Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Rating:

Glory Be to the Bomb

Main Cast: James Franciscus, Linda Harrison

Director: Ted Post

There’s something living in the forbidden zone outside Ape City, and the apes, facing famine after man has ravaged their crops, have a plan.  Go to the forbidden zone.  If the land is now healthy, the apes will cast out who- or whatever is living there and use the land to replenish their food supply.  But what they don’t know is that the creatures living there, unseen until now because they live underground, have something in their possession that, if the apes force the issue, will render all further discussion and conflict moot.

In the first of several sequels to the 1968 movie PLANET OF THE APES, the 1970 movie BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES takes the audience to that forbidden zone our previous hero Taylor was last seen heading into at the end of the first movie.  We discovered at the end of that movie that Taylor wasn’t on some distant planet, but had returned to Earth 2000 years in the future, to a time when humans had devolved to a mute, feral race and the apes had taken over as the dominant species.

When our sequel begins, a new ship has crashed, a rescue party with only two survivors, one of whom, the Skipper, is at death’s door.  After the Skipper’s burial, the last remaining crew member, Brent (James Franciscus, The Investigators), is met by Nova (Linda Harrison, PLANET OF THE APES), the mute human woman who had been traveling with Taylor.  Through flashbacks we discover Taylor vanished into the side of a mountain one day, leaving Nova to fend for herself.

Together, Brent and Nova return to Ape City, where Taylor had told Nova to return if anything should happen to him.  “If you lose me, find Zira,” he said..  But when they arrive at Ape City, they witness the leader of the ape army, General Ursus, plotting a march on the forbidden zone.

I think BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES was the first Apes movie I’d ever seen in its entirety when I was very young.  I don’t remember being too impressed with it, but I think that’s because so much of the story was taken up by the humans, both Brent and Nova, and the underground humans.  And I just wanted to see some apes, of which there seemed very little at the time.

Seeing it again now, in connection with PLANET OF THE APES, I can say it works well as a sequel, continuing the story previously set up.  I just wonder how many other, better story options there may have been.  It makes sense to delve further into the mysterious forbidden zone, and bringing Taylor’s story to a suitable conclusion is an obvious must.  I just don’t know if this particular story was quite the way to go, or if, in an effort to bring the series to a close, the makers might not have gone a little too far. 

This story takes place 2000 years in the future, 3955 to be exact.  I can accept that, after 2000 years of evolution and development, the apes have founded the society they have with their level of technology and science, blending The Flintstones’ Bedrock architecture with some modern conveniences like medicine and steam baths.  I can buy all that.

But the reveal of the underground city pushed the boundaries of suspension of disbelief for me.

That aside, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES is an okay movie.  The budget is obviously much smaller, especially during Ursus’s speech, surrounded by the apes in what is some of the worst, cheapest looking make-up I’ve seen.  Most of them aren’t even in make-up, but have to be wearing pull-over masks.  And cheap ones at that.

The effects were minimal, the fight choreography was laughable, and the acting was below par.  James Franciscus did what he could with the material given to him, but the character of Brent was nothing more than a Taylor clone, standing in for Charlton Heston who didn’t want to return.  The characters are so interchangeable that the original actor cast, Burt Reynolds, was replaced by Franciscus solely because of the latter’s strong resemblance to Heston.

To me, the entire movie feels less like the story the writer/director/producer WANTED to make, and more like the movie they settled on making due to cast availability/willingness and budgetary constraints.  That doesn’t relegate BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES to crappy sequel status, I just think more could, and should, have been done with this opportunity. 

Given what they had to work with, I think they continued the previous story fine enough, even if I’ll always feel it takes a very noticeable step away from the first movie.  Luckily there are three more sequels to follow, thus three more opportunities to make the sequel the first movie deserved.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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