the well-being not only of the ape and human populations, but the planet as well.

The opening moments of Beneath the Planet of the Apes are actually the final moments of the original film, a replay of when Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) rides off into the forbidden zone. In fact, the entire first half of Beneath treads in familiar territory, with a crashed spaceship, a lone survivor (James Franciscus, looking very Heston-like as Brent), and the astonished reaction of a 20th century man when he learns he’s landed on a planet run by apes. Yet, even with its similarities to Planet of the Apes, enough happens early on in Beneath to keep your attention, including the fine performances of Kim Hunter (reprising her role as Zira) and James Gregory, whose Ursus delivers a rousing speech calling for the extermination of all humans, and advocating the exploration of the forbidden zone.

But if the first half of Beneath the Planet of the Apes inspires feelings of déjà vu, the second half makes up for it by taking us in an entirely different direction. The underground society that Brent encounters in the forbidden zone is highly advanced (its inhabitants communicate telepathically), and exists in the remains of what was once New York City (bent street signs, burned-out subway cars, and the twisted marquee of Radio City Music Hall were a nice touch). The beings themselves, who wear masks to hide their deformities, are an interesting bunch (among the actors portraying them are Victor Buono and Don Pedro Calley), singing hymns to praise the bomb and using their telepathic powers to make their enemies fight each other to the death. The apes take a back seat in the movie’s later scenes, yet the film doesn’t suffer for it in the least.

A well-executed continuation of the 1968 classic, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a solid sequel that also manages to carve out some fresh territory of its own.


Tommy Ross said...

My friend and I were just talking about this one the other night. We agreed that in some ways it's almost just as good as the first one. Both movies are must-haves!

Mead me in Vegas said...

Many people don't know that the original book ("La Planète des Singes") was written by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote "The Bridge over the River Kwai" ("Le Pont de la rivière Kwai"). I've read the book, and the planet is not Earth. Hollywood is responsible for the change.

Unknown said...

As an Ape sequel this is one of the good ones. My favourite is Conquest of the Planet of The Apes. With this sequel the background masks don't hold up well but there is enough to keep you interested.