Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970)

Starring James Franciscus, Kim Hunter and Charlton Heston
Written by Paul Dehn
Directed by Ted Post
Rated G - Violence
Running Time: 95 Minutes

Following the events of the original "Planet of the Apes," the sequel sees another space ship crash land in the wastelands outside Ape City.  This time, our hero is Brent (James Franciscus) who has come in search of the missing Taylor (Charlton Heston).  Brent soon encounter's Taylor's lover, Nova (Linda Harrison), who takes him to the Ape City where he meets Cornelius (Roddy McDowall/David Watson) and Zira (Kim Hunter).  He reveals to them that he was a friend of Taylor's, and they vow to help him.

Meanwhile, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) has decided to lead an expedition into the Forbidden Zone after several gorilla scouts fail to return. Accompanied by a detachment of gorillas led by Ursus (James Gregory), Zaius heads into the Forbidden Zone.  Brent and Nova, having escaped the gorillas, find themselves in the underground ruins of old New York City, where a race of telepathic mutants worship a massive nuclear weapon capable of destroying man and ape once and for all.

There's not much to say about "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" except that it's pretty bad. The plot is a simplistic retread of the original, but with a numer of wildly fantastical concepts thrown in at random. The main character, Brent, even looks a lot like Heston's Taylor, who only appears in a handful of scenes in the entire movie.

The movie feels a lot like a more mean-spirited version of the original, which was already not particularly kind in its indictment of mankind's failings. Here, both man and the apes are presented as mad, vicious animals ready to kill each other at the drop of a hat. The surviving mutant humans are flat-out insane, worshipping a doomsday weapon and using their strange telepathic powers to torture the more primitive humans they meet.  In one bizarre sequence, they make Taylor and Brent fight each other nearly to the death, but for what reason I can't discern.

Meanwhile, the hero apes of the first film, Cornelius and Zira, are relegated to supporting roles like Taylor.  The racist Dr. Zaius takes the front, and in the end his hatred of mankind allows for the destruction of the entire planet. If the rest of the film had been better, perhaps I could take this as some kind of statement that maybe we all deserve what comes to us for the crimes we've committed.  But instead this just feels like a twisted attempt to one-up the shocker ending of the original film in which the arrogant Taylor receives his comeuppance by discovering the truth about the planet of the apes. "Beneath" just feels mean and cold instead of shocking and revelatory.

Continuing that theme, while the original film had its moments of shocking violence that portrayed the apes' disdain for humans, "Beneath" seems to revel in them. There's a lengthy sequence of humans being whipped and otherwise mistreated which seems more crass than the surprising opening hunt of the original. The original also gave us a number of well-written and acted dialog pieces, like Taylor's trial, but there's very little of that kind of intelligence here.

Ultimately, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" is probably remembered for its comically absurd concept of telepathic mutants worshipping a nuclear bomb than it is anything else.  It simply rehashes too many points of the original, and poorly at that, while the new ideas it introduces border on idiotic.  Like so many sequels, it merely feels like a cash-in rather than a real attempt to continue the story.