Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Weird….two Chuck Heston movies in a row. As I’m going strictly by alphabet, occasionally I find I’ll be reviewing a series out of order. Case in point, today’s entry – Beneath The Planet Of The Apes – the second installment in the classic Planet Of The Apes series.
(1970) Directed by Ted Post
Screenplay by Paul Dehn
Tagline: The bizarre world of “Planet Of The Apes” was only the beginning…WHAT LIES BENEATH MAY BE THE END!
What It’s About:
Immediately following astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston)’s earth shattering discovery at the end of the original Planet Of The Apes, he and the mute primitive Nova (the gorgeous Linda Harrison) ride deeper into the Forbidden Zone, where Taylor, after being confronted by a variety of illusions, appears to fall through a stone mountainside. Elsewhere, a rescue mission following Taylor’s space trajectory crash lands on the planet, leaving Brent (James Franciscus), the only survivor. Brent runs across Nova (discovering Taylor’s dog tags around her neck), and they are secreted into the Forbidden Zone by Cornelius (David Watson, standing in for Roddy McDowell) and Zira (Kim Hunter) at the same time Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and gorilla general Ursus (James Gregory) lead a military expedition to explore and conquer the area. After fleeing into an underground tunnel, Brent and Nova discover the remains of an irradiated New York City populated by the mutated descendants of the original human population, evolved into powerful psychics but worshipping an atomic doomsday bomb.
Why I Bought It:
Like Back To The Future II, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes is kinda indispensable in terms of following the overall timey wimey storyline of the series. I got it as part of the blu-ray set, but I don’t say this grudgingly (as I would about Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, which IS flat out awful). I do like Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Before the advent of prevalent home video and my discovery of the other Apes movies, the series was a duology and this was the end.
And what an ending!
BtPotA is that rare movie that actually starts off not so great and gets increasingly better the further along you get. The reason for this is the Brent character, who is basically Taylor v2, and logically (for the character) has to quickly pass through the entire “Oh my God Apes are in charge/Oh my God we’re on Earth!” arc BEFORE he can descend Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Franciscus even looks basically like Taylor with his blonde beard and loincloth. Couldn’t they have cast an African American or somebody physically more different than Heston?
So for 42 minutes, you get something of a derivative, rushed re-hash of the original movie, punctuated by moments of brilliance from James Gregory as the swaggering, boisterous, “The only good human is a dead human” gorilla general intent on investigating reports of a human settlement in the Forbidden Zone and wiping it out to protect ape crop belts.
It’s not really anybody’s fault other than Charlton Heston’s, who only agreed to do a bookend “cameo” of Taylor and not the full movie. Had the writers only been required to continue Taylor’s story instead of introducing Brent, things would’ve flowed better.
Anyway, 42 or 43 minutes into the movie it really picks up, with Brent encountering the mutants, who declare their peacefulness again and again even as they use their psychic abilities to force Brent to hold Nova’s head underwater and strangle her (why she agrees to even go near Brent after all that, considering her presumed inability to understand the mutants’ power, I don’t know), and compel Taylor (imprisoned by the mutants for his nosiness in the beginning of the film) and Brent to fight to the death.
The movie becomes a commentary on religious-inspired fanatical conflict, with Zaius and Ursus championing God and the Lawgiver (sort of a simian Moses) and touting Manifest Destiny, and the mutants professing their worship of “The Almighty Bomb and the fellowship of the holy fallout,” and adopting the mutant version of a Samson Option when the apes inevitably discover them and invade. Is it all a veiled meditation on the insanity of the perennial Israeli-Arab conflict? A look at the theolocratic manipulation and political conniving of the bloody Crusades? It’s probably both, and that’s what keeps it from being an embarrassment to the original (like Battle For…).
There’s also an obvious dig at the ongoing Vietnam War and the homefront anti-war movement when the chimpanzees demonstrate for peace and get their signs trampled by the gorilla army.
Caught in the midst of all this are the astronauts and most especially Nova (did I mention how staggeringly beautiful Linda Harrison is?), who basically has no dog in the fight except the unwilling Taylor, and winds up becoming the first named casualty, which in turn inspires the later mortally wounded Taylor to trigger the doomsday bomb as his dying act, consuming mutants, humans, and apes in the ensuing atomic fireball.
As a kid, I loved PotA. I think it was my first introduction to the post apocalyptic genre of sci-fi, and this was the first movie I ever saw where nobody got out alive at the end. I was floored. In its way, the lesser first half actually works for it, lulling the audience into a sense of familiarity (and keeping your attention with the mystery of Taylor’s disappearance) and then pulling the rug out from under you in the end with an ending as shocking if not as monumental as its predecessor.
The design of the mutant underground is effective, sort of a molten subway system with bits of tile and buses emerging from the moon milk. The church is the set piece, with the Alpha and Omega bomb rising like a golden bullet out of the dais – a great setting for the end of the world.
For me, it has to be the inspired perversion of the closing benediction of the Catholic Mass, which as a Catholic, I always found particularly chilling and memorable (I used to quote it to my school friends) and General Ursus’ rousing speech.
“May the Blessings of the Bomb Almighty, and the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout, descend upon us all. This day and forever more.”
Easily the big reveal of the mutant New Yorkers.
After being interrogated by the mutant leaders, Brent and Nova are compelled to sit it on one of their church services, where it is revealed that they revere an intact nuclear missile with an apparently working launch mechanism the prayer leader uses to cause their golden idol to ascend from the floor.
“I reveal my inmost self, unto my God.”
“Unto my God,” the congregation responds.
“UNTO MY GODDDDDDD,” sings the choir, holding the note in angelic precision as they all
reach up and pull their faces (revealed to be latex masks) off, uncovering their radiation scarred, hairless faces, which appear chillingly uniform in their ghastliness.
As a kid, this scene, which I DID NOT see coming (love childhood) caused the pit of my stomach to bottom out.
The musical cue is also very effective, with a strange high pitched whine happening as each mutant face gets a close up, ending with Natalie Trundy (who later plays the one of the veterinarians in Escape From The Planet Of The Apes – is this her descendant? And Liza, Caesar’s love interest in Conquest)’s horrible, incongruous face.
Would I Buy It Again?
It’s not the best of the series, but it’s very far from the worst, and it’s a better movie than Back To The Future II. Had I been buying the series installments separately, it might’ve been the last one I purchased, but it’s pretty good. I WOULD buy it. Yes.
Next In The Queue: Better Off Dead