Friday, August 26, 2011

Beneath Contempt?

The second film in the series is Beneath the Planet of the Apes. And if the first one zipped along then this one is just rushed. The success of the original obviously pushed the studio to make a quick sequel and the pressure shows. It starts out as a classic sequel as Joe Bob Briggs would say, which is to make the exact same movie again. So another Astronaut crash lands, meets up with Nova, is soon in a fur loin cloth and gets captured by apes and then we get some escape and recapture excitement and a lot of chasing around on horses. The stunt men really earn their pay here as there are several big falls and horse stunts plus a tricky fight on top of a horse drawn carriage. Considering that the stunt men and women were doing this in ape costumes and probably had their vision obscured by the masks it's all pretty impressive. There's also quite a few horse falls which I don't think they would get away with nowadays.

But all this impressive action can't conceal the padding that goes on in the first half of the film. The writers were looking for something to make the film different to the first and they certainly found it in the second half! The astronaut, Brent, and Nova escape to the forbidden zone and find themselves in the remains of the New York subway system. Then there's a bunch of telepathic mutant humans who worship an atomic bomb. For no obvious reason they seem to be at war with the apes who are currently marching towards them. There's some weird telepathic visions that the mutants are using to keep the apes away. And then Charlton Heston turns up again to be forced to fight Brent before a final shoot out with all the Mutants pulling off rubber masks to reveal their hideously scarred faces.

The writers seemed to have just been throwing stuff at the screen and hoping some of it made an impression. There's a lot less talking and symbolism than in the first film. Although there is one brief moment when Ursus and Zaius lead the Gorilla army out of Ape City towards the forbidden zone and their path is blocked by some Chimpanzee peace protesters who are swiftly bundled off into nearby prison carts. The film was released in 1970 and presumably they were trying to make a point about Vietnam. Perhaps we are meant to ask the same question about the Apes march into the Forbidden zone as people were asking about America's involvement in South Asia: Why would you want to go there at all?

So the script is not up to much; the stunts are pretty good; the extras wearing monkey masks are far more obvious in this film (perhaps the new director Ted Post wasn't at skilled as concealing them as his predecessor Franklin J Schaffner) and the telepathic mutants seem to have wandered in from a different film all together. James Franciscus does a pretty good job as Brent, he seems to have been cast because with a beard he looks like a younger Charlton Heston. Although once he meets up with Taylor and with the Mutant guards you do notice that he's a bit on the short side. Charlton Heston is not in the film very much and made it pretty clear that he wanted Taylor to be killed off and to hopefully end the franchise altogether. It's also obvious that between the first and second films is when Heston made the actor's decision to start wearing a hairpiece.

Anyway the film is a bit of a mess altogether. Let's see if Escape from the Planet of the Apes is better.

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