Written by Paul Dehn
Directed by Don Taylor
When we last left Earth’s future, it had just been blow to smithereens. So how could there possibly be a sequel?
Unbeknownst to the other apes – or anyone else for that matter – a scientific team consisting of apes Dr. Zira, Cornelius, and a new character by the name of Dr. Milo managed to raise the first spaceship abandoned by Taylor and his crew (in the first Planet of the Apes) from the bottom of Lake Powell. Not only that, but they somehow manage to get it cleaned up and ready to fly. Coincidentally, they are flying it when the Earth is blown up using an Alpha-Omega bomb in the second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
Right off the bat there is a major leap of faith being taken with the story. It just doesn’t seem plausible that a primitive ape society that has no real machinery could manage to raise and operate a spacecraft in poor condition. Not only that, but where did they find the fuel?
However, if you can get past this major storyline flaw, what you have here is a decent movie.
After witnessing the destruction of the Earth, the spaceship was pushed back in time until about two years after Taylor and the other astronauts departed for distant worlds in the first film. (Did I mention that the astronaut suits were also in remarkably impeccable condition as well?)
The story is mostly showing how the apes would cope with being brought in to our society – a stark contrast to the first movie. Where Taylor and crew had a hard time surviving in a society dominated by apes where humans were considered animals, society in general seems to accept Zira and Cornelius once they realize they are intelligent creatures. (By this point Milo had been killed by a crazed gorilla.)
However, as more of their story unfolds – the two apes have wisely not offered up too much information – a scientist by the name of Dr. Hasslein becomes concerned. Hearing that the planet will one day be dominated by intelligent apes, he fears that Cornelius and Zira’s appearance here is the first step in that prophecy. Will the child Zira is carrying become “the great lawgiver” we have heard so much about in the first two films? Hasslein certainly thinks that in order to stop this from happening Cornelius, Zira and their unborn child should be killed.
The questions about just how much of our future is in our control are good. Is Hasslein really able to stop what will happen or is he taking the steps needed to set that future in motion? Not once does anyone talk about stopping the nuclear war that allows the intelligent apes to take over the planet in the first place. This reminds me of the if-we-can’t-have-it-no-one-can philosophy exhibited by Charlton Heston as Taylor in the second film.
What really makes the story work is the acting talent Roddy McDowell has come back to play Cornelius after staying out of the second film. Coupled with Kim Hunter as Zira and they make a convincing couple, if not apes out of their time who seem to adapt easily to our culture. Hunter’s Zira is a wonderful character and one that is outspoken and impatient for the most part – but totally loveable. She adds most of the humor to the film with her great outspokenness. Sal Mineo portrayed Dr. Milo for the short while he was in the film – this was one of his last major film roles.
Eric Braeden was excellent as Hasslein. You might not know the name, but recognize him from a small role in Titanic as John Jacob Astor or his work on the soap The Young and the Restless. He was completely believable as a scientist trying to change the future no matter what the cost to the present. Chief villain to the apes and their existence, he gives the part enough malevolence to be sinister without becoming a caricature.
On the side of the apes are three humans, Dr. Lewis Dixon and Dr. Stephanie Branson (Bradford Dillman and Natalie Trundy) and a kind-hearted circus owner named Armando (Ricardo Montalban). These three try their best to protect Zira and Cornelius, but with the exception of Montalban in his short appearance, they don’t seem to have the same belief in their performances. In a story such as this, it is important that the actors seem to believe the roles they are playing otherwise the audience has a hard time believing them in the roles as well.
Though in some ways Escape From the Planet of the Apes is just a mirror of the first film, it is done better than I would have expected. If you can forget about the problems of storyline consistency through the first three films, it is quite enjoyable.
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