Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Essentials- "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970)

The Essentials-#64

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

I continue my look at the “Planet of the Apes” franchise.

While “Planet of the Apes” was pretty spectacular in 1968, it was not the action extravaganza I had envisioned. Prior to this little experiment, I had never really seen any of the old-school apes movies. I really enjoyed the first “Planet of the Apes” movie and I thought “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” was equally eloquent, equally daring and equally creative. But there was a lot more action in this movie than in the first.

“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” began exactly where the first film left off. We see Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his gal-pal Nova (Linda Harrison) ride off into the beach and come across the Statue of Liberty submerged in the sand. When Taylor goes to investigate around the Statue, he mysteriously disappears and Nova cannot believe her eyes. While Nova looses Taylor, she comes across yet another fallen spacecraft. Nova comes across Brent (James Franciscus), an astronaut who believes he is on another planet, he notices Nova wearing Taylor’s dog tags and hopes he is still alive. Brent’s mission was to find Taylor and his company so he enlists Nova’s help to find him. This leads Brent and Nova on an epic adventure as the gorillas in Ape City plan to rally the civilians of the city together against the Forbidden Zone, the place in which Taylor is investigating and Brent crashed in. But as Brent and Nova try to seek refuge in the Forbidden Zone, they meet a strange group of humans that are not what they seem.

I was afraid of not really liking “Beneath The Planet of the Apes” because I thought it was going to tread water, except switching Brent in for Taylor. As Brent and Nova make their way to Ape City, they are captured by the apes. I thought it was going to be the same movie over again and I was going to be bitterly disappointed. But once Brent and Nova make their way down into the core of the planet, everything changes. There are big ideas thrown around about life and death, and the idea of the annihilation of an entire planet. Easily, one of my biggest fears the world ending while I am still around, and an affective doomsday movie really does a number on me. While “Beneath The Planet of the Apes” might be old-fashioned, it still had a tense story which threw its hooks in me almost immediately.

I actually warmed up to Franciscus’ work as Brent. I thought he was going to be a Taylor clone, but he is a completely unique character of his own. I thought Harrison brought another nice performance of nothing but expressions and movements, she has very little dialogue in the movie once again, but what she does was breathe taking. Also, Heston does not stay hidden the whole movie, he eventually does resurface and he generates another stellar performance.

The make-up work on the ape people is once again very good and the look of ape city was once again well done. I was completely taken aback by the scale of the underground city in the Forbidden Zone. It seems most sets in movies today don’t look this creative or cool and I give director Ted Post huge credit for making a legacy out of his sets. The costumes of the people in the underground city felt very 1970’s but in a totally fun way. I liked that the sequel was more action based, but it still featured a story to think about, it was a movie that had something to say.

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