I have two incredibly lonely cinematic experiences. One, I think Timothy Dalton made a great James Bond. Two, I think Beneath the Planet of the Apes is the best of the series. You have no idea how vilified I am for holding these two beliefs. But an intense, humorless Bond is a good idea and post apocalyptic stories are my thing, so there.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes certainly has its flaws. The most glaring is the absence of Roddy McDowell as Cornelius. This is the only live action Apes project besides the 2001 Tim Burton travesty in which McDowall does not play the main monkey. Interestingly enough, scenes featuring McDowall as Cornelius are edited into the beginning of the film and most promotional materials feature him as Cornelius. Every move has been taken to hide the fact it is not McDoawll under the makeup. Cornelius was played by David Watson, about the most anonymous actor to ever play a main role.
The other problems are some serious logical flaws. Why would NASA send another astronaut to find out what happened to Taylor when his mission was a deep space flight intended to take centuries? The first time Taylor removes himself from suspended animation is seven hundred years after the mission launch. Surely there was no need to send John Brent after him.
There is also no scientific reason to believe humans would be radiation scarred mutants with extraordinary powers thousands of years in the future. The detrimental effects of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki generally had no lasting effects beyond the population that survived the bombings in the first place. That was fact was well know even in the late 1960’s when BTPOTA was written. Perhaps multiple strikes of warheads far advanced of those from 1945 could have a different affect or maybe the metal powers are to be considered a natural part of human evolution. It is not clearly stated, but it is implied nuclear weapons are considered the “Givers of Life,” so it is reasonable to assume bad science is the explanation. Of course, you then have to wonder why only some humans were affected while the rest became mute savages with no idea about past Earth history.
Speaking of bad science, it is laughable to consider one tiny nuclear weapon that looks more like a bronzed toy rocket to be a doomsday device that acan destroy the entire planet. One could argue that all life on the future Earth was confined to what used to be the New york area and therefore all life was destroyed, but the next film in the series contradicts that idea and several others, for that matter. I will get to those tomorrow.
The budget for the film was cut dramatically from the original POTA. The cut corners are not evident with the mutants. The make up work there won an oscar. But many of the ape extras wore masks rather than make up. It is embarrassingly obvious even in the long shots of the extended battle scene at the end.But I can overlook all that just because of the fun absurdity of it all. Radiation scarred mutants living among the underground ruins of Manhattan, pacifists solely because they do not want to get their hands dirty, sing hymns to a nuclear bomb as their creator. How can you not appreciate that someone sat in front of a typewriter somewhere and thought that was a great idea?
The film tries, bless its heart, to take as serious a look at religion as its predecessor, but cannot quite pull it off. The big problem is there is no opposing viewpoint to counter the bad aspects of religion presenting. The gorillas are complete morons pushing for a holy war against whatever is out there in the Forbidden Zone without ever taking the time to figure out if it is something they want to mess with. As for the mutants who worship the nuclear bomb, well, they are just nutty. It is already well established neither religion is worth following, so we are watching a holy war in which we do not sympathize with either side. But that sense of nihilism has its appeal for me. Brent is more idealistic than Taylor, but he does not care about enslaved humanity anymore than Taylor did. The human slaves are dealt with in a much more cursory manner here than in POTA, so I do not really care about them, either. The mutants are hideous religious fanatics, so I do not like them, either. The holy warrior gorilla army that decides to invade the Forbidden Zone is a bunch of violent idiots who demonstrate their ignorance repeatedly throughout the course of the story. Who did not laugh themselves silly when they toppled the nuclear bomb and several died right there of radiation poisoning?
Everything pointed to the idea it all had to end with the destruction of everything because you do not want anyone to win. In other words, Taylor was right all aong to be cynical about humanity in the first place. Since he learned to not think much of apes, either, the only logical conclusion was to have him be the one to destroy it all. I loved that part. I know very few people that do. Hollywood cannot make that kind of ending any longer--heck it was rare then--but I appreciated the gutsy move. I am certainly do not have enough loathing of the world to destroy, but I can see why someone in Taylor’s position would.
The interesting tidbit about the end is that it wasnot the original idea. Taylor, Brent, and Nova originally escaped before the bomb blew, went back to Ape City, freed the humans, and brought in a nw era of peace. Centuries passed until a mutated gorilla emerged from the underground tunnels and shot a dove. Symbolic and dark, but nowhere near as good as the one they went with as far as I am concerned.
Tomorrow, takes a turn towards the less amusing absurd. Yet for whatever reason, it is remembered more fondly than BTPOTA. Go figure.
Rating: **** (out of 5)