March 10, 2013

My Sanity Is Buried BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES


"The Lawgiver bleeds!"
Holy balls, this movie is totally bonkers.

I'm not gonna dwell on the second Apes movie too long, because I suspect that it's not going to end up playing a huge part in the rest of the franchise.  Why do I think that?  Because it ends with the destruction of the planet.

Let's back up.

The movie opens in the last few minutes of the first installment, with Taylor and Nova riding off along the shoreline and discovering the remains of the Statue Of Liberty.  They continue to ride silently across the Forbidden Zone through the opening credits...then we cut away to another spaceship crashed in the desert, identical to the one which brought Taylor and crew so far into the future.  Two astronauts have survived the crash.  It seems they were on a rescue mission to find Taylor, but much like their predecessor they also assume they're on some alien planet rather than the Earth of the future.  It's here where we get our first inkling that something isn't quite right, as one astronaut who looks like Charlton Heston Lite remarks to his ailing partner that the computer says the current Earth year is 3955, which is about twenty years before the first movie.  No reason, no explanation, simply a lack of research/continuity.  This already does not bode well.

The older astronaut dies, leaving our Heston look-a-like, Brent, to fend for himself.  That is until Nova rides up sans Taylor.  Brent tries to communicate with her, but she's still unable to speak.  He quickly notices that she's wearing dogtags identical to his own, and he asks her about Taylor.  We're treated to a flashback of Taylor and Nova alone in the desert, with Taylor unsuccessfully trying to teach her how to say his name.  The two ride on until they encounter a wall of fire, strange lightning bolts, and eventually a cliff face that appears out of nowhere in the middle of the desert plain.  Taylor tries to investigate, giving Nova his dogtags and telling her if anything happens to go back to the Ape city and find Zira.  Again, let's pause.  Where the hell did the dogtags come from?  He certainly never had them in the first movie, and it's not as if his tiny loincloth has pockets.  Anyway, Taylor reaches out for the cliff face and immediately disappears.

Brent wants Nova to take him to Taylor, but instead she brings him to the apes.  They observe a town hall meeting where General Ursus is rallying the crowd to send an army into the Forbidden Zone, as he believes there are humans living there that killed a scout squad.  There are some peacenik chimps, marching in a circle with pickets signs espousing peace, but the crowd is largely amped for war.  Brent and Nova quickly find Zira and Cornelius, now suddenly married, and Brent is quickly brought up to speed with the rest of the audience.  Apes run the show, humans can't talk, desert wasteland, etc.  Zira tells him that Taylor went off into the Forbidden Zone and Brent is determined to find him.  Dr Zaius shows up and we get yet another really weird moment.  Zira was helping to treat Brent's wounds and is unable to hide the bloody bandages when Zaius arrives.  So, to explain them away she tells Zaius that Cornelius HIT HER because she disagreed with the warmongering crowd at the town meeting.  But it's okay because, as she tells Dr. Zaius, "I don't resent it, but his nails need clipping."  No big deal.  WHAT THE FUCK?  Later on they make a whole point about how apes don't shoot other apes, but slapping around the lady apes is a-okay?  This scene makes Taylor's previous chauvinism seem downright charming.

Anyway, after spending a little time in an ape prison with other mute natives, Brent and Nova escape into the Forbidden Zone, with the ape army not far behind.  They stumble upon an cave that leads to an underground passage and then things start to get REALLY batshit.  Brent finds himself in an abandoned New York City subway station, having his own mini-State Of Liberty moment.  (Seriously, he even echoes Taylor's words, saying "My god, did we finally do it?  Did we finally, really do it?")  Further exploration of the underground reveals a buried New York Public Library, New York Stock Exchange, city buses, and even Radio City Music Hall.  Here's where I really started to get excited.  The ape stuff is all kind of a retread from last time, but this felt like we were pushing into new territory and really expanding the ape world.  Plus, underground New York just flat out looks cool as shit.

My excitement quickly dissipated as Brent discovers a lone man dressed like Jor-El who's not only talking, he's praying.  To a nuclear missile.

Confession: at this point I realized that I had actually see part of this movie when I was a kid.  The missile has the Greek symbols Alpha and Omega on the fin, which identifies it as a doomsday bomb.  I've always had an affinity for the Greek alphabet, so suffice it to say that ten-year-old Daley thought this was tremendously clever.  Somehow that particular image stayed with me, but really nothing else from the film.  I didn't even remember it being from a Planet Of The Apes movie.  How is that possible?  Because from this point out, the Apes are largely absent.  WHICH IS TOTALLY FUCKING DUMB.  Brent discovers a whole civilization of people with strange psychic abilities who have been living underground and worshiping "the glory of the bomb and the Holy Fallout."

Oh but wait, it gets better.  These people are apparently defenseless in their underground cave, using their mental powers to project illusions of fire and lightning throughout the Forbidden Zone.  They attempt scare off the advancing ape army, but Dr. Zaius sees through the ruse and pushes the troops forward.  The nuclear disciples conclude they have no choice but to detonate the bomb and, gathering for a final religious ceremony that is chock full of creepy hymns, they reveal their true selves unto their god: they each peel off their faces to reveal that they are actually irradiated mutants that look like this:



Yeeeeaaaaahhhh......

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS MOVIE?  Where the hell are the damn, dirty apes?

Brent is soon locked away with...Taylor!  He's alive!  The reunion is quickly spoiled when the mutant guard uses his mind control power to make the two men fight each other to the death.  We basically get a lamer version of the classic Kirk vs Spock duel, albeit this time it's a cage match with spiked clubs.  Luckily Nova distracts the guard by shouting out Taylor's name (Progress!) and they're able to escape.  FINALLY the apes show up to wreck the joint, looking to literally smash any trace of humanity.  Unfortunately an ape shoots Nova in the back, which finally pushes Taylor right over the edge.  Apes, mutants...he's ready to do away with the whole lot of them.  By now the apes have slaughtered the baldies and are attempting to pull down the doomsday bomb, so Brent starts shooting up the room while Taylor goes for the bomb controls.  The distraction isn't so successful and Taylor gets shot in the chest.  He begs Dr. Zaius to help him, but the ape refuses saying, "Man is evil, capable of nothing but destruction."

So Taylor shows him a thing or two and blows up the world.  Just to drive the point home, the screen cuts to black and a monotone voiceover kicks in and says, "In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium size star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead."

So...FUCK YOU AUDIENCE!

This is easily one of the most misguided sequels I've ever encountered.  First of all, it totally feels like this started off as a completely unrelated movie that was co-opted into the Apes franchise.  The new creative team clearly had no understanding of what was appealing about the first movie.  I'll give you a hint: it wasn't the biggest asshole in the history of space travel.  Spending the first half of the movie trapped in a watered down rehash of the first one is an unfortunate misstep.  Not only that, but the apes themselves are a bit of a let down.  Roddy McDowell was unavailable so they pull a makeup assisted bait-and-switch, recasting Cornelius for the two scenes he appears in.  (This move would become famously litigated when Crispin Glover was replaced in Back To The Future Part Two.)  Along with a lead who looks like Charlton Heston's actual stand-in, it's hard not to feel like we're watching the JV team.  To add insult to injury, the reduced budget meant that many of the ape extras are actually wearing rubber masks rather than the extensive makeup that so impressed audiences in the last go round.

Then they completely overcompensate by abandoning the apes almost entirely in the second half.  It's a pretty fatal blow, one that the movie never really recovers from.  The idea of underground survivors is fine and all, but they're so cut off and separate from the apes that we never get any kind of meaningful connection to the rest of this world which had such intriguing potential.  Really I want to hear more about the history and culture of the ape civilization.  Other than the hippie protestor apes, the only fresh clues we get here are a few more references and statues to the Lawgiver ape and a nonchalant attitude towards spousal abuse.  

Charlton Heston's very presence in the movie also feels really off.  He's got two scenes, disappears for the next hour, then shows up at the end solely to try and kill his successor and then avenge the death of his mute concubine by literally destroying the world.  While watching it I joked that the only reason they probably convinced Heston to return was the promise that they'd shoot him out in a week.  Hilariously, IMDB seems to confirm this.

Oh yeah, also they BLEW UP THE EARTH.  Now I'm extra fascinated to see how they managed to keep this franchise going for three more movies.

Look I'm all for really weird, out-there sci-fi that wants to play with big ideas, but everything about Beneath The Planet Of The Apes feels downright lazy, especially the doomsday ending.  It plays almost like some kind of Monty Python sketch where they don't know how to end it and just cut away to an explosion.  It was kind of fun, but I'm not sure I see myself revisiting this one very frequently.

Well, not sober at least.


---------------------------------------
Title: Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Ted Post
Starring: James Franciscus, Linda Harrison, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, Charlton Heston
Year Of Release: 1970
Viewing Method: Digital Copy