Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is second only to the original in critical praise. For this, I am baffled. It is not the worst of the bunch. That would be tomorrow’s installment. But the continuity errors and silly attempt to place Cornelius and Zira into modern society was just too much for me. It is just too much of a radical departure from the previous films for me to get behind.

Quick summary: Cornelius, Zira, and Milo manage to salvage Taylor’s spaceship and escape before the nuclear bomb from BTPOTA explodes. They are thrown back in time to 1973 where Cornelius and Zira eventually become media celebrities and targets of suspicion from the government while Milo becomes the victim of an overzealous gorilla. They decide to hide the truth about Earth’s future, but the truth is eventually forced out of a now pregnant Zira. The president orders the baby terminated and the two sterilized, so they go on the lam. Both are eventually killed by federal agents, but their was safely stashed away in a zoo to prevent the feds from killing him.

First off, the set up is completely illogical. We are expected to believe Cornelius, Zira, and a new chimp named Milo scurried off after Brent and Nova left them in BTPOTA to the sunken remains of Taylor’s spaceship. In spite of originating from a pre-industrial society, they knew how to repair the ship, get it flying, and somehow caught some sort of wave from Earth’s destruction in order to be thrown back in time to 1973. They managed to get airborne in a manner of a few days at most. Heck, I cannot even figure out how they got the astronaut boots on considering chimps have an opposable toe that could not be crammed into a human boot.

But let us just assume Cornelius the archeologist and Zira the veterinarian could have combined brain power with Milo, who was, n all fairness, considered to be the most brilliant of the three by Zira, could pull that off. The continuity errors before and after ruin the overall arc. Under testimony before a government commission, Cornelius reveals the history of the plague that killed off all cats and dogs, but left apes with a growing intelligence. He told of how they became pets, then slaves, and then one day, one named Aldo spoke the word, “No!” Thus the rebellion was born which eventually toppled humanity.

But Cornelius was just as clueless about the secret history of the world as everyone else in the future. He could not have learned all this from the Sacred scrolls. One might speculate Zaius possessed such knowledge and gave it to Cornelius and Zira after the events of POTA, but there is no proof of that. Subsequently, Zira says it took centuries for apes to go from pets to slaves to rulers. According to the sequels, it only took a couple decades. Perhaps that could be chalked up as estimations of time incalculable because of the intervening nuclear war. But the most irreconcilable point is the day aldo refused to serve is an annual holiday in the far future. If that were true, then every ape should know humans were once dominant. Yet they did not.

See/ this stuff just bugs me too much to enjoy it.

If one is not a stickler for continuity, I can see how the film would be enjoyable. It can be both funny and horrifying at times. When society embraces Cornelius and Zira, they reciprocate hilariously. Zira models the latest fashions, joins the women’s liberation movement, and discovers a taste for alcohol. Cornelius makes an effort to become a bon vivant. It all comes unraveled when Zira accidentally reveals she used to dissect humans as part of her study. Under drugs (What, no waterboarding?) she reveals all. To our society, it sounds like Nazi war crimes of Josef Mengele. To Zira, it was animal research.

Like in other Apes films, it is difficult to sympathize with anyone. Cornelius and Zira are intentionally deceptive. They had to assume the moment they arrived in the past the two of them must have set off the historical chain of events leading to the rise of the apes. Cornelius accidentally kills a man who teases Zira. The government agents are stereotypically evil, so no surprise there. Really, Earth’s destruction is so far into the future, the urgency of getting rid of the baby is like freaking out over the sun burning out in another five billion years. Why the rush, particularly when Cornelius and Zira are beloved celebrities? these days, the public would anxiously await the birth. Some magazine would shell out big bucks for exclusive rights to publish them. I doubt there would be a mob waiting to kill it for the alleged human downfall which will not take place for centuries.

Even after all that, it is disturbing to see Corneliys and Zira die in a hail of bullets at the end. The Apes series liked to leave the audience with something tragic to think about, but the other two films left food for thought. The massacre of the two main characters was just gruesome. In particular, Zira drowning “her” baby in order to cover up the real baby is safely in seclusion at a circus run by Armando. Armando was played by the late, great Ricardo Montalban. He and the baby will return tomorrow for theworst of the Apes movies as the world plunges into dystopia sooner than Cornelius ever let on.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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