Saturday, 22 October 2011

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was the first of the sequels to the 1968 science fiction hit The Planet of the Apes. And it’s the kind of movie that reminds me why I usually avoid sequels.

At the end of the 60s 20th Century-Fox was in major trouble. They’d lost a bundle on a series of box-office turkeys. The surprise success of The Planet of the Apes was one of the few pieces of good news for the studio in that period. In fact things were so grim they decided on what was at that time a fairly unusual step - a sequel to The Planet of the Apes.

Right from the start the signs were not good. The director of the original film, Franklin J. Schaffner, was unavailable to do the sequel. Roddy McDowell was unavailable. Various script ideas were floated that nobody was very happy with. Finally a screenplay was cobbled together. Charlton Heston had been very enthusiastic about the first film and was very pleased with the results but he was uninterested in the idea of appearing in a second film. When he read the script his disinterest changed to an absolute determination to have nothing to do with the picture. Finally he was prevailed upon to play a supporting role as a personal favour to Fox’s studio chief.

Heston’s misgivings proved to be well-founded. The film is a mess. Worse than that, it’s a clumsy and annoying mess. It has all the faults of the first movie, only more so. And it has none of the first movie’s virtues.

With Heston unwilling to take the starring role Fox recruited James Franciscus. He’s an astronaut named Brent, part of a rescue mission despatched to find Taylor (Heston) and his crew. Brent’s spaceship goes through the same time slippage as the first mission and crash-lands, with Brent being the only survivor.

He soon manages to get himself captured by the apes, escapes, and discovers a strange colony of mutant telepathic humans living beneath the planet. They worship an atom bomb. This is the cue for some predictably heavy-handed observations on religion and on the wickedness of nuclear weapons. The first movie was just as heavy-handed in this area but it at least had the virtue of the shock ending and the genuinely original premise. This second movie delivers the same message but at greater length and without any of the impact the first one had.

The plot becomes ever sillier. There’s an attempt at another shock ending but by the time it arrived I was struggling to keep awake and I was just grateful the movie was over. In fact there were several attempts to reproduce the famous shock effect of the original but they don’t really work.

As the hero James Franciscus is a very poor substitute for Chuck Heston. His mistake is to make Brent too much like a Taylor clone which is to invite comparisons which are bound to be unfavourable. No-one does Charlton Heston as well as Heston does. Franciscus would have done better to have tried to give Brent more of a personality of his own.

The makeup effects and sets are pretty much the same as in the first movie, apart from the underground set which is reasonably impressive.

Given that three more sequels followed one assumes that Beneath the Planet of the Apes must have done pretty well at the box office but it’s a major disappointment nonetheless.

The UK Blu-Ray release looks nice enough and has plenty of extras.

Note: the screencaps are from the DVD release, not the Blu-Ray.


cblaze said...

I wanted to watch all the Planet of the Apes movies a while ago - but after this second one - I stopped... You're right - it just doesn't work or hold the same interest as the first.

Alcaminhante said...

Actually i find this very charming. Like a big twilight zone episode in color. A bit stupid, that hero clone is really a bad idea but the visual atmosphere is very good in the second half of the movie. I really like this although as a sequel ...well...ok....