Written by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams
Directed by Ted Post
Once upon a time, four astronauts journeyed to what they believed was a distant star. However, somewhere along the way everything got screwed up. Back on Earth, someone realized their mistake and sent off a rescue mission, following the same trajectory and – consequently – making the same exact mistakes.
And that, in short, is how a man named Brent (James Franciscus) winds up in the world we know as Planet of the Apes.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes picks up at the end of the first film – there’s even a reshowing of the ending of the original. If you have never seen the original, stop reading right now and go rent it. I don’t want to spoil it for you.
We have the former United States astronaut Taylor on his high horse with Nova coming upon the Statue of Liberty and realizing he has been on Earth all along. Once he composes himself, he takes off into an area known as The Forbidden Zone. There he experiences a variety of odd phenomena and subsequently disappears, seemingly right before Nova’s (Linda Harrison) eyes.
Distressed, she takes off, presumably heading for Ape City and Zira. Zira and her mate, Cornelius, befriended Taylor and Nova in the first film. On the way she runs into Brent. Of course, they get captured on the outskirts of the city after observing the apes for a short time as the gorillas stir the citizens up into a frenzy of war upon humans.
They get caught, they escape, they get caught again, they escape again. By now I’m wondering just how long this part is going to drag on. It feels almost nonsensical at this point.
Finally, we get to the meat of the film; Brent stumbles into an underground cavern at the edge of The Forbidden Zone – the Queensboro Plaza Subway Station. After what seems like a very short (too short) walk, he and Nova find themselves in a cratered Manhattan, exploring the sites such as the New York City Public Library, the Radio City Music Hall Marquee, and finally St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
It is there that he finds the strange world of the mutants. Humans who communicate telepathically, except when honoring their god – a shiny atomic bomb hung where the crucifix once was. It is the ultimate weapon; a specimen capable of destroying the whole planet. Sort of humanity’s way of saying If I can’t have it, no one can…
The film actually was pretty good, especially for a sequel. It took on a much more science fiction and apocalyptic tone than the first film. I liked James Franciscus as the focal character. Although at times he seemed to just be a retread of Charlton Heston’s Taylor, he gave his performance without any of the pontificating or self-indulgence which Taylor displayed. I found it to be more pleasant watching him instead of wanting to say “Oh shut up already!”
Heston is in this only a short time in the very beginning and close to the end. Taylor has been imprisoned by the mutants and isn’t heard from again until Brent is brought to him three-quarters of the way through.
Linda Harrison is once again terrific as Nova. Since she doesn’t speak, she has to convey all of her feelings about all of the situations surrounding her with facial expressions and body language. Mostly, this seems to be fear, shock, and confusion, but she did a good job.
We don’t see much of Zira and Cornelius. Roddy McDowell refused to be in the sequel and his part was taken over by David Watson, so this is perhaps why the part was given so little to do. Kim Hunter resurrects Zira and does most of the ape interaction with Brent and Nova.
James Gregory plays the commander of the Ape army, General Ursus. If you don’t recognize the name, he portrayed Inspector Luger on Barney Miller, and I recognized the voice immediately. It’s sometimes hard to watch an actor you know so well in one role portray something different, and that was how I felt in this instance.
The ending is a real downer and it would also make it seem that there could not possibly be any more films. Just as in the Alien series when Ripley takes the nose-dive in the third film, only to be resurrected once again when the film-makers found that they could squeeze even more money out of the series later on, that is the case here.
What saves this film are the scenes of New York City, as well as the second half where the doomsday story really comes together. It definitely does not come close to the original, but it’s not bad either. I’ve seen much worse when it comes to sequels, and at least this one has some decent acting and a good story.
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