Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970 USA)

tumblr_nz8ttify5j1sradg3o1_1280What is it about American astronauts? No sooner do they lock into some time warp than they crash their spaceship! NASA seems to have perfected time travel, but even a bumpy landing seems beyond them. Controversy has always centred around the film’s ending more than any other feature of it. Those who criticize it miss the point – this was intended to be the last apes film, because it was felt that another movie set in a post-apocalyptic ape ruled world would just be ”flogging a dead horse.” One of the greatest features of these films, started by the Statue of Liberty sequence in the original, was that they all contained ”shocker” endings, designed to send a shiver down the spine of the audience. 

Studios rarely made sequels in the ’60s/70s as writers and producers were always looking for new ideas, and there were more talented and creative people in the film industry. Nowadays, Tom Cruise will make the same movie ten times in a row. It opened to mixed reviews but audiences lapped it up. It was meant to entertain, maybe throw in a little blatant social commentary, sell a few candy bars, and then fade away. But notice it hasn’t faded away. People still watch this movie, and still like it, years after Jack Reacher-around disappears into a film vault forever. Beneath has the mark of effort on it, and it’s never boring. The quick pace is probably its best aspect; this stresses action. However, some crucial points in geography are sacrificed: getting to the Forbidden Zone from Ape City is just a short walk in a tunnel for some, while others have to trudge for days overhead. Then there’s that wall of fire.

In a slight nod to the satirical aspects of the original film, we do get to see religion being mocked. The outdoor feel of the first was replaced by a claustrophobic atmosphere; the ruined New York city (with its subway tunnels) is simply stunning. But no Roddy McDowell this time around, Chuck Heston kicks things off, then disappears until the climax. Then he reappears, complete with toupée, for old time’s sake. The production values are on the level of a television program of the period. Brent’s James Franciscus is capable but his desperate overacting reminds you throughout that he is not Heston. Franciscus lives and breathes beta male. Not that the script does him any favours as he has to keep asking dumb questions.

beneath-the-planet-of-the-apesOne amusing aspect is that the audience knows far more than Brent, who has to be brought up to speed. We, the viewers, have already ‘traveled Taylor’s trajectory’ before he has and we know what Brent will come up against. “Planet of the Apes” was a tough act to follow. “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” cinematography does border on spectacle and a lot of credit should go to director Ted Post for getting much  more out of the half-baked premise and limitations he was trapped in. Many still frames and action sequences from the film are just as epic-like, colourful and bizarre that is on par with (and in many instances, exceeds) the original. But the editing in the original surpasses the sequel. At least “Beneath’s” camera angles are far superior than any of the sequels that followed.

Beneath never devolves to the campiness of the following sequels; it retains a deadly serious, almost Biblical tone all throughout the story. Yet, it is one dark, depressing nihilistic journey I would not recommend to the suicidal. Beneath the Planet of the Apes detonates with a shock-wave of suspense that radiates unstoppably towards an inexorable conclusion at the finale. A brilliantly twisted and hauntingly cerebral sequel which may have proved itself to have been too intense and intellectual for its G-rated audience, who were simply engrossed by the film’s adventurous fantasy and captivated by the ape-like wonder of its characters. It would be almost impossible today for a major studio to gamble on making what was considered to be a franchise-killing installment. This gives Beneath its characteristically unique dynamic as a relevant and enduring testament of historic science fiction cinema.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the thorough review. I’ve only seen this film once but will give it another go since you have reminded me of it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. 🙂

    Like

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